The Picture of Dorian Gray

Author: Oscar Wilde

Published By:
Public Domain Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            In my quest to read all of the classic novels I missed out on in my youth, I came upon The Picture of Dorian Gray, a novel I had been interested in since hearing a brief synopsis of the story by Oscar Wilde quite a few years ago.  Once I got my hands on the novel, first published in 1890 yet still captivating today.

            Dorian Gray is a young man whose beauty is both an inspiration and the source of envy of many an individual.  A talented artist, Basil Hallward, creates a portrait of Dorian and realizes that in creating this portrait, Basil has fallen in love with Dorianís beauty.  Basil goes on to create quite a few great works of art and he believes his source of inspiration is Dorian Gray.  Basilís sarcastic friend Lord Henry Wotton scoffs at this until he meets Dorian Gray and is taken in by his beauty and charm.

            But Lord Wotton, being a pessimist and prone to sarcastic comments, canít help but notice Dorianís naivety and his disregard for his youthful looks.  He decides to play a bit with Dorianís head, commenting on Basilís portrait of Dorian and reminding him that the portrait would never lose its youth, leaving Dorian to envy its beauty as the signs of age begin to tell their tale upon his body.  Dorian is shocked to realize the truth in Lord Wottonís statements and prays that he can trade places with the portrait and never experience what it is like to become old.

            Years later, Dorian discovers the first signs that his prayers have been answered.  His obsession with beauty leads him to fall in love with the superficial, becoming infatuated with a Shakespearian actress until her discovery of true love spoils causes her to leave her profession for the love of Dorian Gray.  Now that she was no longer an actress performing Shakespeareís heroines with such beauty and grace, Dorian no longer wants her and coldly tells her so.  His revelation results in a horrific ending for the young actress.  While Dorian should feel guilty and sorrowful for the actressí dramatic end, he realizes that he is simply angry at her weakness. It is then that he notes the change in the portrait Basil Hallward has created.  There is a definitive change in the portraitís face.  It is no longer youthful and its expression is somewhat sardonic.

            Dorian soon realizes that his prayers have been answered in quite a mysterious way.  It would seem that the portrait reflects the inner workings of Dorianís soul, marked by age, experience and excesses, while the real Dorian retains his youthful visage.  At first, Dorian finds this discovery horrifying, but he eventually begins to enjoy this freedom from the physical changes that guilt, anger, etc. can bring about.  Unfortunately it all begins to be too much for Dorian and he becomes obsessed with the portrait and what it means, eventually becoming a means for his end.

            The lessons contained in The Portrait of Dorian Gray are poignant and very meaningful.  Unfortunately, they are somewhat clouded by the homosexual undertones of the novel.  These undertones can serve to distract the reader Ė happily, Iím not so easily distracted.  Nonetheless, I couldnít help but notice the obsession of Basil for Dorian and Dorianís obsession for Lord Wotton and later to several acts of debauchery that is alluded to having taken place between Dorian and several other young men over the years, leading to their downfall in society.  This allusion to homosexual activity and feelings is so noticeable because it was quite odd to find this sort of thing discussed in a book published in the late 1800s.  It would seem that Oscar Wilde was definitely ahead of his time.

            Despite the distraction, the reader should be able to glean some very important messages from the novel regarding the evils of vanity.  The book is fast moving and the main character just despicable enough that you are mesmerized by him.  At first you are hoping for redemption for Dorian Gray, but by the end of the novel, you find yourself hoping he gets exactly what he deserves.  The ending does not disappoint!  This is one of those classics that I found quite enjoyable - so much so that I finished it in just a couple of days, despite my busy schedule.


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