The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Synopsis:

Dorian is a good-natured young man until he falls in with the immoral Lord Henry and discovers the power of his own exceptional beauty. As he gradually sinks deep into a frivolous, glamorous world of selfish luxury, he apparently remains physically unchanged by the stresses of his corrupt and decadent lifestyle and untouched by age. But up in his attic, hidden behind a curtain, his portrait tells a different story.

(from the Vintage Edition)

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7 Comments

  1. michelebbc

     /  January 29, 2010

    I have read it but can’t say i felt a connection. The Little Stranger is a real odd bod of a book. I very much enjoyed it but even now when i think about it gives me a weird feeling, a bit like having an itch you can’t scratch. I’ve loaned my copy out and not had it back otherwise i would have brought it for you next time.

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  2. Nice summary vis a vis Sybil Vane, Michele. Expressed in a very Oscar Wilde-esque fashion!

    When I read this book I was caught up in it as an exploration of art and beauty which, despite Wilde’s protestations to the contrary, do have a moral component in the context of this book. The difficulty is that beauty is never precisely defined. Does Wilde refer to a universal standard of acknowledged beauty or does he refer to that which the beholder perceives by virtue of creative looking? I think the Sybil Vane episode outlines the conundrum, without committing to an opinion.

    I haven’t read any Edith Wharton, but feel that I really should!

    I was recently asked if I had made any connection between Dorian Gray and Sarah Waters’ Little Stranger. Not having read the latter, no. But I imagine that you have read it?

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  3. michelebbc

     /  January 21, 2010

    Hi Sarah. Now I’ve started thinking more about Sybils character. What do you think about the significance of her being an actress who can’t act anymore once she has fallen in love, compared to Dorians reaction which is to fall out of love with her once she can’t act!

    Even though it’s very different this book did put me in mind of The Age of Innocence, which examines in minute detail the struggles faced by characters living within strict conventions.

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  4. Michele, I find my thoughts very much in line with your first comment. I wasn’t sure what the book was trying to do, but since I did enjoy the wordplay of the characters I did not wish to become cross and resentful trying to figure out the rest!

    I like your interpretation in your second comment; it suggests that Lord Henry is able to play both sides, thus getting off scot-free. But although it fits the content of the text, given the tone I am struggling to imagine that Wilde was interested in making moral points.

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  5. michelebbc

     /  January 19, 2010

    Does the painting literally represent the duplicity involved in living life on the surface in a time when appearance and status were everything? Sarah’s comment in her own blog about Sybil Vane being the one character rooted in reality made me think that perhaps Sybil represents what happens to those who don’t play along, Dorian represents those who do. He lives a charmed life but has to pay in the end.

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  6. michelebbc

     /  January 18, 2010

    I enjoyed this one but agreed that it was difficult to see what message the book was trying to convey. It seemed that the Sir Henry character was trying to manipulate Dorian in his behaviour and this could raise the nature, nuture question, but then the supernatural aspect seems to remove all choice from Dorian. Still as in all Oscar Wildes novel and plays the conversation and humour is brilliant and stands the test of time and I enjoyed the gothic horror side of it too.

    Reply
  7. richardbbc

     /  January 14, 2010

    Paradoxically I both disliked this novel and yet found much to enjoy in it.

    One aspect that really impressed me was the time structure. Twenty years pass while Dorain remains forever young and those around him age. Set against this though is a much shorter time span represented by the seasons. They move through one year from June when the portrait is finished, to November when Basil is murdered, and finish in May when Dorian dies.

    I thought this helped to give the novel a very claustrophobic atmosphere. At the end of the novel Dorian is still seducing young women and talking to Lord Henry as he was at the beginning. It is as though Dorian is trapped in his eternal youth with nowhere to go.

    Despite all his excess and self-indulgence, despite even the murder of Basil, I felt there was something of the victim about Dorian. He does not choose to give the portrait power over his soul nor does he know his attempt to destroy it will be suicidal. I found I had some sympathy for Dorian’s plight.

    Reply

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