“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
I’ve meant to read Oscar Wilde for a while now, but in that “I should read him to increase my literary cred” way rather than the “I need to go buy this now and not put it down until I’ve finished it” way. My attitude towards him is now “I need to read more of his work because he is awesome.” Because The Picture of Dorian Gray is excellent.
I finished this about a month ago, before I even started Dracula. I am rather behind on reviews. Part of the reason I’m behind is because while I really loved Dorian Gray, I couldn’t think of anything to say about it and I kept putting off later reviews until I had written this one, which was an easy route to a downward spiral. Part of the reason is also that I am lazy and busy, two qualities that do not go well together.
The novel is about a young, attractive, simple, vain man who, after an idle thought while regarding a portrait of himself, stops aging. Rather, the portrait ages for him, also taking on physical evidence of his sins, of which there are many. He sinks deeply into sins to the point that he is whispered about all over London, among both the high classes who he shares his days with, and the lower, criminal classes with whom he shares his nights.
According to the back cover of the copy of Dorian Gray that I bought (the Barnes & Noble Classis edition), “The novel, in fact, was used against Wilde at his much-publicized trials for ‘gross indecency.’” After having read this, the quote with which I began this post jumped out at me. It is as though Wilde had anticipated how his novel could be read, as evident of his own supposed indecencies, and refuted that possibility before it even came to light. Because Dorian Gray, while a despicable man, is perhaps not so different from the rest of us. He has the same lusts and desires and vanities, only he fulfills them more than most. Perhaps reader hated Dorian Gray and Oscar Wilde because they did not deny their innermost desires and dared to reveal what they truly are.
This is not to defend Dorian Gray – he is vile, though an excellent character – this is only to suggest Wilde’s deep understanding of the human condition, to the point that he could foresee his own persecution. It’s an excellent novel, and though I can’t find much to say about it, I do recommend that you read it. I anticipate rereading it in the future to get a deeper grasp of what Wilde intended.