The Picture Of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

dorian-grayFrom Wilde’s shockingly outrageous preface to the fantastic conclusion there is a sense of beauty and exploration in this unique piece of prose. Touching on subjects that were taboo at the time of writing, he had to be subtle. Dorian’s exploration into the world of pleasure is filled with numerous metaphors for risqué acts. Both Dorian and the novel turn strange. You’d think the life of a young handsome sensualist would consist of orgies and opium, but Gray is more obsessed with perfumes, tapestries, jewels and world music. Don’t ask why.

The book stems around the idea of a young man commissioning a portrait of himself and when-upon realizing his own beauty, wishes for the portrait to age instead of himself and to take the repercussion of his sins. The boy; Dorian, is horrified by the portrait as it alters to a cruel sneer after he breaks the heart of his short-lived love and she commits suicide. Nevertheless his upset passes and he uses his portrait to do things that other men would be scarred by and enters a realm of sin. The book also heavily features the witty and mostly outrageous Lord Henry Wotton; he is the one that originally influences Dorian into appreciating his youthful beauty. Henry is the most interesting character for me.

The level of description surpasses most novelists and this I feel this is down to Wilde’s great experience in poetry. For example, the introducing sequence of Basil’s art studio is filled with the most wonderful imagery: “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”

It is the bombardment of ideas that made me start to struggle with the book somewhat. After experiencing so many new concepts one starts to tire of them knowing that these pompous old minds will thrust another upon you within the flick of a page and because this is where the book really focuses (Wilde believed in “art for art’s sake” – this meaning that a sentimental plot leaving you warm inside would not have been at the top of his agenda) it didn’t really have a chance to grasp my attention through the bulk of the book.

However I feel this feeling of dissatisfaction for a lack of plot stems from the conditioning of modern novels where plot is everything. I cannot deny that Wilde’s exploration into late 19th century culture is fascinating and how openly he hints on homosexuality between characters and the ruin that follows them (for example male figures are discredited when Dorian has relations with them). Along with the remarkable experience of observing Dorian’s opium addiction and seeing his “dark” side as he trawls to the back end of London to reach the dens. It’s just that this apparent lack of plot in some places leaves one feeling a little lost.

This novel is a masterpiece in design and research as Wilde describes Dorian’s hedonistic lifestyle as we learn about mysticism, perfumes, music, jewels, embroideries etc. While the list is remarkable this section in the book is simply a list and one that I feel is completely irrelevant to the mood of the novel but once again gives Wilde a chance to show off his artistic ability which is truly beautiful. So as a conclusion if you do want to read a novel simply “for art’s sake” then Wilde could not have crafted a piece of prose more perfect for you but if your style is plot driven then you might want to think twice.




  1. A very well-informed review, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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