on July 9, 2017
"Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic."
Wow... if that isn't a powerful statement!
I will say this review contains spoilers, but most people know the story of Dorian Gray even if they haven't read it, so I'll leave it up to you on whether you want to continue onward.
I haven't read such a classic tale since high school, and I must admit, I have a much better appreciation for them as an adult. It is no wonder that Oscar Wilde received such criticism for this novel; so much being taboo for it's time. The accusations of homoerotic themes, well, is it any wonder? It was only a few short years later that Oscar Wilde was arrested for sodomy and homosexuality. It's said that the character of Dorian Gray can often be found in that of Oscar Wilde in their hedonistic ways. Which was probably what Oscar Wilde was most criticized for.
This is a very philosophical novel and although most of it is lost in today's time, I can imagine what an impact that must of had during that time and how controversial this novel really was. Let's consider the fact that the first time this was ever published nearly 500 words had been deleted. It was feared that The Picture of Dorian Gray would violate public morality.
So what's it all about for those of you who don't know? It's a beautiful summer day and Lord Henry Wotton, a philosophical, self-indulgent aristocrat is visiting his friend, Basil Hallward, a sensitive, almost feminine painter. Lord Henry Wotton is observing his friend Basil while he paints a portrait of the young Dorian Gray. Dorian is Basil's ultimate muse, even expressing "He is all my art to me now... As long as I live the personality of Dorian Gray will dominate me." Basil is concerned about the influence that Lord Henry will have on Dorian Gray and fears that he could take away the one person who gives his art whatever charm it possesses. While sitting for the painting Dorian listens to Lord Henry and his philosophies and his hedonistic ways... he exclaims Youth! Youth! There is absolutely nothing in the world but youth!" The portrait is finished and once revealed Dorian is beside himself, after listening to Lord Henry's views on youth Dorian questions his own. "How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June... if it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that-- for that--I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!"
Dorian soon meets a young actress by the name of Sibyl Vane, who performs Shakespeare in a dingy theatre. Dorian becomes enamored by this young actress and soon asks for her hand in marriage. The young Sibyl refers to Dorian has her "Prince Charming" and is overcome with happiness and love. Sibyl's brother, James Vane, is not as happy to hear about Sibyl's new "Prince Charming". James is a sailor about to leave for Australia, but before he does, he vows that "if this man wrongs my sister, I will find out who he is, track him down, and kill him like a dog, I swear it." Dorian invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet. Dorian tells Basil and Lord Henry that Sibyl is a born artist. Dorian exclaims "When you see Sibyl Vane, you will feel that the man who could wrong her would be a beast, a beast without a heart. I cannot understand how any one can wish to shame the thing he loves."
Sibyl is too enamored by Dorian and performs poorly. Lord Henry tells Dorian she is quite beautiful, but she can't act. Dorian is overcome with embarrassment and confronts Sibyl after the play. He rejects Sibyl and tells her that she has killed his love. He tells her "Without your art, you art nothing." Dorian leaves Sibyl destroyed.
Upon returning home Dorian discovers that his wish for eternal youth has come true. Upon examining the painting Dorian can see a touch of cruelty in the mouth. He begins to question, had he really been cruel? He continues to place the blame on Sibyl, but an overwhelming sense of regret comes over Dorian and he decides that he will reconcile with Sibyl. The next day, Dorian receives word from Lord Henry that Sibyl has committed suicide by swallowing prussic acid.
Dorian decides to lock away the portrait from any prying eyes. He can't risk anyone knowing his secret. He accepted his fate, if the picture was to alter, it was to alter. "This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul." Dorian spends the next eighteen years studying perfumes, music, jewels, and embroideries and tapestries. Everything he collected was a means to escape.
One night before leaving for Paris, Basil decides to pay Dorian a visit to confront him about all the rumors he has been hearing about him. Dorian does not deny the rumors of debauchery. Basil states, "I wonder do I know you? Before I could answer that, I should have to see your soul." Dorian replies "You shall see it yourself, to-night! Come: it is your own handiwork." Dorian takes Basil to see the portrait. The portrait has become so hideous that Basil is only able to recognize it by his vermillion signature in the left-hand corner. There was something in its expression that filled him with disgust and loathing. Basil pleads for Dorian to pray, to pray for repentance. Dorian becomes overwhelmed with hatred for Basil and stabs him to death. Dorian calls upon an old friend and scientist, Alan Campbell, to help him dispose of the body. Alan refuses to help Dorian, which leaves Dorian no choice but to blackmail Alan.
Overwhelmed by guilt, Dorian recalls what Lord Henry had once said to him, "To cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul!" He decides to go to an opium den. Upon leaving he has an encounter with a woman who refers to Dorian as "Prince Charming". James in unknowingly present and overhears this, he rushes after Dorian. James is holding a gun to Dorian's head, prepared to shoot him, he explains "You wrecked the life of Sibyl Vane". Dorian denies having ever known Sibyl and convinces James that he's far too young to have known this woman. James is apologetic, but Dorian leaves him with a warning "Let this be a warning to you not to take vengeance into your own hands." Dorian storms off into the night. The women from the opium den questions James for having let him go. James explains that he is not the man he is looking for, that he is little more than a boy. The woman explains that it was eighteen years ago when she had met Dorian and that he hasn't changed much since. She states "They say he has sold himself to the devil for a pretty face." James begins to stalk Dorian causing him to fear for his life. However, during a shooting party a hunter accidentally shoots James Vane who was lurking in the thicket. Dorian is relieved!
Following this chance accident Dorian decides that he wants to be good. He thinks that maybe by doing good that he can undo all the wrong that he's done. He starts by not breaking the heart of his newest love interest Hetty Merton. He wonders if he new good deed had changed the appearance of his portrait. Upon inspection he discovers that there was no change, that it was still loathsome, more loathsome, if possible than before. Dorian decides that only full confession will absolve him of his wrongdoings. But with no evidence left of his crimes other than his portrait, he decides to destroy it. He grabs the knife, the same knife he used to kill Basil Hallward, and stabbed the picture with it. It had killed the painter, and now it would kill the painter's work. A loud cry is heard by the servants and passersby. Upon entering the locked room the servants find hanging on the wall a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him in all the wonder of his youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome. It wasn't until after further examination and discovering the rings on the body that they recognized the man as their master, Dorian Gray.