Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Posted on April 11, 2011

So now I’ve read every novel by Wilde.

Dorian Gray is outrageously handsome. Everybody loves him. Basil Hallward, a painter, creates a magnificent portrait of Dorian. However, the painter has put too much of himself into the work, and won’t display it in a gallery, so Dorian takes it home.

At about that time, Dorian falls in love with a beautiful actress at a local theater. His friends discourage him from getting involved, but he proposes anyway. The next evening, he invites his posse to her show and watch the worst artistic performance they have ever seen. Turns out Dorian’s love was all the inspiration that she needed now!

Dorian breaks off the engagement. And she kills herself.

Sometime later he notices something peculiar about the painting. It is, well, sinful. Turns out that all the blemishes that would affect Dorian, now affect the painting which he has hidden in his house. He won’t even age!

What follows is an exploration of unbridled debauchery. Dorian has a good time, but loses friends and, in the end, himself. Apparently this book caused a scandal in it’s day. But in this world where we are haunted by the spectre of Tara Reid’s frankenboob, well, it just seems a little tame.

Although this was a delightful read, Wilde is as witty in writing as his characters are on the stage, this was a poorly crafted novel. The opening was packed full of dialogue, and felt like another play. Then there are long parts of internal monologue and description. And there are some plot points that are downright trite at this point in time.

But that does nothing to draw away from the fact that Wilde has given us something beautiful. A blend of his Occidental and Oriental sensibilities, it begins with the sentiment that ‘art is useless.’ At times his characters drone on about what the aesthetic life means, but truly give some good advice.

On one hand you could have yourself a handbook for living the good life. It asks the age old question, what would you do if you could live a life with no consequences? Or, even better, what would you do if you were stupidly handsome and could live life without consequences?

This is definitely a book to read if you want to ask yourself big questions about life or art. Oscar Wilde really know how to put things into perspective. This book is particularly great because you have to read it to yourself in your head with a haughty British accent.

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One Response to “Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde”

  1. Ev on April 12th, 2011 10:44 am

    Heath – as Debbie Harry sang, Die young, stay pretty! I read this so long ago that I forgot all about the actress. Am currently reading Cheever’s Wapshot stories – talk about a wordsmith!

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