The Picture of Dorian Gray

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9780140006162: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray is the subject of a full-length portrait in oil by Basil Hallward, an artist who is impressed and infatuated by Dorian's beauty; he believes that Dorian's beauty is responsible for the new mode in his art as a painter. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, and he soon is enthralled by the aristocrat's hedonistic worldview: that beauty and sensual fulfilment are the only things worth pursuing in life. Newly understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul, to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. The wish is granted, and Dorian pursues a libertine life of varied and amoral experiences, while staying young and beautiful; his portrait ages and records every sin.

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Review:

A lush, cautionary tale of a life of vileness and deception or a loving portrait of the aesthetic impulse run rampant? Why not both? After Basil Hallward paints a beautiful, young man's portrait, his subject's frivolous wish that the picture change and he remain the same comes true. Dorian Gray's picture grows aged and corrupt while he continues to appear fresh and innocent. After he kills a young woman, "as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife", Dorian Gray is surprised to find no difference in his vision or surroundings. "The roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds sing just as happily in my garden."

As Hallward tries to make sense of his creation, his epigram-happy friend Lord Henry Wotton encourages Dorian in his sensual quest with any number of Wildean paradoxes, including the delightful "When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy." But despite its many languorous pleasures, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an imperfect work. Compared to the two (voyeuristic) older men, Dorian is a bore, and his search for ever new sensations far less fun than the novel's drawing-room discussions. Even more oddly, the moral message of the novel contradicts many of Wilde's supposed aims, not least "no artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style." Nonetheless, the glamour boy gets his just deserts. And Wilde, defending Dorian Gray, had it both ways: "All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment."

Review:

"[A] remarkable work of imagination...A wonderfully entertaining parable of the aesthetic ideal" (Guardian)

"A heady late-Victorian tale of double-living" (Sarah Waters)

"There's an incurable disease afflicting females - ageing. Men, on the other hand, never pass their amuse-by dates. Sean Connery is still cutting the sex god mustard and, if time flies, then HE has frequent air miles. Yet, you never hear a man described as mutton dressed as ram, now do you? This is a book about a bloke who realises that the night is young, but he is not..." (Kathy Lette)

"In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde set the gold standard for chroniclers of decadence" (Guardian)

"Very decadent and Victorian" (Savidge Reads)

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