Tuesday, 22 March 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

Don’t worry I am still alive. The Curious Cat did not cut me up into small pieces and throw me into the Thames. I’m still trying to get my head around all the exciting things that happened over the weekend and as yet haven’t managed to formulate events into words so you’ll have to bear with me (I think there’s going to be nothing for it but to write a list you know).

In the meantime allow me to blind you with my smugness.

I have finished my 4th Classic.

BOOM not-really resolutions. In your face! It’s not even the end of March.

(I’m doing a celebration dance right now, it’s kind of amazing, don’t be jealous.)

So. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Come on down and be judged by me.

If you haven’t read this book and really want to and don’t know anything about the plot of the book then it might be wise to give this post a little skip, it’s really hard to talk about the novel without giving anything away.

So Dorian Gray is a young, pretty naive guy, who is sitting for a portrait by the artist Basil Hallward. Basil has a friend called Lord Henry Wotton, and he tells him that he’s all in love with this Dorian Gray fellow and that Lord Henry shouldn’t go anywhere near him because he’ll corrupt him and stuff.

Guess what Lord Henry does?

The book is full of soliloquies from Lord Henry about life, the universe and everything. If you could sum him up in a few words you could say that he’s one of those guys who walks the walk but doesn’t talk the talk. He’s full of ideas of how people should be behaving and what they should be thinking but you get the distinct impression that he’s not that bothered in taking his own advice. He acts as some kind of puppet master – setting Dorian on a path of destruction almost purely for his own amusement – to be honest he gets off lightly I think, turning into a secondary character from midway through the book.

It does have to be said though that he gets all the best lines, including some crackers like,

"To be popular one must be a mediocrity"


"One should never do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner."

Upon meeting Dorian for the first time Lord Henry launches in to one of these tirades about the fleeting beauty of youth and that beauty is something that you should cling to with both hands. Dorian takes his words to heart and becomes enraged upon seeing the portrait of himself finished. He hates that the portrait will never age whilst he will continue to grow old and makes some bold statement that he wishes it was reversed and that he would never grow old but the portrait would.

And, by magic, that’s what happens.

Dorian goes off the rails when the young girl he falls in love with, an actress called Sybil Vane (a play on words here? The book is all about beauty – vain/Vane? Am I looking too deeply here?!), ends up killing herself because Dorian breaks off their engagement. He notices that the portrait has changed slightly, and freaking out, hides it upstairs.

He then goes totally off the rails and in the turn of a page we are years later and Dorian has been living a wild and hedonistic lifestyle, but without ageing at all, whilst his portrait shows the hideous man he should be. People are asking questions and Basil comes to confront him and ask him to change his ways. Dorian shows him the picture and then kills him. As you do.

As I was reading this book the same sentence kept going over in my head “Why doesn’t he just destroy the portrait?” This question was eventually answered for me at the end of the book when Dorian freaks out, tries to destroy the picture and in doing so kills himself.

It’s an ok story I guess, I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be thinking all the way through it. Is it about the nature of beauty – in a way I thought it was interesting to read this over 100 years later in a society that’s obsessed with image and, more poignantly, with looking younger. What would Oscar Wilde make of us all? Here we are desperately trying to turn back the clock and looking for quick fix solutions to make us look youthful again when what we really need to do is accept that we are slowly decaying from the day that we are born and no matter how much we strive to halt the clocks, somewhere, our body will belie our true age. (You ladies with your facelifts, it’s your neck that gives away your true age by the way. That and the back of your hands.)

It’s only a wee slip of a book, if you wanted to read it it won’t take you long and then you can maybe shed some light on Chapter 11 for me. As in, what is this ‘book’ that Lord Henry gives Dorian that makes him set off on this path of hedonism? I have to say I got a little lost at that point, and I was reading an edition that came with handy footnotes and a lengthy introduction that I read once I’d finished the book.

Overall. Not bad. Not knocking The Moonstone off the top slot at the moment though.

And now I am officially taking a little break from Classics to regroup and reform and read some stuff that I feel like reading. I don’t want this not-really resolution to start becoming a bind and something I don’t enjoy.


  1. I think the yellow book is "Against Nature" by Huysmans http://www.amazon.co.uk/Against-Penguin-Classics-Joris-Karl-Huysmans/dp/0140447636

  2. Lol - I was wondering where you got to! Glad you're safe and happy by the sounds of it.

    I did skip most of this post as it's a book I do want to read. I'm glad that it's 'not bad', it sounds worth reading but I won't rush to. x

  3. This is one of the few "classics" that I've read, it's one of my favourite books.

  4. I wondered too. So I googled.


    It is widely believed that À rebours is the "poisonous French novel" that leads to the downfall of Dorian Gray in Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. The book's plot is said to have dominated the action of Dorian, causing him to live an amoral life of sin and hedonism.

    Ellmann writes:

    Wilde does not name the book but at his trial he conceded that it was, or almost, Huysmans’s A Rebours…To a correspondent he wrote that he had played a ‘fantastic variation’ upon A Rebours and some day must write it down. The references in Dorian Gray to specific chapters are deliberately inaccurate.

  5. Woo - well done you! My book-reading for the yearhas fallen by the wayside whilst I desperately try to finish this bloody baby blanket!

    I don't think you're reading too much into Vane, the names in his books are often significant - this is why I don't like Oscar Wilde - I've studied him too much :(

    Look forward to hearing about your weekend adventures! x

  6. I loved it too. I saw the film first, and although it kind of freaked me out, I obsessed a little then read the book. Cheers for the review, K x

  7. I'm feeling sort of the same as regards my to-read pile. I know lots of the books are fascinating but I don't actually want to read any of them right now. They're looking at me reproachfully...

  8. Thanks for the recap I forget books quite quickly and it is good to be reminded. You put the phrase: walks the walk but doesn’t talk the talk. But isn't it the other way round? Just thought I'd better point that out.

    And yes, you were lucky that I liked you so felt no need to cut you up into small pieces this time! :) Joke!

    I hope you had a nice time with us on Sat...it was interesting discussing blogs!!

    And what do you think you'll read next?! xxx

  9. I've actually not read this, though I know the story from it being mentioned a lot in other stuff. You do make it sound more interesting than the dry treatise on beauty and age I thought it would be. I am personally avoiding challenging myself for a bit after the Midnight's Children struggle. Reading should be fun!


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