Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray Review

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


Just finished reading one of the most well-written books I've ever read.  I had heard so many great things about Oscar Wilde and his eloquent writing style but I didn't know what to expect from The Picture of Dorian Gray.  

Let me just say...I was blown away by the perfection of Wilde's writing style.  His word choices were flawless.  His descriptions of even the most trivial things were brilliant and vivid.  In my opinion, Wilde's style was just as rich and necessary to the story as the actual content of the plot, for many times it was the way in which he said something that was more poignant than what actually took place.

As far as a discussion of the plot and structural themes, I think that Wilde made an interesting parallel between beauty and immorality.  Lord Henry, Dorian's friend whose words of "advice" poison his innocent mind, continuously stresses the so-called virtue of beauty and how, in his own words, "...it is better to be beautiful than to be good."  Dorian's own pursuit of beauty, however, causes him to make a prayer in a wild moment of passion and pride that will change his life forever.  A portrait that was done of him by the painter Basil Hallward will age and show the effects of life while Dorian himself will stay young and handsome forever.  This wish turns to be a curse - and while he stays youthful his soul plummets into such realms of sin and immorality that he would never have before imagined.

While this book was very artfully written, I will say that I strongly disagreed with many of the hidden philosophical arguments that were cunningly written into the dialogue, particularly coming from Lord Henry.  The one that struck me the most was when he was discussing the "sin" of fidelity:
"My dear boy, the people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people.  What they call their loyalty and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination.  Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect—simply a confession of failures."

And take this quote from Chapter 2:
"Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us.  The body sins once and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification.  Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure or the luxury of a regret.  The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.  Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful."

This book has strong Hedonistic themes — and I would recommend that any young readers should research Wilde's motivations behind this book and the themes and concepts that motivated this story, so as to better understand it.

Overall, those who view literature as art will be impressed with Wilde's incredible writing and magnificent character development.  Those who view literature in light of ethics will see the lesson of morality that can be learned from the tragic story of Dorian Gray's descent to the depths of depravity.

I will leave you with one question.

In the preface, Wilde writes, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.  Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”

Do you agree?  And does this book support this argument, despite Dorian Gray's descent into immorality and Lord Henry's open social critique on values?


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