308 of 335 people found the following review helpful
on February 6, 2001
This sophisticated but crude novel is the story of man's eternal desire for perennial youth, of our vanity and frivolity, of the dangers of messing with the laws of life. Just like "Faust" and "The immortal" by Borges.
Dorian Gray is beautiful and irresistible. He is a socialité with a high ego and superficial thinking. When his friend Basil Hallward paints his portrait, Gray expresses his wish that he could stay forever as young and charming as the portrait. The wish comes true.
Allured by his depraved friend Henry Wotton, perhaps the best character of the book, Gray jumps into a life of utter pervertion and sin. But, every time he sins, the portrait gets older, while Gray stays young and healthy. His life turns into a maelstrom of sex, lies, murder and crime. Some day he will want to cancel the deal and be normal again. But Fate has other plans.
Wilde, a man of the world who vaguely resembles Gray, wrote this masterpiece with a great but dark sense of humor, saying every thing he has to say. It is an ironic view of vanity, of superflous desires. Gray is a man destroyed by his very beauty, to whom an unknown magical power gave the chance to contemplate in his own portrait all the vices that his looks and the world put in his hands. Love becomes carnal lust; passion becomes crime. The characters and the scenes are perfect. Wilde's wit and sarcasm come in full splendor to tell us that the world is dangerous for the soul, when its rules are not followed. But, and it's a big but, it is not a moralizing story. Wilde was not the man to do that. It is a fierce and unrepressed exposition of all the ugly side of us humans, when unchecked by nature. To be rich, beautiful and eternally young is a sure way to hell. And the writing makes it a classical novel. Come go with Wotton and Wilde to the theater, and then to an orgy. You'll wish you age peacefully.
119 of 129 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2000
I first was introduced to Dorian Gray through a book club, and I thought 'Oh no, Oscar Wilde, here I go, another hard to read boring society book". I was wrong. Within the first two chapters of Dorian Gray I was intrigued and fascinated. This book deals with several issues that are as important now as they are today: the way our culture worships beauty and youth, an admiration that boarders on homosexual love, virtues, the differences between men and women, and what art is and what makes it truly art. Dorian Gray is a beautiful young man, who sees a portrait of himself and says "How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young...If only it were the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the portrait to grow old...I would give my soul for that!" The book takes off from there, leading you from a small theater to great parties. While younger readers may find some of the wording as tough as an old gym shoe, anyone older than 13 with an interest in mystery, romance, and how society runs, will find this a pleasurable and haunting read.
109 of 121 people found the following review helpful
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a mesmerizing read dominated by two amazing personalities. Dorian Gray is certainly interesting, but I was much more impressed by his friend and mentor Lord Henry Wotton. Dorian is a perfectly nice, well-meaning young man when we first meet him in the studio of the painter Basil Hallward. Hallward in fact is so drawn to the youth that he draws his greatest inspiration from painting him and just being with him. It is the influence of Hallward's friend Lord Henry which leads to Gray's downfall. There are few characters in literature as decadent, witty, and somehow enchanting as Lord Henry. He is never at a loss for words, fatalistic observations of life and people, sarcastic philosophical musings, and brilliantly devious ideas. Among his world of social decadents and artistic do-nothings, his charm remains redoubtable and highly sought-after. Gray immediately falls under his spell, soon devoting himself to living life to its fullest and enjoying his youth and beauty to the utmost. He solemnly wishes that he could remain young and beautiful forever, that Hallward's exquisite picture of him should bear the marks of age and debauchery rather than himself. To his surprise and ultimate horror, he finds his wish fulfilled. Small lines and creases first appear in the portrait, but after he cruelly breaks the heart of an unfortunate young actress who then takes her own life, the first real signs of horror and blood manifest themselves on his portrait. His love for the ill-fated Sibyl Vane is a sordid, heartbreaking tale, and it marks the culmination of his descent into debauchery. He frequents opium dens and houses of ill repute, justifying all of his worst actions to himself, while the influence of Lord Henry continues to work its black magic on his soul. He hides his increasingly grotesque portrait away in an upstairs room, sometimes going up to stare at it and take pleasure in the fact that it rather than he bears the stains of his iniquities. In time, his obsession with his secret grows, and he is constantly afraid that it will be discovered by someone. For eighteen years he lives in this manner, moving among the members of his society as a revered figure who magically retains his youth, but eventually he begins to see himself as he really is and to curse the portrait, blaming its magic for his miserable life of ill-begotten pleasures and loss of moral character. The final pages are well-written, and the climax is eminently satisfying.
Exhibiting the undeniable influence of the French Decadence movement of the late 19th century, this wonderful novel serves as a morality play of sorts. One can understand why its unique nature upset a British society emerging from the social constraints of Victorianism, but this reader is hard pressed to see why this novel proved so damaging to Wilde's eventual imprisonment and punishment. Dorian Gray is no hero, nor does his ultimate internal struggles and yearnings for rebirth inspire one to engage in the sort of life he himself eventually came to regret. The only "dangerous" character in this novel is Lord Henry; his delight in working his evil influence on others as a type of moral experiment and the silver-tongued charm he exploits to aid him in such misbegotten quests have the potential to do harm to a vulnerable mind such as that of Dorian Gray. Lord Henry's evil genius makes him much more interesting than his disciple Dorian Gray. By today's standards, this book is not shocking, and indeed it is much more dangerous to censor work such as this than it is to read it. This book in eminently quotable, and it still manages to cast a magical spell over readers of this day and age. Quite simply, The Picture of Dorian Gray deserves a place on the shelf of the world's greatest literature.
49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2011
What made Oscar Wild(e)?
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press has published a new edition of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. While there is no burning need for such a volume in the day of Lady Gaga and marriage equality, it's important to remember that Wilde spent two years in prison for being gay and for having the guts (stupidity?) to flaunt his sexuality. In many ways, it was the flaunting rather than the act themselves that so angered his persecutors.
And Dorian Gray, his first and only novel, was certainly a shot fired directly into the heart of Victorian prudery.
And in this day of Kindles, e-books and tweets, this is truly a magnificent job of bookmaking. Oversized, lavishly illustrated and gorgeously presented, Oscar would have loved it. The text is examined minutely, with a variety of comparisons from various publications of the novel, as well as Wilde's original manuscript. While there's nothing particularly new to discover in the emendations from the sources, merely a reinforcement of the outrageousness inherent in the piece, the scholarship is both astounding and informative.
The annotator and editor, Nicholas Frankel, easily and effortlessly places the modern reader in Wilde's time and place, London's late Victorian Age in London. There is still a tingle to Dorian's story of endless debauchery while he remains looking pure and innocent for decades and the painting ages and grows monstrous, reflecting his sins and crimes.
Strangely, the book seems more modern than one would imagine. Rather than merely a potboiler from two centuries back, WIlde's genius imbues the story with a strange and haunting immediacy, and a cautionary tale for us all: Be careful what you wish for.
One could hardly wish for a more beautifully accoutered book.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Is your soul a good bargaining chip for perpetual youth and beauty? Young Dorian Gray was led to believe so and impulsively struck that bargain. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is the story of his decline into depravity following that ill-advised trade-off. The story is well-known in popular culture. An artist becomes obsessed with his young model's attractiveness. He and his jaded friend compete for influence over the young man. The friend corrupts young Dorian, encourages him to embrace a life of sensual pleasure and to prize his own beauty. Dorian exclaims that he resents the portrait because IT will keep the freshness of youth -- then the fateful words, that he would give his soul if the picture could decay instead of his own face and body.
Be careful what you wish for! Over the next twenty years Dorian sinks into the depths of moral slime and watches the hidden portrait show all the signs of that immorality, while his own face and figure keep the blush of youth.
Along with the adulation of youth and beauty, Oscar Wilde delves into the theme of art as morally neutral, a principle of the aesthetic school of thought. Can art be moral or immoral? Should it teach us, improve us? That was the common 19th century view but the school of aestheticism believed that the arts had no role in moral enlightenment. The preface of the book lays out this theme in a series of proclamations.
The entire book, like all of Wilde's work, is packed with "sound bites." The corrupting friend, Lord Henry Wotton, is particularly prone to Polonius-like declamations, and Dorian tells him, "You cut life to pieces with your epigrams!" In fact Wilde does that, ripping into polite society and the opium dens of London alike.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is Oscar Wilde's only published novel. It first appeared in a magazine in 1890 as a shorter work, and was later expanded and edited to remove some of the more blatant homosexual references. His writing is exquisite, his themes repugnant but (dare I say it?) edifying. "What does it profit a man ..."
Highly recommended as a true classic of modern literature. I read this book when I was young and thought I understood it. Now that I'm not so young, I'm sure that I don't.
NOTE: I listened to this book on CD, not tape, but I chose this product link because it's the same production. The Brilliance Audio Library Edition, read by Michael Page, was incomparably presented and added a great deal to my enjoyment of this absorbing book.
Linda Bulger, 2008
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2004
Basil Harwood talks to his friend, Lord Henry Wotton, about his latest painting, a portrait of a striking young man named Dorian Gray to whom he has taken quite a fancy. He feels that his art has never been alive as it has since meeting this young man. Intrigued at his friends acute interest, Lord Henry determines to meet the young man himself, and quite by chance, manages to remain in the studio as Dorian arrives and stands for the finishing touches to his portrait.
Once it is completed, Lord Henry comments on how youthful the painting is, remarking how unfortunate it is that the portrait will always remain as young as on the day it was painted, whereas Dorian will slowly age, losing his youth and looks to time. Dorian frets over this and says that he would give anything if only his portrait would age instead of him.
Weeks later, after an unfortunate scene with his fiancée, Dorian notices a subtle change to his portrait, a certain cruel turn of the lips. As the days pass, he notices more changes and begins to realize that he can commit every vice and cruelty imaginable without any harm coming to him. His portrait will bear the brunt of his adventures. But at what price? As the years pass, he begins to wonder about the state of his very soul and if he can change, perhaps bring the portrait back to its original beauty.
This is a great novel, dealing for the most part with man's quest for eternal youth. Who wouldn't want to stay young forever? We go through fad diets, gyms, botox, plastic surgery -- all in the name of trying to remain healthy and youthful. Dorian is given a unique opportunity, the consequences of which show him the havoc that all the vices and cruel acts have upon his soul (or his conscience). We also get to see how getting what you wish for doesn't always turn out the way you thought it would.
It's a well-written story, full of unique characters. The majority of the male characters seem to have no problem whatsoever having intimate relationships with other men. By his actions, Basil appears to be in love with Dorian. Dorian, in turn, is infatuated with Lord Henry, even thought both of them do have relationships with women (for Dorian, a fiancée; for Lord Henry, a wife). There's even a bit of jealousy on the part of Lord Henry's wife when she finally meets the man who's been monopolizing her husband's time.
At times, though, it does move slowly due to long passages discussing the place of art in society and philosphizing about the quest for youth and beauty. In these passages the text seems to turn more into a lecture rather than a novel. That, however, does not take away from the enjoyment of the novel.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2006
After reading some of the contemporary reviews of this book, I was more than a little curious to see how awful this book really was. I was skeptical that it could be bad, because I'm very familiar with the wit of Wilde. As far as gothic novels go, this book ranks high in the Victorian era. Looking back from a historical perspective, I can see why the critics of the time disliked it. But from today's perspective, it is nothing short of brilliant. Wilde weaves a story like few authors could ever dream of doing, and of course his wit is played out beautifully in this book as well. full of quips and quirks, this book is a must read for anybody who has a love of sharp, intelligent writing.
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Basil, who up until now was a mediocre painter after meeting Dorian Gray a young Adonis, was inspired to create a masterpiece of which he puts himself into. Against Basil's wishes, Basil's friend Lord Henry influences Dorian Gray. Dorian looks at his portrait and realizes that while the portrait will stay young forever, he will grow old; so Dorian makes a wish that if only he could stay young forever and the portrait can age.
At first Dorian does not realize his wishes been granted. He falls in love with a beautiful young actor who is every woman that Shakespeare ever wrote about. Once again, due to Lord Henry's influence, he realizes that she's just a common girl.
Starting with absent-minded acts Dorian slowly sinks into debauchery. Moreover, with every new act his picture becomes more grotesque while Dorian stays is young and as innocent looking as the day his picture was painted.
What will become of Dorian?
What will become of Dorian's painting?
What would you do if you were Dorian?
Oscar Wilde paints a picture himself as he describes Dorian Gray's dilemma. In addition, we as readers travel with Dorian as each decision is made. In some places in the story, Oscar Wilde seems to drag on and on with detail; however we find that this detail is necessary to set the next scene.
Oscar Wilde himself led a risky life that lead to a jail sentence; is attitudes can be seen in the dialogues in this book.
The Picture of Dorian Gray Starring: George Sanders, Hurd Hatfield
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2011
This book contains the story 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' - in original typescript form. This is the way Oscar Wilde wanted the novel to actually read before the publishers got hold of it. There are two other versions of the novel out there - the version printed for magazine publication & the one printed in novel form. After the publishers got hold of the manuscript a lot of changes were made because of content - the homoerotic element was toned down. The novel version is also longer - Wilde expanded the story. There are pictures, illustrations, & extensive notes included to explain all the changes. It's very interesting to see a version in print that is how Wilde intended it. If you are a fan of Oscar Wilde's works or of Dorian Gray in particular, you will appreciate having this book.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Unfortunately I made it through both high school and college without ever having been assigned this book. Over the years I have read plenty of Wilde's works, but for some reason or another, missed this one over and over. I recently sat down, and decided that it was time to give this a read. To be honest, I knew very little about this actual book prior to reading it, other than it involved a picture that aged rather than he in the painting.
I expected to have difficulty reading this book, since it had been such a long time since I had read anything from the Victorian era, however the language was surprisingly simple, and Wilde's wit is as sharp as ever. Almost sharp enough to harm the reader should they not be forewarned or guided through the readings. Should someone of a weaker mind read this book, it would be easy to fall into the trap of Dorian, who himself was poisoned by a book and the words of his friend.
Summary without giving too much away: Dorian Gray is an Adonis-like beauty, young and full of life and innocence at the beginning of our story. His beauty has attracted the obsession of a painter who paints picture after picture of him. Basil (the painter) tries to keep young Dorian pure and in love with life. Henry, a friend of Basil's comes to the studio as Basil paints his master work - a portrait of Doran. Henry fascinates young Dorian in his vile manner of speaking and sarcastic wit. His talk instills in Dorian both a fear of losing his beauty and a lust for all that is selfish and vile in life. Dorian's notable debauchery follows in exquisite detail with Henry always along for the ride to prod young Dorian down the wrong road. Several suicides and a murder or two later, complete madness begins to make its appearance.
Wilde was brilliant in his writing of this book, he captures the time perfectly... the lust of it, the sexuality of it, the debauchery of it... all in the name of truth. In their words they say things that their hearts dare not to believe and their smiles are masks hiding the truth. And what if someone believed in these lies? What if they lived their life according to what they had been told? Then they would be Dorian Gray... and we will see what happens to him. This is a brilliant read, and for those of you who will have to write papers on it... the story is not long, but it is thick with meaning. There are very few stories that I would give 5 stars to, this is one of them.