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Book Review – The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Been in the mood for reading classics lately.  Oscar Wilde, whose playwriting is visible in the dialogue spoken in “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, only wrote one book. In its time (1891), the story was thought to be indecent by many critics and readers. Wilde defended it vehemently, and with good reason.

The book tells the story of Dorian Gray who is the favorite model of painter Basil Hallward. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry who firmly believes that youth, beauty, and sex are the only things that make life worth living. Dorian is already a vain young man and, with one narcissistic comment, unknowingly trades his soul to keep himself young.

Dorian has also falling win love with an actress, Sybil Vane. Upon seeing her give a terrible performance in a play, however, he decided he no longer loves her and tosses her aside. She then dies, possibly by suicide. Dorian moves on not knowing that Sybil told her brother of her secret love for him.

Over the course of the next decade, Dorian does not age. He leads a promiscuous lifestyle, often sleeping with married women. Rumors and whispers follow him through the upper ranks of London society. His life a debauchery and self-indulgence become what his is known for.

When Basil confronts Dorian about the rumors surrounding him, Dorian shows Basil the painting. The painter only recognizes his painting by his signature because the painting  of Dorian shows every sin, every scar, every wrong doing. The vile image disgusts Basil and he begs his friend to pray for salvation. Dorian, in a fit of rage, murders Basil by stabbing him to death.

Eventually, after page long paragraphs of endless dialogue, Dorian thinks he learns his lesson and tries to be a better person, if only to see the painting returned to its former glory. The painting remains unchanged, though, and Dorian soon realizes that he must destroy the painting. He stabs the painting with the knife that Dorian killed his dear friend Basil with.

When the servants find Dorian dead, his is an unrecognizable old man and only the rings on his hands are how his servants know who he is. The painting has been restored to the original beauty Basil once painted.

This novel speaks heavily on vanity, selfishness, and society norms. The homoerotic friendships between Dorian and Basil and between Dorian and Lord Henry offended many of the book readers of the Victorian era. I find those moments long and tedious, especially when Lord Henry spends pages upon pages telling Dorian how beautiful and young and great he is, but it is also why Dorian traded his soul to stay young to begin with.

Definitely a book worth reading, but reader beware, the dialogue is long winded. Oscar Wilde is did write plays after all. That experience weighs down this book a bit, but the prose is lyrical in a way I find pleasing so I am willing to overlook it. Read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” because it proves that beauty is often only skin deep.

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