The Picture of Dorian Grayby Oscar Wilde, Jeffrey Eugenides Published 01 Jun 2004
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|Publisher||Random House: Modern Library|
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Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it ﬁrst appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting inﬂuence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" Reviews
Oh Dorian. Oh Dorian.
When I first read this book in the fruitless years of my youth I was excited, overwhelmed and a blank slate (as Dorian is, upon his first encounter with Lord Henry) easily molded, persuaded, influenced, etc.
Certain Wildisms (Wildeisms?) would take my breath away. Would become my mottos to believe in. To follow. To live.
"It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."
"But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face."
"If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat."
"Genius lasts longer than Beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place."
"You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know."
Re-reading this masterpiece and coming upon these highlighted lines was possibly more interesting than the book this time. Why had I highlighted these lines? Do they still mean the same thing to me, as they did when I first took note of them, enough to highlight them? I still love all of those lines. But no longer feel so strongly for them.
Now these are lines that stick out still to me. Or were newly underlined on the second pass through. New Wildisms to mold me.
"Oh, I can't explain. When I like people immensely I never tell their names to any one. It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvelous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it. When I leave town now I never tell my people where I am going. If I did, I would lose all my pleasure. It is a silly habit, I dare say, but somehow it seems to bring a great deal of romance into one's life. I suppose you think me awfully foolish about it?"
"Yes; she is a peacock in everything but beauty."
"Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is far the best ending for one."
"I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects."
"Ah! this Morning! You have lived since then."
"what brings you out so early? I thought you dandies never got up till two, and were not visible till five." --A new personal favorite. That I follow very seriously.
"She behaves as if she was beautiful. Most American women do. It is the secret of their charm."
'He thought for a moment. "Can you remember any great error that you committed in your early days, Duchess?" he asked, looking at her across the table.
"A great many, I fear," she cried.
"Then commit them over again," he said, gravely. "To get back one's youth one has merely to repeat one's follies."
"A delightful theory!" she exclaimed. " I must put it into practice."
"Besides, each time that one loves is the only time one has ever loved. Difference of object does not alter singleness of passion."
It turns out that all of these quotes occur in the first 45 pages, except that last one which is right near the end. And it seems most of my reviews end up being mostly quotes from the book itself, but I figure this is what shaped and informed my reading, so I want to share it with all of you. What do you think of it all?
That said, poor Sybil Vane! Poor James Vane! Poor Basil Hallward! Shit, even poor old Lord Henry Wotton! And Dorian! Oh Dorian! Lead the life you did and for what?
That's all I am going to say about the book. I don't think I shall read Against Nature, for fear of being seduced like Dorian.
If you're tired of this review or just tired in general, stop now and come back later. I am going to include two more quotes from the book that truly fucked me up. So much I had to read them at least 3 times in a row. And then transcribe them here for you. The last section, thats the one that did it. Beautiful.
"There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral-immoral from the scientific point of view."
"Because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly-that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one's self. Of course they are charitable. They feed the hungry and cloth the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals; the terror of God, which is the secret of religion-these are the two things that govern us. And yet-"
"And yet," continues Lord Henry, in his low, musical voice,"I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream-I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal-to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal, it may be. But the bravest man among us is afraid of himself. The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives. We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sins, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also. You, Mr. Gray, you yourself, with your rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood, you have had passions that have made you afraid, thoughts that have filled you with terror, day-dreams and sleeping dreams whose mere memory might stain your cheek with shame-"
"Stop!" faltered Dorian Gray, "stop! you bewilder me. I don't know what to say. There is some answer to you, but I cannot find it. Don't speak. Let me think, or, rather, let me try not to think."
"There are few of us who have not sometimes wakened before dawn, either after one of those dreamless nights that make us almost enamored of death, or one of those nights of horror and misshapen joy, when through the chambers of the brain sweep phantoms more terrible than reality itself, and instinct with that vivid life that lurks in all grotesques, and that lends to Gothic art its enduring vitality, this art being, one might fancy, especially the art of those who minds have been troubled with the malady of reverie. Gradually white fingers creep through the curtains, and they appear to tremble. In black, fantastic shapes, dumb shadows crawl into the corners of the room, and crouch there. Outside, there is the stirring of the birds among the leaves, or the sound of men going forth to their work, or the sigh and sob of the wind coming down from the hills and wandering round the silent house, as though it feared to wake the sleeper, and yet must needs call forth Sleep from her purple cave. Veil after veil of thin, dusky gauze is lifted, and by degrees the forms and colors of things are restored to them, and we watch the dawn remaking the world in its antique pattern. The wan mirrors get back their mimic life. The flameless tapers stand where we had left them, and beside them lies the half-cut book that we had been studying, or the wired flower that we had worn at the ball, or the letter we had been afraid to read, or that we had read too often. Nothing seems to us changed. Out of the unreal shadows of the night comes back the real life that we had known. We have to resume it where we had left off, and there steals over us a terrible sense of the necessity for the continuance of energy in the same wearisome round of stereotyped habits, or a wild longing, it may be, that our eyelids might open some morning upon a world that had been refashioned anew in the darkness for our pleasure, a world in which things would have fresh shapes and colors, and be changed, or have other secrets, a world in which the past would have little or no place, or survive, at any rate, in no conscious form of obligation or regret, the remembrance even of joy having its bitterness, and the memories of pleasure their pain."
So I read all of Wilde's plays a couple of years ago but for some reason I never read this at the time. This is probably the number one most requested book for me to read. So I read it. Are ya happy now!? ARE YA!?
I really rather enjoyed this. Well, obviously. I mean, did you honestly think I wasn't going to like The Picture of Dorian Gray? It's by Oscar Wilde for fuck's sake. His prose is like spilled honey flowing across a wooden table and waterfalling onto the floor beneath. The viscous liquid flowing slowly over the edge. His plot, perfectly paced, moves slowly as we wade deeper and deeper into Dorian Gray's maniacal life. Over the edge we go as everything goes wrong, there's death, there's pain, there's long conversations about art. We hit the floor as we finish and we see nothing but sweetness amassing around us as we escape from Wilde's prose. Putting the book down you see the light has hit the stream and it glows and it shines and it sparkles and you stand there mesmorised by what you're witnessing and you put the book back on your shelf and feel sorry for the book you read next.
So, yeah, it's good.
"The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul."
And so begins this tale of art and sin. I would highly recommend first watching the movie Wilde starring the wonderful Stephen Fry, it is a film which takes the audience on a journey through the life of the tormented writer, from the beginnings of his fame to his later incarceration for "gross indecency" - a charge used to imprison individuals when it was impossible to prove sodomy. Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labour and died not long after being freed due to health problems gained during those two years. Looking at Wilde's story from a twenty-first century perspective, it is sad and horrifying to realise this man was indirectly sentenced to death for being gay. The "hard labour" prescribed was carried out in various ways but one of the most common was the treadmill:
This machine made prisoners walk continuously uphill for hours on end and had many long-term effects on people's health.
Why do I think it's important to know this? Because, as Wilde claims, in every piece of art there is more of the artist than anything else. And I believe this is especially true of The Picture of Dorian Gray more than perhaps any other fictional work I've read. In this novel, Wilde explores the nature of sin, of morality and immorality. The homoerotic undertones between Dorian Gray, Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton are, I think, the author's little expression of his own secret "sins" within his work. Rarely does a work of fiction so deeply seem to mirror elements of the author's life.
By 1891, when The Picture of Dorian Gray was published, Oscar Wilde had met and fallen in love with Lord Alfred Douglas and they had begun a semi-secret affair, by which I mean that many were suspicious of the relationship but didn't argue with Wilde's claims that they shared a Socrates/Plato love that is between a close teacher and student. The idolisation of Dorian Gray's youth and beauty, his tendency to be mean at random, these characteristics all fit with the description and personality of Lord Alfred Douglas. For me, there is no real question as to whether part of Dorian is meant to be Mr Wilde's lover.
I think if you familiarise yourself with Oscar Wilde, this becomes a very personal novel, much more than just a disturbing horror story where a man sells his soul. But even without any additional information, I think this is a sad and haunting book that tells of the joyful naivete of youth and the sad wisdom of maturity.
Facts that I know for sure:
1. I got this edition because I'm a slave to the aesthetics and that's exactly the kind of motive the ghost of Oscar Wilde would approve of
2. It’s safe to assume that no matter what I’m doing, at any given moment in time, at least 20% of my brain capacity is perpetually dedicated to making sure I’m clever enough, flamboyant enough, petty enough, gay enough, dramatic enough to earn the approval of the ghost of Oscar Wilde
“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
This book is dark unicorns and rainbows. It's chocolate ice cream with cherries on top. It's a pizza with everything on it. It's a fluffy kitten. It's ice cold lemonade on a hot summer day.
It is absolutely marvellous.
I couldn't help but include this in my review. Keanu Reeves is the real life Dorian Gray.
I finished reading this last night, and afterwards I spent an entire hour staring into space so I could contemplate over the majesty of this work. It left me speechless. This book is exquisite; it is an investigation into the human soul, the power of vanity and the problems of living a life with not a single consequence for your actions. It’s truly powerful stuff.
It begins with a simple realisation, and perhaps an obvious one. But, for Dorian it is completely life changing. He realises that beauty is finite. It won’t last forever. It’s like a flower, temporary and splendid. So if you’re a young man whose appearance is your singular quality, then this is some damn scary news. People only want to be with you because you’re attractive and charming; they want to be near you, and with you, for your looks only.
So when that goes what do you have left?
So what do you do? How do you retain your singular quality? Well, the answer is simple, you copy Doctor Faustus (The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus) and sell your soul to the devil!
"How sad it is!" murmured Dorian Gray with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait. "How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June. . . . If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that -- for that -- I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!"
And this is where the real depravity begins. Dorian’s world has no consequences. Everything he does is attributed to the painting, everything. Any regret or malice leaves him quickly and is transferred to the canvas. So he can’t technically feel emotion for an extended period of time; thus, his attitude becomes one of nonchalance. He becomes a shell, an emotionless creature who can only seek his sin: vanity. He surrounds himself with beauty. His house is full of art, brilliant music and every luxury known to man. You name it. Dorian’s got it. Only through seeking new experiences, these pleasures, can Dorian’s being remain animated. I intentionally used the word “being” for Dorian’s body no longer harbours his soul; it’s in the painting. Everything he does is for his own indulgence; he just doesn’t care what affect his presence has on others. The prefect moment is all he lives for.
“I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”
The character of Dorian Gray is an interesting study because he is representative of many things. He shows how a seemingly pure soul can be corrupted if it’s left in a sense of privation and given terrible guidance. Also he is suggestive of the Victorian ideal of the perfect societal image. One must be respectable at all times, and have all the appropriate airs and graces. But behind closed doors, or perhaps even a curtain, anything goes. He is suggestive of the hidden evils of Victorian society as behind the mask was many dark things. For example, the Empire and colonialism to the Victorians was a wonderful thing; it built wealth and structure, but in reality it destroyed culture and subjected peoples to slavery. The same things can be said of child labour, the exploitation of women and terrible working conditions. Everything exists behind a veil of grandeur, and this is no less true for Dorian.
The homosexual suggestions are practically ground-breaking. Wilde wasn’t the only Victorian author to suggest such things. Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde can be read in a similar vein, but Wilde was much more explicit. It’s not cryptic; it’s just plain homosexual lust for all to see on the part of Basil and (perhaps?) even Sir Henry later on. It’s still rather horrific that Wilde was actually arrested for homosexual acts. Silly Victorians. The novel also shows that despite being corrupted to such a degree, to commit murder in such a terrible sense, Dorian (the Victorian man?) isn’t beyond all redemption. He can still come back from his deeds and end it all. The ending was perfection. This has great allegorical meaning.