The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Fifty per cent of me loves this book and the other fifty per cent doesn’t.  What I loved was the story. I thoroughly enjoyed Dorian’s downward spiral into debauchery, cruelty and general all round badness. Who doesn’t love a bad boy? And I was completely convinced by the appeal he had to others and his ability to corrupt and ruin them. Anyone who was foolish enough to get too close to Dorian ended up dead or as good as. Marvellous!

I also liked Wilde’s use of the painting to show Dorian’s true self, mirroring his inner evil and wicked deeds which are hinted at in the book rather than spelled out. It is up to the reader to fill in the blanks using their imagination. Partly, I’m sure, because of the legal implications of writing about homosexual relationships at the time and also because, in this way, readers have to acknowledge their own indecent thoughts and imaginations. I believe the argument that Wilde did not write indecent material, it was assumed by the readers’ indecent minds, was used in Wilde’s defence during his trial for sodomy and gross indecency – probably not an argument that helped his case!  

The large amount of period and cultural details is fascinating and I really appreciated the end notes in my edition. Knowing background details to the story added a richness to the reading experience and a desire to research more. 

There is always a but and this time it is because I don’t think this novel should have been a novel. It feels very well staged and the dialogue is more like a play script than a novel. There are several long soliloquies in the book and many witty one-liners but they don’t read smoothly. However, if they were written into a script I think it could have been very amusing and the novel is written in such a way we can see the characters entering and exiting the narrative, usually very dramatically. Maybe, this was the Edwardian equivalent of the modern day novel written with the film rights in mind.  

This is a good story and I would definitely recommend it as it is a gothic classic but I also reckon that Wilde was a playwright not an author. Oh, and by the way my edition was the Penguin Classics edition as shown above, the only cover I could find that accurately depicts Dorian with blonde hair as he has in the book. 

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