Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde // i return to the classics


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5297 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!  

6 comments:

  1. It's been a few years since I read this, but your review reminded me how brilliant Wilde is. I love his criticism of art in the 19th century - I can't help feeling his whole 'art for art's sake' was mainly a jab at the moralistic and straight-laced Victorians.

    Lord Henry is definitely an interesting character. I'd be tempted to think he's quite deep and intelligent, but consciously constructs a persona which is in part a critique of the idle upper classes. It's been a whike, though, I really should revisit this book! :)

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  2. I've never read this book, but I've read some of Wilde's short stories, and they were really good, so I'll probably give this one a try :D

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  3. I really should read this—I really, really should. I've seen the character portrayed on screen (though not in his own movie) and referenced often, so I should really look into the story. You make it sound like such an interesting read! :) I will definitely have to check this out when I can. :)

    By the way, thanks for stopping by my blog and participating in the social media survey. I appreciate it!

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  4. I used to love The Picture of Dorian Gray, but it's been so long since I read that I can't really remember that much about it. Lord Henry sounds a bit like Wilde himself, I think. Maybe this was a reference to his own relationship with that young Lord, Alfred Douglas? I don't know, just throwing ideas at random. What I still remember is how exquisitely it is written. Breathtaking prose.

    As for the film, if you're into Ben Barnes definitely give it a try, but I feel it was such a lost opportunity of making a terrific film with the perfect Dorian.

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  5. I agree with a lot of what you said. It was interesting trying to work out whose side Wilde was on -- he remained very neutral throughout, I thought, sometimes seeming to be speaking through Henry's voice, sometimes raising our sympathies with Basil. I still haven't quite worked out what I think the main theme of the book is. It seems to be a warning against hedonism, but Wilde insisted it had no moral and was just art; that as the artist he had "no ethical sympathy". But I don't know if that's true or if he, like Henry, is just trying to be shocking. Because I struggle to believe a writer can write a book and not believe it has a purpose.

    Personally I didn't like the characters which was why I couldn't really get on board with the book. I felt bad for Dorian but I think that, much as Henry was influential in his downfall, he brought a lot of it on himself due to vanity etc. Basil was sweet but a bit weedy, and Henry was really annoying. But that's just my opinion! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Great review <3

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