Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.”
Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be in other ages, perhaps.” (synopsis from Goodreads)
I have to say that I liked “The Importance of Being Earnest” much more than I did this book. There were areas that I enjoyed but for the most part I just got tired of the flowery language and the over abundance of description. At some point there was a whole chapter’s worth of description that I just would have cut completely. It was basically a list of stuff that Dorian Gray likes. I had to skip through most of the chapter; and that’s saying a lot since I tend to bask in pretty words.
The idea that people, when given the chance to live wickedly without showing the outward signs of their deeds was an interesting one. Also, the fact that those who had not been directly affected by Dorian’s actions could not think ill of him because he looked so young and beautiful. It makes me think about how sometimes, even today, we assume that beauty is a manifestation of the beauty inside a person, when in reality, it’s sometimes the most beautiful people that can be the most hideous.
Overall, I felt that this book had some interesting notions that is was exploring, but the writing put me off. I can see why he only wrote the one novel. He tends to go a little crazy on the descriptions, which is distracting and sometimes annoying. I did enjoy the dialogue however. The dialogue is where the majority of the ideas come through, so naturally I found that more interesting than the actual narrative. Because of this, I actually thought that this would work better as a play than a novel.
“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
“Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love: it is the faithless who know love’s tragedies.”
“I don’t want to see him alone. He says things that annoy me. He gives me good advice.”
“The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror.”