Classic book review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890, it was originally serialised in a magazine and reprinted in novel form the following year.

1945 film version

The basic plot is interesting – a young man desires youth and beauty that he wishes a new portrait of him would age rather than himself. The wish comes true and he spends the next 20 years carrying out every sin known to man, without any care or misfortune coming upon him. After all, how could one so beautiful be so depraved?

The portrait grows old, grows malignant, grows a cruel uplift to the mouth and eyes that appear evil. Dorian keeps the portrait hidden so no one can see how black his soul has become, only his veneer of wholesomeness.

As with much literature of the 19th century I found this a difficult book to read. Not quite Wuthering Heights bad, but up there. The language was flowery and intellectual – art for arts sake is one of the main principles of Wilde, parts of this book seem like writing for writing’s sake. And he is eloquent and beguiling, but the plot moved a little slow for me.

Once the plot is in it’s stride and Dorian is starting to become more interesting the book becomes a little easier, speeding up it’s alarming events as the end draws near. Unusually for us today, the book does not seem to make moral judgments against the actions of the protagonist, merely letting the chips fall where they may. I guess this is a reflection on Wilde and his principles as it is a rejection of any kind of absolute truth.

To read the first 10 pages online, go to this Amazon page.

An interesting book and again something referenced in many places in pop culture, such as a book I read recently named Saigon Express and the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Amazon seem to recommend the next 3 books I read are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Robert Louis Stevensen’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

In not so classic book news, my new textbooks for CCNP study arrived yesterday, so it’s back to the grindstone for me.

One Reply to “Classic book review: The Picture of Dorian Gray”

  1. It didn’t take you long to read that after Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’m taking note of what you’re saying about these classics as I want to read more of them but I don’t think I have the staying power if I find the story too hard to read as you report with this book.

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