The Picture of Dorian Gray (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 6 Nov 2003
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A lush, cautionary tale of a life of vileness and deception or a loving portrait of the aesthetic impulse run rampant? Why not both? After Basil Hallward paints a beautiful, young man's portrait, his subject's frivolous wish that the picture change and he remain the same comes true. Dorian Gray's picture grows aged and corrupt while he continues to appear fresh and innocent. After he kills a young woman, "as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife", Dorian Gray is surprised to find no difference in his vision or surroundings. "The roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds sing just as happily in my garden."
As Hallward tries to make sense of his creation, his epigram-happy friend Lord Henry Wotton encourages Dorian in his sensual quest with any number of Wildean paradoxes, including the delightful "When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy." But despite its many languorous pleasures, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an imperfect work. Compared to the two (voyeuristic) older men, Dorian is a bore, and his search for ever new sensations far less fun than the novel's drawing-room discussions. Even more oddly, the moral message of the novel contradicts many of Wilde's supposed aims, not least "no artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style." Nonetheless, the glamour boy gets his just deserts. And Wilde, defending Dorian Gray, had it both ways: "All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment." --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"[A] remarkable work of imagination...A wonderfully entertaining parable of the aesthetic ideal" (Guardian)
"A heady late-Victorian tale of double-living" (Sarah Waters)
"There's an incurable disease afflicting females - ageing. Men, on the other hand, never pass their amuse-by dates. Sean Connery is still cutting the sex god mustard and, if time flies, then HE has frequent air miles. Yet, you never hear a man described as mutton dressed as ram, now do you? This is a book about a bloke who realises that the night is young, but he is not..." (Kathy Lette)
"In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde set the gold standard for chroniclers of decadence" (Guardian)
"Very decadent and Victorian" (Savidge Reads) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
The dialogue is rife with quotable lines... indeed Wilde succeeds in wit-- more so in the existential/anarchistic/dandy lines which are pretty much music to the ear. The quaint descriptions themselves are embedded with sadness--the pace & the story... You really couldn't possibly ask for anything else.
The novel becomes immense, I promise. In fact, the sopoforic first chapters are absolutely necessary for the degeneration and corruption to come. It makes the contrast between light and dark in the novel, subtle at first, but deeply disturbing as time goes on.
I think Wilde knew, that inside each of us, there is a little bit of Dorian Gray.
There is much repetition in the textual introduction of material in the general introduction.
Some of our group thought that we were sold this version under false pretences since there is hardly any extra material and yet there are seven chapters from the World Classics edition missing here.
Wilde’s view of marriage was shocking to many of his time. Was that why the book was censored. If can’t be because of homosexuality per se because the uncensored version still had, 'Why is your friendship so fatal to young men?'
Is Basil the angel and Lord Henry the devil in Dorian’s ears? The latter urges a pre-Christian, Greek morality.
One chapter is self-indulgent and contains much tedious description but otherwise the book skilfully leaves much to the imagination.
The anti-Semitism when referring to the theatre manager is typical of its time.
The portrait painter acted out of adoration for Dorian. ‘The sitter is merely the accident' Wilde being a Roman Catholic, would have known that ‘accident’ was a technical term in the notion of transubstantiation – if Dorian is the accident, does the painting become the substance - art as sacrament? the painting as the real presence?)
The name Dorian evokes ‘Greek love’.
The portrait remains ‘in the closet’.
Algiers is mentioned – a hangout for English homosexuals.
Wilde’s typical bon mots are amusing to start with but become tiresome after a while.
Is it autobiographical? Wilde once remarked that it "contains much of me in it. ….that Basil Hall-ward is "what I think I am" but "Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps." Wilde's comment suggests a backward glance to a Greek or "Dorian" Age, but also a forward-looking one to a more permissive time. That Dorian and Lord Henry contain elements of John Gray and Lord Ronald Gower: does not begin to account for the complexity of these characters or for their vibrancy on the page.
Do also listen to the audio version which adds great value to the reading and listening experience.
Through his artist friend, Basil's portrait of him, Dorian learns to appreciate beauty and makes a wish that he will remain forever young and beautiful. His wish is granted but he rejects Basil's friendship because he is mesmerised by Harry's wit. Harry is a cynical serial seducer who bows to convention but deceives at will. Dorian falls in love with actress Sybil but abandons her as soon as she responds to his advances. Sybil commits suicide. Using his eternal good looks, Dorian explores all kinds of rich sensual experiences and because he looks like a celebrity he gets away with it. `Conscience is cowardice,' Harry tells him and Dorian believes this, burying his sense of responsibility for Sybil's death.
Villains are supposed to look evil and have deformities. Wilde has created an utterly shallow antihero whose appearance protects him from blame. Dorian lives out a reckless life of pleasure seeking while his `soul', Basil's portrait, safely hidden in the nursery, accumulates wrinkles and faults.
In a modern setting he'd be a boy racer with a pimped up car or a gym fanatic with steroid-boosted muscles. Basil and Sybil's family come to grief and Dorian's past eventually catches up with him.
The scenes are dramatic and the cleverly worked plot is convincing. All the characters emulate Harry's Wildean paradoxical epigrams. But Wilde narrowly avoids a confrontation between Dorian and his enemies. The final scene is played out in the nursery with the destruction of the portrait.
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