As promised last week, here is the first in a two-part review on things to do with Oscar Wilde. I know no-one asked for it but sod it, if no-one asks me to review stuff then I’ll just keep putting stuff on that I’m want to do rather than being told to do. But enough moaning about you, let’s get onto one the books that we all know the general plot of but probably have not read.
I must apologise for the brevity of the plot summary that I’m about to give, but seeing as how many of those who will come across this article will have read the novel, or least have a grasp of the basic plot, I don’t want to bore you by treading on worn ground. And for those who have not read the novel, I apologise for not doing the summary justice to the novel and thoroughly encourage you to read it. But, I’ll take my fan boy hat off for my reviewer’s top hat (appropriate for the ear) so let’s get down to business on Oscar Wilde’s one and only novel: The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The Picture of Dorian Gray follows the life of; you guessed it, Dorian Gray who is the epitome of youth and beauty. Basil Hallward paints his portrait and Gray, upon seeing it, wished to remain as he on the canvas. Little does he know, his wish is granted and, taken in by the immoral Lord Henry Wotton, Gray begins to lead an increasingly corrupt lifestyle of vice and excess whilst retaining the façade of the perfect polite gentleman in the public eye. Yet his evil doings are not lost on his conscious for, although he appears to never age, the picture takes on his evils, showing the true nature of his heart, and the reality of his decadent ways.
This is what everyone knows, and if not they know the basic outline of this plot, and because of that many assume it be a great work because it has seeped into the general consciousness. I do try to debunk this notion as for me not all generally known works are as great as we hold them to be, e.g.: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (I would have said Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights but after attempting to read it at 13, I still have not read it all seven years on). But in all honesty, The Picture of Dorian Gray is as close as to a faultless book as I can imagine.
Sure many people say that a book is great, epic, or some other word to convey their feelings of absolute devotion to a book, but somehow that feels a little hollow. I always try to see whether I could recommend this or that book to everyone and it would please their own distinctive literary tastes or create new ones.
What I mean by a faultless book is that it:
1: You could give to your parents with the expectation that they would enjoy it as much as you did.
2: You would have no problem revisiting the book and not have it feel like a chore.
3: The famousness, or obscurity, of the author should not impair your view on whether the book is good literature or not.
4: You could explain it in fifteen seconds or less to a friend in the middle of a house party without them getting bored.
By this logic, none of the Harry Potter books; The Hobbit; Kokoro, or even The Talented Mr. Ripley would be considered faultless literature by this list, and the latter two are some of my favourite books. The Picture of Dorian Gray however survives this ruling with ease.
The plot is easy to follow, the characters are so well rounded and fleshed out that, although some will only make occasional, or even singular appearances, you have the impression that you know the entirety of their being through Wilde’s wonderful use of prose. Love; violence; drugs; morality, all are dealt with in such a cool and collected manner yet remain so clear and vivid that one cannot miss the obvious.
The fact that you follow Dorian Gray from being a moral, if not slightly vain, person to the debauched and immoral person of his, and the hedonistic and immoral Lord Henry Wotton’s making, is thrilling and exquisitely done.
A particular highlight for me, and perhaps the major turning point for Dorian Gray’s character, is his relationship with Sybil Vane. I won’t give the exact details, but romance, rejection and heinous consequences ultimately form the Gray of his latter, corrupt years. It is done so well, and in the timeline of the story, happens so briefly, that one can scarcely believe how Dorian changes and that it his own making, although with helpful pushes from Wotton.
The representation of Gray’s transformation through the picture is so relatable as, although we perhaps have never gone so far in the acts that Dorian Gray persists in, we can all relate in putting on a public façade whilst our truer, more darker selves, are hidden from public view. Hidden from view from the world, Gray’s Portrait symbolises the accurate portrayal of his soul, as well asking what our portraits would reveal about ourselves.
It is such a shame that at the time, critics say this as a vulgar and detestable text which The Daily Chronicle at the time labelled ‘a poisonous book’ that sought to teach those who read it all the most deadly sins to indulge in. And what was more worrying was that The Daily Chronicle was not alone in its damnation and, eventually, The Picture of Dorian Gray was used against Wilde at his trial at the Old Bailey in 1895.
But we have evolved from such brutishness of 123 years ago, and I, the Chronic Chronicler shall overrule the Daily Chronicle. They missed the point. They saw corruption when Wilde was portraying how one who appears so virtuous could conceal a hidden blackness of the soul.
I would gladly re-read this entire novel again and again and, should I have children, I would read it to them. What may have been branded sick all those years ago and meant Wilde’s works were deemed abominable due to his sexual tendencies, has now become a non-issue for most of the world.
Now we can enjoy all his great works, be they his plays, short stories, his fairy tales, and so on and so on. Yet The Picture of Dorian Gray will undoubtedly remain what the world rightly perceives to be his greatest work.
Thank you for reading this review, I apologise for the fan boy in me surfacing for quite a fair bit of this review, but I did my best to give an impartial review. If you want to discuss what you think makes a faultless novel or just to tell me what your favourite Oscar Wilde piece of literature is, please tell me in the comments below. Don’t forget to like and follow and don’t be afraid to criticise my work! I need the feedback to improve! And yes, the Wilde review will come next!
Other articles you need to read!
- “The Picture of Dorian Gray” By Oscar Wilde (abarringer1995.wordpress.com)
- Being Wilde for The Picture of Dorian Gray (criticaldan4th.wordpress.com)
- “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde (xerodermapigmentosium.wordpress.com)
- THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY – Oscar Wilde (parkakademi.wordpress.com)
- The Picture of Dorian Gray: Court in session: who is at fault for Dorian’s corruption? (needtoreadblog.wordpress.com)