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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A picture says a thousand words..., 22 Dec. 2009
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This review is from: The Picture of Dorian Gray (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
In roughly three weeks Dorian Gray starring Ben Barnes comes to DVD in the UK (and I intend to buy it. I have a region free DVD player and sadly there was never a US release of this film). I haven't seen this film version yet and I know it strays from the original novel but that's not the worst thing in the world. I've seen a version where Basil was a woman and it was set in the nineteen sixties with really bad acting. Now that was terrible. And there's also the 1944 version of The Canterville Ghost that turned it into World War 2 propaganda. So I don't mind what they've done with the Ben Barnes version of Dorian Gray.

But since I am waiting for this adaptation I would like to write a review now for the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I LOVE the work of Oscar Wilde. Allow me to stress that. I absolutely love the work of Oscar Wilde. My two favourite works of his are The Canterville Ghost and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Picture of Dorian Gray tells the story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. While he remains flawless, a portrait of himself grows uglier every time he sins. He cannot die unless you destroy the painting.
Thanks to temptation and vice Dorian falls into hedonism and debauchery. As he externally remains pure and untainted his soul bears the burdens of his actions as reflected in the painting. Dorian learns the hard way that it's not physical beauty that matters but the inner beauty of one's own soul in qualities of kindness, mercy and compassion, things that he had lost along the way for selfishness, hedonism and greed.

Dorian's fall from grace is a road lined with wit and humour. The story is riddled with clever epigrams (witty, short sayings) mostly said by the morally questionable character, Lord Henry.
Lord Henry is a surprisingly naive character who plants bad ideas and temptations into Dorian's head while he, himself, doesn't seem to actually commit any sin he talks about. He even has the naive notion that people of their status don't do things like murder, as if such crimes are vices only of the lower classes.

The picture of Dorian Gray is a very good and interesting read that talks about social conformity, morality, hedonism, and good and evil. The messages are not heavy handed and it's an intelligently written story.

People of Oscar Wilde's era who called it an immoral book were made uncomfortable by Dorian's descent and lack of redemption but ultimately he was punished for his sins. Others noticed the subtle hints of homosexuality and bisexuality in the story but these things were kept subtle as this was a Gothic Victorian novel.
Many people over-estimate how much homosexual content there is in this book or they don't see it at all but in fact it was actually very subtle and you only notice it if you are looking for it.
However lines such as 'The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curve of your lips rewrite history.' - which was engraved in a cigarette case given to Dorian by Lord Henry make the relationships obvious to the astute reader.

The sexuality of the characters isn't even an issue. Poor Oscar Wilde was far ahead of his time in this regard.

It's Dorian's decadence, hedonism and selfishness that cause his downfall and prove the moral lesson of the story; the value of the soul and inner beauty over external eternal flawlessness.
Dorian might have had eternal youth and beauty but it was at the price of the eternal beauty and youth that comes from a good natured and kind soul. And Dorian, being an aesthete could only see this transformation when his soul was physically manifested in a portrait that changed with the changing of his nature.
The 1940s movie adaptation of the story (the first film adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray) held the hope of redemption in showing that in acts of compassion the portrait could change for the better. This was something the novel lacked though it is still a fine novel.
Oscar Wilde was right when he said there is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. There's only well written or poorly written books and The Picture of Dorian Gray is very well written.

This isn't an action packed thriller (though there are some intense moments). This isn't a romance about an immortal with a teenage lover (though something of that does happen). This is NOT Twilight. This story actually has substance.
This is more of an exploration of a character's nature and all of human nature in the process, the flaws of modern superficiality, selfishness and hedonism and the power the spiritual can still have over human consciousness. It's sad that for all of Dorian's shallowness he had to physically see it to feel the weight of his conscience instead of just knowing what he was doing was wrong but this is the flaw of the character and the reason behind his downfall. Dorian was a true aesthete to a dangerous extreme. Oscar Wilde was making a statement about society that many even today either don't get or don't want to get.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is written in a nice flowing prose. It's written in a third person perspective novel, not first person perspective, not alternating, and certainly not epistolary (which was a very popular style of fiction writing in Oscar Wilde's time).

I strongly recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is a true classic.
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