Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Well I have to say, this book definitely allowed me a healthy glimpse of the famed genius of Oscar Wilde. I hadn’t read any of his writing before bar a handful of quotes, but had often enough heard praise directed at the writer.

The Picture of Dorian Gray orbits the life of a beautiful young man (Gray), a wealthy inhabitant of the late-19th century London who at the beginning of the novel sits for a picture to be painted by his friend Basil Hallward. Basil is infatuated with Dorian for his appearance, at a time when Dorian had yet to attend to such things as external beauty. Through the painter Dorian is introduced to Basil’s hedonistic and contrary friend Lord Henry, who influences Dorian greatly over the course of their first meeting. The picture is finished and Dorian first begins to turn his attention from morality to vanity. The story goes that Dorian loses any ability to be physically altered, at the expense that his new painting will change to reflect the perversions of his soul.

I found the prose to be consistently engaging. Multiple exchanges between the colourful characters sparkle with wit and humour; Lord Henry’s reflections are pretty amusing and occasionally thoughtful too. The broad ‘lessons’ of the novel, if Wilde would forgive such an explicit accusation of didacticism, follow (as I interpret them) a fairly standard ‘be-careful-what-you-wish-for’ and ‘vanity-is-a-blindness’ moral, though it is really the dramatic details and linguistic intricacies of the book that lend it its character.

I’ll probably check out one of Wilde’s plays if I get the chance, so you would not be ill-advised to expect that a review of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ will pop up at some point.

Next review: The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman. I cannot wait to read this one!

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