Evil things often come in a pretty package. Except, Dorian Gray isn’t really evil. Or is he… It’s a hotly contested question. Is The Picture of Dorian Gray, brainchild of the garish but enigmatic Oscar Wilde, a story of innocence corrupted, or something much more complex? That’s for you to decide, mon ami! Scandalous when it first fluttered beneath Georgian noses between comparatively chaste articles and essays in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, the story of the depraved Mr Gray and his flirtation with hedonism endures for its philosophical ravishment of that age old question: What does it mean to be Human? And how far can the boundaries be pushed? Because don’t you just love characters who NEVER STOP PUSHING THEM?
The inhibited upstart begins his journey down the slippery slope when, by chance, he meets the charming and devious Lord Henry Wotton in the studio where he is having his portrait painted by his friend Basil Hallward. From there, Dorian is fatally enticed by the fronds of opium smoke and talk of time’s jealousy of youth into a world where limits don’t exist, leaving in his wake a trail of broken hearts, ruined lives and hiked-up, dishevelled petticoats. Making that proverbial deal with the devil, Dorian retains his double-take good looks and youth in exchange for his soul, and watches in horror as the much-lauded portrait charts his downfall. Concealment of his hideous alter-ego becomes his number one priority, a task which proves all the more difficult as time wares on, and forces him to stoop to a whole new level of immorality. But his darkest secret cannot stay hidden forever.
Wilde really made the Earth shake with his first and only novel, so much so that many were pushing for criminal charges to be brought against him – even the editor had doubts about publishing his work. And while contemporary reception of The Picture of Dorian Gray was lukewarm at best, modern audiences are much more accepting of the maverick’s masterpiece as a work of great literature, exploring as it does the myriad guises of the self. For Wilde, the novel was almost an autobiography: he once reflected that “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry is what the world thinks me: Dorian is what I would like to be — in other ages, perhaps.” This thought is aptly mirrored in the surmise of Basil Hallward that he has put “too much of himself” into the portrait of Dorian. The Picture of Dorian Gray is about the boy who was what everyone was thinking of being, but never dared. Who we want to be, who we actually are, and why we are that person. And for that reason, I read it cover to cover in less than a day.
So what are you waiting for? Why not be led down the garden path for an hour or two by one of history’s most controversial literary figures? Head over to the Narrate section and get reading!