The Picture of Dorian Gray
first published in 1891
I read the Penguin Classics version, even though I think the cover doesn’t do Dorian justice.
Despite a certain denseness to Wilde’s writing, I loved this story. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again…Wilde writes like he wants every line to be quotable. This can make some of the dialogue a bit tough to digest. Is there such a thing as being too witty? Because I prefer my dialogue to just flow. I don’t want to have to think that hard about what Wilde was trying to say.
However, if you can overcome Wilde’s style, I think this is a kick-ass story. And it’s rare that I say that about a classic. In fact, I usually say they suck.
When we first meet Dorian Gray he is young and impressionable. Dorian is sitting for a portrait, being painted by Basil Hallward, who is enthralled by the handsome young man. However, Dorian soon falls until the influence of Basil’s friend, the jaded Lord Henry. Lord Henry is all about living in the moment, for pleasure, and enjoying the beautiful things in life. After Basil finishes the painting, Dorian offhandedly comments that he wishes he could always be as beautiful as he is in the portrait.
Whammo. Wish fulfilled. (Not that Wilde would’ve said whammo, but it’s a word I happen to enjoy.)
As Dorian ages, we see him turn into a cruel, depraved man who gives no thought to the consequences of his actions. However, on the surface, he remains the beautiful young man Basil painted. The painting, though, reflects Dorian’s true nature. It wrinkles, it sneers, it develops a cruel mien. It is the personification of evil. It is the true Dorian.
Dorian can hardly bear to look at himself in the painting. And at times, he almost develops a conscience. Almost. This is part of the genius of the book…just when you think Dorian will redeem himself, he doesn’t. Despite his awful actions and callous behavior, I still wanted Dorian to see the light, so to speak, and realize that he could turn himself around. And a few times, I thought he would do it. Silly me.
And then there’s the ending. Honestly, I didn’t see it coming, and it was just oh, so perfect.
There’s a lot to consider when it comes to this book. I think there’s a lot of Wilde in it, particularly his beliefs about beauty and aestheticism. I could just see Wilde in the role of Lord Henry. And I think it does a MUCH better job of fleshing out the good v. evil theme that Jekyll and Hyde also illustrates. Rumor has it that Jekyll and Hyde was dashed off by Stevenson in just a few days, and I think it shows. On the other hand, Dorian Gray is a fully developed novel, with great depth and layers and characters (with the exception of Sybil Vane, who I couldn’t stand, even if she does have a great name).
So not only do I declare Dorian the winner of round 2 of Dueling Monsters, I think he’s my favorite of ALL of the monsters we’ve read. Unless we’re going with campy, and then I have to go back to my buddy Dracula. But if you’re looking for sophisticated evil, Dorian’s the guy.
I also read the graphic novel adaptation of the book.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard and adapted by Ian Edginton
Published by SelfMadeHero
This is a terrific adaptation of the book. It faithfully follows the original, and pulls out some of the best lines from the novel. It also does a great job showing the deterioration of Dorian’s character in the portrait. My only quibble is that Dorian is not blonde.
And no FTC, I didn’t forget you. I bought both of these books, and it was totally worth it.