Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

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I instantly warmed to the plush-lipped youth depicted in the pre Sibyl Vain era of Dorian’s life. His inability to see himself through the eyes of others alluded to a boyish charm that sparked the inevitable attraction of others; which, tragically so, was the catalyst for his demise.

Shown the merit of his own reflection through the adoration and skill of painter Basil Hallward, Dorian allows himself to be nurtured by a sociopathic spectator, Lord Henry Wooton, embracing a new-found confidence in owning the pleasures of life and art. This soon transpires in to a vulgar obsession to maintain his place on the pedestal upon which others put him.

Hastily developing a hedonistic mind-set that would over shadow his very exisitence, he begins to value beauty over substance. After selling his soul for enternal youth, the consequences of such an act began to manisfest inside Basil’s painting.

Though he’d long but traded his innocence for lust and luxury, his relations with Sibyl Vain was a cornerstone, or more a tombstone, for my opinion on Dorian. Subconciously wishing to make her his trophy wife, as he had learned was the way of life from Lord Henry, he convinces himself he is in love, that he has fallen and that romance triumphs all. This whirlwind, of course, was concluded by the first exhibition of his inability to separate his reality from that which was expected of him.

Lord Henry Wotton’s agressive disdain for womankind was a prevelant theme throughout:

“My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.” 

Influenced by such company, it is no wonder he thought Sibyl had something to prove, that her talents would and must win over his male counterparts. The embarassment he felt when she had not lived up to Lord Henry and Basil Hallward’s expectations ironically relfected the despair he was yet to experience when his very core did not live up to its relection.

“You used to stir my imagination, now you don’t even stir my curiosity…I loved you because you were marvellous, because you had genius and intellect, you realised the dreams of great poets and gave substance to the shadows of art…you have spoiled the romance of my life…without your art you are nothing…what are you now? A third rate actress with a pretty face.” -Dorian Gray

 

The conception of his brief affair with Sibyl, to me, symoblised Dorian flirting with the idea of rebelling against corruption. Marred by misrepresenting beauty for art, it became the final nail in the coffin for his humanity.

From then on, Wilde’s whimsical prose tells the tale of a man progressing through life enthralled in a state of selfish luxury. Through beautifully constructed dialogue, the hands of its moral compass jolt frantically in every direction as the desires of three, very different men play out, and Dorian glides in and out of his double life outwardly unscathed by his sins.

The book subtly paid homage to Wilde’s sexuality, most clearly to me through Basil Hallward’s infactuation with his muse. Oscar Wilde is quoted to have said:

“Basil Hayward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.” – Oscar Wilde

I find it difficult, even after finishing the book, to judge what he could of meant by this in likening himself to these three contrasting characters.

Basil is a man morally reserved to his art, seldom weidling to human impulse. Lord Henry, a vindicitve purist, objectifys Dorian, moulding him into a social experiment for his own ammusement. Dorian becomes unashamedly obessed with pleasure of all forms – though evil as he may become, he is no-longer worried about being socially accepted.

Could it be that, in less dramatic terms, the three characters mirrored, in stages, the shift of acceptance that Wilde felt, and predicted to feel about embracing his own percieved ‘vice’.

To be Dorian is to be several things at once; on the outside he is beautiful and pure, on the inside he is evil and hideous. In body, he is a man who walks, talks, lives and breathes. In spirit he is a distorted reflection on decaying canvas.

 

 

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