review: the picture of dorian gray

04 January 2013

book info:
ages: 15 and up (recommended, 13 and 14 is OK but...elder teens are preferred)
grades: 9-10 and up
years: 11 and up
on sale: now
copy from: library
pages: 248

title: The Picture of Dorian Gray
author: Oscar Wilde (introduction and notes by Camille Canti)

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Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, his dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged; petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral; while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying, enchanting, obsessing, even corrupting readers for more than a hundred years.
Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not only a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde’s fin-de-si├Ęcle world and a manifesto of the creed “Art for Art’s Sake.”

The ever-quotable Wilde, who once delighted London with his scintillating plays, scandalized readers with this, his only novel. Upon publication, Dorian was condemned as dangerous, poisonous, stupid, vulgar, and immoral, and Wilde as a “driveling pedant.” The novel, in fact, was used against Wilde at his much-publicized trials for “gross indecency,” which led to his imprisonment and exile on the European continent. Even so, The Picture of Dorian Gray firmly established Wilde as one of the great voices of the Aesthetic movement, and endures as a classic that is as timeless as its hero. (goodreads)


Before I start: I'd like to say the picture on the cover of my copy is quite wrong. I was deceived. In fact, Wilde describes Dorian as having gold hair and blue eyes, and also referred to him as Adonis, god of beauty and desire in Greek mythology. So I should like to introduce a more accurate picture:



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The first one is a painting of Adonis, who looks in that painting, very similar to Tom Hiddleston. I added the one of Tom Hiddleston, because I imagined the young, innocent Dorian to be very much like the glorious, sweet Tom Hiddleston who, unlike Mr Gray, is untarnished and still just as beautiful :)

My thoughts:
Ahem. Sorry for that little fan girl moment.
I read The Picture of Doran Gray because my close friend highly recommended it. However, she warned me that I would become corrupted, so I delayed reading it for as long as I could. I read the first quarter of the book and put it down. However, I couldn't stop thinking of it, and knew that I had to finish it.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is about a youthful, young lad by that very name, who is one day having his portrait taken by a close friend, Basil. Basil's friend, Lord Henry, visits and becomes interested in Dorian and insists, much to Basil's reluctance, on meeting him. Now, Dorian is the most beautiful, enchanting "boy" (teenager, I think) I've ever read about. Yet he has been flattered all his life. Lord Henry says one of his famous sayings: "Because you have the most marvelous youth, and youth is the one thing worth having". Lord Henry is the one that corrupts, and is often said to be the "wicked" one. He is the main cause of Dorian's decline into moral corruption Their meeting sparks the whole story, a story sparked by a discussion of beauty.

What I thought at first was that Oscar Wilde was just writing this book to fill it up with quotable material, mainly in the dialogue of Lord Henry. But later I realised the theme: beauty. There are other philosophical mentions like Lord Henry's take on many topics like marriage and such. I usually find many classics rambly and pointless. People blabbering so it sounds like "Oh but it was such a lovely flower! I loved it so! what a lovely red colour!" . Yet I enjoyed truly the theme of The Picture of Dorian Gray and was fascinated by his transformation, and the influence of a single, cynical Lord. I learned to look at life from a different perspective, to understand Dorian and to delve into his mind and that of Lord Henry's. I felt the thrill of an action novel when really I was reading a psychological one, where Wilde plays with philosophy and the human condition and explores deep topics in an effective way. It was a short book and easy to read and eye-opening.

Don't worry, though, I did not get as corrupted as I thought I would be. (Ironically, Dorian gets further corrupted by a book Lord Henry lends him). I actually disagreed with many of Henry's cynical teachings. For example, when Henry "Harry" talks of beauty, he says that it only lasts when one is youthful and that age is ugly. I was protesting quite a lot on this matter. I think his view is one-sided and narrow-minded and that he has a very shallow view. Beauty is about perspective, and with age comes the not so "obvious" beauty like smooth skin and youthful appearance, but a different type of beauty. Wrinkles tell a story, speak of maturity and are like the lines of one's life and experience. A friend I know, how is in her fifties, complains about how vein-filled and wrinkled her hands are. But I thought it was beautiful. Lord Henry would laugh and toss aside that explanation. I didn't like him very much, but I think that his influence of Dorian is what's most interesting. What I read is that there was homosexuality in this book, and I thought "Between Dorian and Henry?" but it wasn't obvious...

What I didn't like was that after a certain time, Dorian shuts himself up and starts to read a lot and collect pretty things. And in the matter of a few pages, years has passed by. It was poorly done and I thought "Wait, how much time has passed? Was it a few weeks? What happened?": alas, not so. Dorian goes from being young, in his twenties, to suddenly becoming forty. I felt out of touch with him, when at the beginning, I felt like I connected with his character. From then on, the story became a bit boring. The ending, however, was romantic (in the sense that it was fitting to what the whole story was about).

All in all, I enjoyed this deep, thought-provoking book and am eager to read more mind-teasing classics. I'm having a hard time trying to find interesting-sounding classics though. I might have to look of Romanticism-type books.

So four trees to an intriguing read. Recommended for elder teens!

2 thoughts:

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a great book! I really like Oscar Wilde's witty style, and the story is very thought-provoking even it's superficial veneer. I saw a recent adaptation with Ben Barnes who was very good, but I would love to see Tom Hiddleston in the role! Though maybe he is too old for it now... Oh well, it seems like they havent' had a blonde Dorian in awhile! Great review Kirthi!

    If you are looking for recommendations for classics may I put forth Jane Eyre? Not sure if you have read it. Also Dracula has always been a fave classic of mine. :)

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  2. I have this book on the shelves and I tried to read it years ago, but it couldn't capture my attention. After seeing Dorian Gray in two movies, I became fascinated by him and now I really want to give this book another shot :) And Tom Hiddleston would be a great Dorian.

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