Sunday, September 18, 2011

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 1891

It's about: Dorian Gray is a dashing young man in the habit of snagging lots of male "best friends" who are obsessed with him. Two of these men, the painter Basil Harward and another named Lord Henry Wotton, are the two prominent players beside Dorian in this novel. Because he is so inspired by Dorian's beauty, Basil paints of portrait of him, and as he tells Lord Henry he puts "his whole self into it." As soon as Dorian sees the portrait, he wishes out loud that he could keep his beauty forever and his portrait would age instead of his physical body. Well, guess what happens, his wish comes true! Every time Dorian does something awful, (which is often,) the portrait changes and becomes slightly uglier and more cruel looking. Lots of other stuff happens, then there is a dramatic and crazy ending!

I thought: I really enjoyed reading this book, but I admit that I don't really understand Oscar Wilde's ideas about aestheticism and how he is presenting them through this story. His preface helped focus my reading a bit, (I included a quote from the preface under the Favorite Excerpts section) but I wish I had someone to help guide me through this. I understand that Aestheticism encompasses the view that art exists only for itself, and should have no other purpose than to simply be a beautiful work of art. But I don't quite understand how that works into this story.

One thing I did notice and really liked were allusions to the Faust story, woo! I'm a huge Faust fan, if you didn't know. Faust was a German scholar who sold his soul to the devil. In this story, I think you could say that Dorian sells his soul for beauty, and, like Faust, comes to a violent end.

If you've read this book, I'd love to know what exactly you thought Oscar Wilde was trying to say with this story. I struggled to understand Dorian's character. Why was he so dramatic and emotional? I'd love to hear all your thoughts on this. Like I said, I enjoyed this book, but I still need to have a good discussion with someone about it before I can say whether I loved it.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf. Certainly worth the read.

Reading Recommendations: This is a great classic, creepy book to read around Halloween.

Warnings: Some violence, but I promise it's nothing you can't handle.

Favorite excerpts:
From Wilde's preface -- "No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style ... All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so t their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital ... We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless."

"The few words that Basil's friend had said to [Dorian]--words spoken by chance, no doubt, and with wilful paradox in them--had touched some secret chord that had never been touched before, but that he felt was now vibrating and throbbing to curious pulses.
     Music had stirred him like that. Music had troubled him many times. But music was not articulate. It was not a new world, but rather another chaos, that it created in us. Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet was a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?"

What I'm reading next: Jude the Obsure by Thomas Hardy