Sunday Book Club: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Today’s book review on The Picture of Dorian Gray is a little bit of a cheat – because I’ve already read this book before, many years ago when I was still in junior college. This book made such a big impression on me back then and I like to revisit books that I’ve loved every now and then, because I usually find them even more enjoyable the second time around. Personally, I think that’s like a test of whether a book is good.

I chanced upon this as part of a long list of books given to us to choose from for our GCE “A” Levels in literature. Literature was one of those subjects that I honestly took for fun – and I don’t regret it, even if it meant that I had to study for an extra subject compared to my friends. This book was one of those that made studying so much more fun.

**This part of the review consist of Spoilers

The Picture of Dorian Gray follows the life of Dorian Gray, who is at the beginning, a beautiful and innocent young man. He meets Lord Henry during his portrait sitting by a moralistic artist Basil Hallward and is enthralled by Lord Henry’s hedonistic world view. When he’s presented with his portrait, he wishes the portrait would bear the signs of aging in his place. Under the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian slowly becomes “corrupt”.

He meets and falls for a poor talented actress Sibyl Vane; she falls for him too, calling him “Prince Charming”, but her brother James warns if “Prince Charming” harms her, he will murder him. Dorian invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet, but she is too in love to act and performs badly, which embarrasses Dorian. He ruthlessly rejects Sibyl and tells her that without her acting, she has no beauty and no longer interests him. When Dorian returns home, he notices that the portrait has changed; the man in the portrait bears a sneer of cruelty, while he remains untarnished. Dorian makes up his mind to reconcile with Sibyl the next day but he is too late – Sibyl has committed suicide.

Dorian receives a morally poisonous French novel from Lord Henry, which would influence him going forward; he realises his good looks is all he needs. Dorian locks the portrait up, and over the next eighteen years, he experiments with every vice, knowing that only the portrait will bear the consequences . One night, Basil confronts Dorian about his bad behaviour; Dorian takes Basil to see the portrait which horrifies Basil and he asks Dorian to pray for salvation. Dorian blames his fate on Basil and stabs him to death, then blackmails an old friend, the scientist Alan Campbell, into destroying the body of Basil Hallward.

Dorian goes to an opium den, where James Vane is and overhears someone refer to Dorian as “Prince Charming”,. He accosts Dorian, but was deceived into believing that Dorian is too young to have known Sibyl as his face is still that of a young man. James releases Dorian, but a woman from the opium den confirms that the man was Dorian Gray and explains that he has not aged in 18 years. James begins to stalk Dorian, causing Dorian to fear for his life. However during a shooting party, James is accidentally killed.

Dorian tells Lord Henry that he wants to be good and his first “good act” is not breaking the heart of Hetty Merton. Dorian wonders if his action has changed the picture, but it is actually uglier. He understands that his true motive for the “good act” was not because he was truly good, but to fulfill his curiosity for new experiences. Dorian decides to destroy the last vestige of his conscience and the only evidence of his crimes — the picture. He stabs the picture with the knife he used to murder Basil; a loud cry rings out. Upon entering the room, the servants find a withered and loathsome old man, stabbed in the heart, and beside him is the picture of Dorian Gray, restored to its original beauty.

Final Thoughts

This is such a beautiful story. There are parts of the book which can be a little bit too philosophical and slightly dreary to read, but I really loved the writing which I think modern writers can no longer do. It’s a haunting Gothic novel about the struggles with morality and the illicit. There was something quite enthralling with the perversity of the story; the seek of pure pleasure with no care of the consequences (since it did not affect him anyway).

There are so many beautifully written and noteworthy phrases; some of which are pretty perverse and makes you do a double take. I’m actually rather taken by the words of Lord Henry, and his extreme hedonistic views; while Dorian Gray seems like an empty man at the beginning, Lord Henry was the vessel that brought the evil thoughts in him.

This review took me a really long time to write, because I feel like no matter how I try to phrase it, I am not doing it justice because I’m just not as good a writer. If you’ve never read a book in this era and are very used to modern day writing, you might not enjoy it as much because the style of writing is very different, and the dialogue in this book can be a little too philosophical at first try. But I would ask you to give it a try; at least push past the first few chapters and you might find yourself unable to peel away from it.

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