Wednesday, June 8, 2016
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde // i return to the classics
When the exquisitely handsome Dorian Gray sees his portrait he dreams of remaining young forever while his painted image grows old and, in a sudden moment, he offers his soul in return for perpetual youth. While his beauty remains unblemished, the portrait begins to reflect the wildness and degradation of his soul as he surrenders to a worship of pleasure and infinite passion.
The Picture of Dorian Gray caused outrage when it was first published in 1890 and marked the onset of Oscar Wilde's own fatal reputation and eventual downfall. An evocative portrayal of London life and a powerful blast against the hypocrisies of Victorian polite society it has become one of Oscar Wilde's most celebrated works, full of the flamboyant wit for which he is justly renowned.
Well, it's definitely been a while since I've read anything off my Classics Club list! I'm still not sure if this was the best book to bring me back into the classics world - but I did enjoy it quite a bit. I unfortunately don't have a "Goodreads Progress" for this book because I read it during my flight home from Denmark. :-(
I hadn't read any Oscar Wilde before (though I have seen The Importance of Being Earnest performed multiple times), and I believe this is the only novel that Wilde ever wrote. It starts off with an interesting prologue outlining Wilde's views on art and the creation of it. I agree with some of them (like, "Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art," and "It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors," and "Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital") and I disagree with others (like, "No artist has ethical sympathies," and "No artist desires to prove anything," and "All art is quite useless"). It's an interesting prologue, and, I think, really adds to many of the philosophical discussions in the book.
And there were a lot of philosophical discussions, and I don't think I can do justice to this book in a short review written shortly after I've read the book once. I don't tend to grasp "deeper" things until the second or third reading, so don't expect too much literary analysis out of this post - it's lots of ramblings. But this book is definitely worthy of a reread because there is SO MUCH in there to analyze. My mother wants to read it too, and so then I'll have a live discussion partner!
It was fascinating the way that Wilde was able to show Dorian Gray's struggles and the tension between his conscience and the voice (Lord Henry's voice?) that told him that he should live for pleasure and nothing else. You'd think that something like a magically inexplicably changing portrait would seem odd in such a novel (it's not as gothic/eerie of a novel as I thought it would be), but it works.
Actually, let's talk about Lord Henry, because he absolutely FASCINATES me. He's a spouter of shocking aphorisms just to shock his listeners, and I am still not sure if he believes them in his own soul or is, as Dorian tells him, just saying them to be shocking. He frustrated me a bit because he was either extremely simplistic and pleasure-loving, or extremely deep, and for the life of me I couldn't figure out WHICH. But whatever his motivations may be, no one can deny that he was the catalyst to Dorian's downfall.
Since all the characters were so well portrayed, I can't help but feel bad for all of their plights - from Gray and his strange end, to all those whom he hurt with just a moment's remorse, I really just wanted to give them all hugs. Is that weird? They all had such unnecessarily troubled lives! And I can't help blaming Lord Henry and his social experiments.
Wilde was a strong believer that, as he writes the the prologue, "There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all." How fitting a retort, considering that this book scandalized so many when it was first published.
Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray? (Have you seen the recent movie with Ben Barnes? Was it any good?)
ALSO: go enter my blogversary giveaways - THEY END FRIDAY!! There's something for everyone - Jane Eyre, and Rose Under Fire, and an ebook of your choice!