04 May 2015

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

As a lover of literature, it's hard not to notice the many great quotes from Oscar Wilde. Here's a few to refresh your memory:
“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” 
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”  
“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
Despite my admiration of his intellect, I've never actually read any of Oscar Wilde's work, and thought it best to remedy that this year. So it was that I picked up the beautifully designed Penguin edition of The Picture Of Dorian Gray, the only novel ever written by Oscar Wilde.

I'll admit I was a little apprehensive in the beginning, (what if Wilde is too high-brow for me?) but that was soon put to rest as early as Page 3 when Lord Henry says:

"But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are!"

I knew then I was safe in expert hands, and continued willingly discovering this once offensive text. We all know the premise (so I won't waste time recounting it) but what I was surprised to learn was that the sins Dorian Gray gets up to are never really expanded upon. His cruel treatment of lovers is there for all to see, but his sexual exploits are only ever alluded to, never described in full. What a pity.

There are countless homoerotic scenes - particularly between Lord Henry and Dorian Gray - but there is never any evidence to suggest they were ever together or even whether they loved each other. Lord Henry clearly loves Dorian for his youth and beauty, and in my opinion Dorian admires Lord Henry's ideals and freedoms, but that's as much as we ever really know for sure about them.

I was looking forward to reading a gothic horror story of sorts, taking me through the slow degradation of Dorian's soul - reflected in the portrait - however The Picture of Dorian Gray often read like an essay; the character of Lord Henry a mouthpiece for Wilde's own thoughts on society, religion, youth and beauty.

In summary, I enjoyed the writing immensely, the plot less so and I'm left to wonder what Oscar Wilde would write about if he had the freedom to write for us today. He was shocking in his time, would he shock us still now? I think he would.

My rating = ***

Carpe Librum!

Would you like to comment?

  1. Don't forget that Wilde lived in a time when people could be sent to prison in England for engaging in a same-sex relationship — and he did: 2 years hard labour. Explains why this was part of our "high school" curriculum back in the 60s. I remember enjoying it immensely.

  2. So sad he had to go to prison. This would have been very interesting to study at high school though, I can't imagine it. The discussions around youth would have been interesting, but did the kids take it seriously?


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!