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The Picture of Dorian Gray Paperback – 27 Sep 2012
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"Bartlett's new adaptation... is refreshingly and illuminatingly unconventional." - Irish Times"Arresting adaptation...It glitters artfully; it leaves us desolate." 4 stars - Guardian "It is a long time since Dublin was shocked by Oscar Wilde, but Neil Bartlett's adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray does something to recall the tremors.... Bartlett's real gift is to capture the lethal surprise of Wilde's only novel" - Observer
About the Author
Described as having a brilliantly contemporary understanding of Wilde (The Irish Times), Neil Bartlett is one of Britain's most acclaimed and original theatre makers, returns to the Abbey Theatre following the success of the award winning An Ideal Husband in 2008. A theatre radical, Neil Bartlett's recent collaborations are at the forefront of international theatre making and include work with Complicite, Improbable, Lepage, Handspring (creators of Warhorse) and Artangel. Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s, perhaps best known for The Importance of Being Earnest and A Picture of Dorian Grey. Today he is remembered for his plays and the circumstances of his imprisonment, followed by his early death.
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Overall, I’m glad I did.
I’d actually give it a 3.5, its positives far outweigh its negatives. An example of which would be the unnecessarily detailed manner in which Wilde describes the interests that Dorian submerges himself in whilst existing in his years of hedonistic vanity. I agree some content on this was needed, I just didn’t like the overtly flowery essay type style that Wilde employed. This of course is his style but it just went on too long for me, it was information that essentially distracted from the main plot and became uninteresting. It came across like Wilde merely wanted to show off about how much he knew about everything artistic. As I write that I realise it was actually quite informative of the way wealthy intellectuals perhaps filled their time but regardless it felt misplaced to me.
Also, some of the character exchanges seemed very unrealistic. Particularly Henry’s dialogue with the duchess, a seemingly unending stream of snappy but artificial one liners. Poetic and lyrical perhaps but no one converses like that for as long as they did.
That being said, I liked much of the other character exchanges. The ones between the male characters, and perhaps this speaks volumes about Wilde’s world view of women in general. I think he may have found women a frightening enigma and this is reflected in not only the dialogue with the female characters but also the way in which Lord Henry philosophises over the value of the female intellect.
Some may find the overtly homoerotic (not so subtle) undertones a bit much. But I could see this was just Wilde injecting his own private thoughts into his characters and that is when a story is best. It was a time when such things were unacceptable to say let alone publish so this to me didn’t detract from the main plot or what his characters were essentially going through.
When this novel was at its best was when it was dealing with the main themes of vanity and the perceivable worth of youth. The story is generally superb if somewhat abrupt at it’s climax and Wilde’s mastery of the english language is for the most part a wonder to behold.
Tempted to go to 4 stars, but just couldn’t forgive the large chunk in the middle that was just Wilde peacocking and unashamedly parading his high intellect and knowledge. Still, a great novel.
Nowadays though, with all the things we are presented with in the media and what we see on the internet some will consider this very tame. Although arguably it has never been what is mentioned in the tale, it is what is hinted at and how good your imagination can be.
I expect most people who decide to read this will already be quite familiar with the tale and so know the main plot. Dorian Gray of the title is soon to come into money, is a bit vain, relatively kind hearted and means well, and very handsome, and then he meets Basil Hallward, an artist, who wishes to do his portrait. So far not much to write home about, although Basil obviously makes Dorian vainer, and there are definite tones of amorousness between the two, and then he meets Basil’s friend Lord Henry. As a friendship develops between Dorian and Lord Henry, Dorian is led into a more hedonistic lifestyle. What Dorian doesn’t realise though is that he has unwittingly entered into a Devilish Pact caused by the portrait of him. As Dorian’s life becomes more lurid, perverted and diabolical he never seems to age, but his portrait becomes something truly terrible to behold.
One of the reasons this works so well is that apart from a few details and some undertones of promiscuity between males and females we never really know what Dorian’s actual actions are. We know that to become involved with him can leave you tainted, but we have to use our imaginations to create what we think he gets up to. Another reason why this works and is still very popular today is due to the fact that it plays upon our vanities. With cosmetic surgery, Botox and numerous unguents that are supposed to make us stay looking young on the market, it would seem that many of us are afraid of getting a wrinkle or blemish. Indeed whilst this remains so then there is no reason to suppose this book will fall by the wayside. And on top of that this story is a really good read with some scintillating dialogue between the characters.
This is a book that will really make you think. Its characters are so boldly imprinted on its pages that they are easy to picture; this is particularly true of the infamous Lord Henry, who slowly manipulates Dorian over the course of the novel. It raises a lot of questions, but rarely answers them. In my opinion, this is much preferable to having all your questions answered: it leaves a sense of mystery that hangs over The Picture of Dorian Gray and turns it into a fascinating read.