Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

1891; 244 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Classic Lit; Gothic Fantasy.  Overall Rating :  9*/10.

    Dorian Gray is a young man of exceptional beauty, whose likeness is exquisitely captured by an artist friend of his.  But upon viewing the finished work, Dorian is sad, and even jealous, because while he'll grow old and lose his beauty, the portrait will remain forever young.  He wishes he could trade destinies with the painting.  And somehow this causes Fate to cruelly grant him his wish.

What's To Like...
    The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde's only novel, caused both a sensation and a scandal when it was first published in 1890.  On one hand, Wilde gives some poignant observations on love, society, and morality in general; and in particular the upper classes of Britain and American women.  Moreover, it's the best piece of Gothic literature since Edgar Allan Poe.

    OTOH, the first version of TPoDG had overt allusions to homosexuality, which the 1890's Victorian society found highly offensive.  Wilde was forced to tone down and/or delete some of the more blatant passages before the 1891 printing, which is usually the version published nowadays.

    Dorian Gray is a great character study and reminds me a lot of Dostoevsky's Prince Myshkin, in the recently-read The Idiot.  Both start out fetchingly naive and filled with ideals  and good intentions.  Both gradually become tainted: Prince Myshkin by Russian society; Dorian by his own guilt and sin.

    Finally, the central "scapegoat/sin-eater" theme is a great one.  If you could have something else absorb the responsibility for the ugly, sinful wrongs you commit, how would it affect your actions?  And what role would your conscience play?

Kewlest New Word...
Jarvies  :  Plural of jarvey, the driver of a carriage for hire.

    "I make a great difference between people.  I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects.  A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.  I have not got one who is a fool.  They are all men of some intellectual power and consequently they all appreciate me.  Is that vain of me?  I think it is rather vain."  (pg. 13; Kindle 3%)

    Society - civilized society, at least - is never very ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating.  It feels instinctively that manners are more important than morals, and, in its opinion, the highest respectability is of much less value than the possession of a good chef. (pg. 138; Kindle 63%)

"Dorian's whims are laws to everybody, except himself."  (pg.20)
    I thoroughly enjoyed The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I am not a fan of Classic Lit by any means.  Outside of one stretch of philosophizing, the rest of the novel was superb.  The pacing was good, the premise was original, and the Faustian horror would make Poe smile.  There was some subtle ironic humor seasoned in, and Wilde's jabs at society are numerous, sharp, fascinating, and spot on.

    The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde's only novel.  After this, he turned to writing plays, and then got embroiled in a series of legal suits/countersuits, trials, imprisonment, and deteriorating health.  By 1900, a short 10 years after TPoDG was first published, Oscar Wilde was dead.

    9 Stars. This is a free download for the Kindle at Amazon.

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