Obliquity of the Ecliptic

Poetry, Prose, Photography, etc.

The Picture of Dorian Gray: A Review

In efforts to revive my habit of reading more than just comic books, I took upon myself the task of reading Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, this past summer. Published in 1890, it caused much controversy with its homosexual undertones and encouragement of giving into sinful temptations. Literary critic Camille Cauti calls it “a neo-gothic horror chiller about a cursed antihero” and sums up the main character well with her statement:

“Dorian is obviously a beauty, a dandy, an impressionable, petulant boy who mutates into a wicked hedonist. He also breaks hearts, takes drugs, tortures his friends, and murders with nigh-impunity.”

The story revolves around the young and gorgeous Dorian Gray, his artist friend Basil Hallward, and the cynical Lord Henry Wotton. Hallward paints a portrait of Dorian (because essentially, he’s in love with him), and this is where the trouble begins. As Dorian commits more misdeeds and becomes more twisted in nature, his portrait radically changes, becoming disfigured and horrific while he stays beautiful and unchanged for decades.

Basically, it’s a scandalous novel. Explicit content—sex, drug use, etc.—is more so implied than it is described, but it’s not exactly subtle either. It adds to the theme of self-indulgence throughout. And of course there’s murder. Nothing spices up a good book like murder.

As a whole, it was a lovely read with dark undertones. I like old books with flowery language, vivid descriptions, and, of course, drama. Many quotes stood out to me as well, such as:

“In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill out minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place”

“There is always something ridiculous about the emotion of people whom one has ceased to love”

“I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvelous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it”

and perhaps the greatest of all:

“I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex”

So those are my thoughts on it. As far as classic literature goes, I highly recommend it. Several movies have apparently been made about it, the most recent being the 2009 film Dorian Gray starring Ben Barnes (a favorite actor of mine), Colin Firth, and Ben Chaplin, but I don’t think it did the book justice, lacking some depth to focus more on fantastical thrill and sexual content.

What are your general thoughts on the book or movie?

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