Review: “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

Something has changed you completely. You look exactly the same wonderful boy who, day after day, used to come down to my studio to sit for his picture. But you were simple, natural, and affectionate then…now, I don’t know what has come over you. You talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you.

Basil Hallward is nearing completion of the infamous picture of Dorian Gray when the novel begins. On that fateful day, Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wotton, is also present when Dorian is due to sit for the final time for the portrait. Dorian is introduced to us as powerfully and charismatically handsome and to whom Basil has confessed to harbouring a devotion and almost obsession. Young, good looking and shy, Henry Wotton quickly becomes interested in Dorian and in the course of that last afternoon changes Dorian Gray forever.

Dorian Gray is indeed a strange, and wonderfully unique and original, book. To say it is very well-written and exceptionally witty would be injustice to Wilde’s writing. It’s incredible. The story has so many elements – art, philosophy, thriller, mystery, murder, magical realism, religion, and obsessions and unhealthy attachments.  Dorian’s obsession with youth and superficial beauty is something that still resonates just as strongly as when Wilde first wrote it in 1890. Henry Wotton quickly converts Dorian into a believer of hedonistic behaviour, something to be fully enjoyed before his beauty fades away.

The book is a marvellous read. It flows wonderfully and characters are so vivid and well drawn out. Dorian is not particularly likeable, but nor does he incite hatred against him. He’s a fascinating character and perhaps one to be pitied. The only part that I had difficulties getting through was one chapter in the middle of the book. It describes the decadance and corruption of Dorian and the complete transformation of Dorian into a grotesquely, beautiful devil. This also produced one of the more satisfactory endings where justice is eventually served, but in the oddest way. It is Dorian himself who is only able to free his soul when he comes to the realisation that he must do what he eventually does. Coming to his final realisation, on his own accord, is perhaps his redemption.

I highly recommend this book. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it!

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3 comments

  1. Thanks Bookloverlisa. 🙂 I think Wilde’s philosophising is so approachable in ‘Dorian Gray’ and that’s largely the appeal since it’s a discussion on morality and decadence.

    Jennifer – I haven’t seen ‘Extraordinary Gentlemen’!

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