Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I first became interested in The Picture of Dorian Gray from the movie appositely titled Dorian Gray, where Colin Firth's character as Lord Henry Wotton had me quickly convinced he was Satan himself.

The book was, as usual, a bit different. While Lord Henry still didn't seem to be a good guy, he wasn't the quintessential bad guy either. He simply seemed to have his own ideas on life and experience and was glad to make those thoughts known, which didn't seem to be the case in the movie where his goal seemed to be corruption of innocence.

In Oscar Wilde's version, Dorian Gray is a bored gentleman whom everyone adores. He is beautiful, innocent, and has a personality that draws everyone he meets to him. Life comes easy. While he is having a painting done of himself, the artist introduces to him Lord Henry Wotton whose world view opens Dorian's eyes to his own beauty and youth, and the impermanence of it. When Dorian makes a wish to always look as he does in the painting, he makes a proverbial pact with the devil and suddenly no sin can touch Dorian's physical beauty. But what of his soul? Dorian soon realizes that the painting doesn't look as it once did. There's an ugliness developing in it, a sneer and a look of cruelty. Dorian begins to suspect that although his beauty remains, the painting reflects his trueness, and soon discovers what happens when you gain the whole world, but lose your soul.

It is a story with a meaning and valuable point, and in my opinion would do the teenagers of the world today more of a service than a lot of what is considered "good reading" on the best sellers list. That's probably quixotical of me though so I digress and leave you with one of Lord Henry's many interesting theories on life and goodness.

"To be good is to be in harmony with one's self" he replied, touching the thin stem of his glass with his pale, fine-pointed fingers. "Discord is to be forced to be in harmony with others. One's own life--that is the important thing. As for the lives of one's neighbors, if on wishes to be a prig or a Puritan, one can flaunt one's moral views about them, but they are not one's concern. Besides, individualism has really the higher aim. Modern morality consists in accepting the standard of one's age. I consider that for any man of culture to accept the standard of his age is a form of the grossest immorality."

The Picture of Dorian Gray


Sean Patrick Reardon said...

I knew there are a couple newer movie versions. Have to check them out. The 1945 version is good. This is one of my favorite novels of all-time

seana said...

Hard to believe, but I have actually never seen any movie version or read the book. I do know the basic premise of the story just by cultural osmosis.

Glenna said...

Sean, I'll have to check out the older versions. Was surprised that I liked both the movie and the book, that doesn't happen often with me.

Seana, I haven't read Oscar Wilde except when I did the Cliff Notes in high school, I was surprised to find I like his writing now.

Gwendolyn said...

Glenna, I'd love to peruse your old books just once.

Glenna said...


Actually, and unfortunately, most of the old books I read are on the Kindle since they can be downloaded free. One day I might just start collecting them though.

Photographe à Dublin said...

The manifesto in the Preface of the book is shot through with irony, when one considers how society did treat Oscar Wilde.

The book is freely available to read online.


Wilde wrote like an angel and his childrens' stories were standard texts in schools in the 1960's.

Glenna said...

It's ashame that isn't the case now. I asked a friends high schoolers the other day if any of them had read Wilde in school yet and they hadn't even heard of him. I was surprised.

Photographe à Dublin said...

Things tend to move on.

Even writers from the end of the
20th century must seem very old-fashioned to students in school today.

Glenna said...

Some of them I wish would old fashioned quicker.

Carrie said...

Wonderful review - I've been meaning to read this one for ages. I added a link on the challenge page. :)

Jedediah said...

The book is occasionally read in school here in Germany, if it's any consolation :) I'm not sure when I read it for the first time, but it remains my favourite by Wilde. Lord Henry is certainly an amoral character, but not an evil one. It's just that his style of life is not suited for everyone and definitely no for Dorian.

Glenna said...

I'm glad to hear it's still being read somewhere. Lord Henery is one I would like to meet. I like people that don't follow the status quo, and he definitely doesn't.