The Delicious Horrors of Dorian Gray

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*WP has been formatting my blog oddly lately. Please excuse this.*

To him, as to many others, Dorian Gray was the type
of everything that is wonderful and fascinating in life.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) , the lone novel by Irish playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) is certainly wonderful and fascinating. Though I’ve never really read this horrific genre before, it’s a stunning introduction to the style and I wish that Wilde had written more novels in his time.

Heading into the world of Dorian Gray — Victorian London — I expected the same sort of lengthy, dreary narration as other classical novels of that era. I didn’t expect to finish it, just as I never finished Jane Eyre or became interested in the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

I did more than finish it. I devoured it in two sittings.

The characters are marvelous. Hardly have I read a book where the protagonist is not a dashing, romantic hero with good morals. And, that’s how teenage Dorian Gray starts out, but after he accidentally links his soul to a portrait his near-worshipping friend Basil Hallward paints of him, he takes advantage of his eternal youth and descends into a secret world of corruption. Now his portrait will age and take on the visible signs of sin and corruption of his soul, while Dorian remains young, wrinkle-free, and takes with him an aura of innocence that dispels any dark rumour his peers might have heard.

Dorian’s initial horror at this revelation quickly dissipates as he realized what sort of things he can do without tarnishing his physical appearance. Both women and men idolize him, but as years pass and Dorian’s secret, twisted life create unsettling rumours, old friends stay away and new friends come seeking for a taste of the young man with the unreal beauty. Eventually, after the main events of the novel occur, Dorian realizes the monster he’s become, but has little idea how to save his soul. Drugs are not a long-term solution, but I appreciate the turn he took to blot out the memory of his awful wrongdoings. I never expected opium to pop up in a Victorian horror novel! It added to the genuine remorse and disgust the readers feels for the boy who only wanted to retain his beauty.

Lord Henry Wotton, or Harry, is the amoral and rather ridiculous man who takes Dorian under his wing, influencing him for the worst. This is the only character I have a bone to pick with. His flamboyance and long-winded speeches are wearisome, but are charming enough that I can see how Dorian looks up to him. Harry is a man of many words, but the way he manipulates them to control others irks me. He’s an amazing character, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not a person I would wish to cross paths with.

Dorian’s own influence grows he ages — and his body remains a boy of seventeen. Those around him both fear and love him, but many of the people associated in his life take a turn for the worst, adding to the temptation and scandal surrounding the boy, and heightening the interest of the reader. What sort of things did Dorian do? How did such an innocent boy at the beginning of the novel turn into such a horrific figure a few chapters later? Surely Harry was a negative impact on his protegé, but I doubt that the older man had anything to do with the darker, more twisted hobbies of Dorian.

Wilde uses his experience in poetry to paint an eloquent image of romance and scandal. While hardly scandalous by today’s standards, I can imagine the hushed, shocked gasps of Victorian readers. The thought of the imagined reactions in Wilde’s time only intensified my interest in the story, and while he doesn’t go into great detail of the actions that marked Dorian Gray’s descent into corruption, the lack of information here adds to the intrigue. It gives the reader rein to conjure what they think Dorian did that destroyed his soul. The missing pieces give the illusion that his deeds were so awful that they couldn’t be put into words, let alone print.

Adding to the fact that there are several hints at homosexual encounters — at the very least, sex appeal  and attraction between the same gender — Wilde has certainly leapt out the bounds of his time and into ours. Gasp! In today’s views, it’s hardly shocking, but it makes me want to pat Wilde on the back for making such bold literary movements.

I honestly had no idea how it was going to end. The romanticist in me idealized that Dorian would amend his ways, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Remember that I rarely read such novels as this one.

This may not be the novel for you. It focuses on the vanity, physical beauty, and selfishness of Dorian Gray, a boy who is tied to his own youth. Some might perceive his childish notions with annoyance, but I can appreciate Dorian’s mistakes as a message to cherish more beautiful things than physical appearance.  

In 2009, Dorian Gray hit theatres, with the lovely Ben Barnes as the leading role (who cares that Dorian had blond hair, anyway?) and Colin Firth as Harry. I haven’t seen the film, rated R for high sexual content and violence, and can imagine the field day the writers and directors had in filling in the holes Oscar Wilde left for the readers’ imagination. I am also aware that the movie has a slightly different element to it, with the true love that the 21st-century movie-makers can’t seem to get enough.

The story of Dorian Gray is, simply put, stunning in a dark, twisted way. This ain’t no stuffy, dry, boring Victorian novel. The words are delicious, the story intriguing, and the characters horrific and lovely. I had to resist the urge to write down every mouth-watering quote I came across — and there were lots! I heartily recommend it, and luckily for us all, you can read it online!

Are there any books that surpassed your expectations recently?

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3 thoughts on “The Delicious Horrors of Dorian Gray

  1. I loved The Picture of Dorian Grey when I read it a few years ago. Thnaks for the great review. It should be on everyone’s TBR list.
    I recently read a novel by Linda Urbach, Madame Bovary’s Daughter which surpassed my expectations. The story is about Berthe, the poor unloved daughter of the infamous Madame Bovary. It begins after the death of her mother at age 12 and follows her life as she tries not to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Berthe is forced to become very resourceful, meets some interesting people and follows her heart. The story is well written and I enjoyed the descriptions of the French countryside and the streets of Paris in the 19th century as well as the development of the characters.

    • This is one of the first books I’ve read that have really compelled me to write about and review. The language is beautiful and the story haunting; I really wish Wilde had written more novels!
      It sounds interesting, Darlene, and a far cry from my usual reads! Isn’t it wonderful when a book surprises us? It makes the reading experience even more of an adventure than it already is. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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