12.03.2012

Review - The Picture of Dorian Gray


The Picture of Dorian Gray 
by Oscar Wilde
200+ pages

Description via Goodreads
It is a sad thing to think of, but there is no doubt that Genius lasts longer then Beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place (14)
Basil Hallward paints a remarkable portrait of his friend and muse, Dorian Gray. It's his best work, something to be admired. Yet the piece of art becomes an object of hate and fear. Basil has given eternal life and beauty to the Dorian in the portrait, whereas, the actual Dorian will eventually be marked with imperfection, age and ugliness. To Dorian it's unfair and unbecoming, and somehow he inadvertently sells his soul for eternal youth.

Dorian undergoes an intellectual and moral transformation. The change of his psyche is contrasted with the stagnation of his physical being. He doesn't age. He becomes a fickle person, seeking sin, pleasure or any experience that can satisfy his search for what he considers beauty or novelty of the moment. He commits a heinous crime, develops shady habits and ruins his reputation. He goes from loved by all to detested by most. He has the face of youth, innocence and good, but not the soul to match.

I have such mixed feelings about this book. The beginning was rough for me because I kept running across passages like this: 
He was bareheaded, and the leaves had tossed his rebellious curls and tangled all their gilded threads. There was a look of fear in his eyes, such as people have when they are suddenly awakened. His finely chiseled nostril quivered, and some hidden nerve shook the scarlet of his lips and left them trembling (23)
 ...and this:
As he thought of it, a sharp pang of pain struck through him like a knife, and made each delicate fiber of his nature quiver. His eyes deepened into amethyst, and across them came a mist of tears. He felt as if a hand of ice had been laid upon his heart (27)
Aren't they too--I don't know--mushy?

I suppose they're meant to be romantic and artistic, but I find the descriptions, in particular the use of the word quiver very irksome.

Maybe it's just me.

Anyways, once I got over that, I was annoyed with Harry/Lord Henry. His musings, while very quotable, are silly. However, he's such an important character in the book. It's clear that his haughty attitude and naturalist view of society influence Dorian Gray substantially. In fact, Dorian becomes Harry's social experiment. Harry poisons, pokes and prods hims; drops crumbs, which eventually lead Dorian to corruption. 

I didn't start liking the book until Dorian's final meeting with Basil...and his trips to the underworld of opium dens. And even then...not so much. All this talk of innocence and beauty and souls made me think of this song:


Listening to it repeatedly, while reading the last few chapters helped me get through it. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Three stars. 

Smooth Criminals, Reading Challenge for 2012

2 comments:

  1. I haven't read this, yet, but I have read quotes by Wilde and he does come off a bit self-absorbed. So, I am not surprised that his writing tends to be "Mushy"

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    Replies
    1. Self-absorbed is a good way to put it.

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