Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

 I liked the story. It’s beautiful, in the sense that it contains truths about life: If you spend your life pursuing pleasures, comforts, and beauty for their own sake, and without acknowledging where they came from, or without any reference to their source, and treating them as if they are not ephemeral, or believing them to last forever; if you live your life as if all that matters is pleasure and comfort, the self and the ego — you will lose your soul, and you will end up utterly empty and miserable.

Sketching the plot (May have spoilers ahead!)

The main character is Dorian Gray, a young, handsome, and initially innocent guy. His friend, Basil, is an artist, and he’s the one who painted Dorian’s portrait. Lord Henry is Basil’s friend, and soon becomes Dorian’s friend also.

Basil is so inspired by Dorian’s good looks (one wonders if Basil, Dorian, and Lord Henry are bisexual) that he paints his best work yet — a perfect portrait of Dorian Gray. It is, in fact, his masterpiece. It is so perfect that it looks exactly like Dorian Gray, and captures perfectly his beauty. Basil is mesmerized. Dorian, too, is captivated by his own reflection in the painting. The work of art is like a mirror that shows Dorian exactly how he looks and much more — how Basil sees and admires him. Something is awakened in Dorian. He begins to shed his innocence.

Lord Henry is an unprincipled kind of guy. He’s rich, intelligent, over-confident, trivial, and constantly tries to be witty by speaking in paradoxes. He’s what you would call nowadays as a relativist. He exerts an influence over Dorian, and it’s not a good one. He made Dorian realize that, with his youth and good looks, he can do anything he wants and have anyone he likes. He can pursue his heart’s desires — pleasures, adventures, lust, etc., and in life, that’s all that matters — pleasure and youth. Lord Henry tells Dorian that he only has one chance, because soon he will grow old, ugly and weary.

Dorian gives in, and, inside Basil’s studio, while admiring his own portrait, he expresses a wish (that was almost a prayer) to be young forever, to never grow old, to never taste physical deterioration, and he wants his portrait to bear the marks of time in his place. Little did he know, this wish of his came true.

He falls in “love” with a theater actress, Sybyl Vane, but soon we find out that it’s not really love, only infatuation. His “love” for her is conditional, dependent upon her performance on the stage. When she finally fell for him, her acting became terrible, because she realized that there’s real life beyond acting after all, so his illusion about her crashed and he left her harshly. She was driven to despair and eventually took her own life. This was the first of Dorian’s many sins. Of course, the girl committed the sin of suicide, but it was Dorian’s actions and horrendous behavior that brought her to her desperation. His portrait began to change. It transformed into something distorted, ugly and horrible, but it accurately mirrored the state of his soul.

He became more callous, vain, and sinful. He pursued a life of hedonism and became a corrupting influence over others. He ruined the lives of the people closest to him.

Later in the story, he eventually grew weary of all his pleasure-seeking and he became overwhelmed by his guilt. He wanted to do good, to change, to become a better person. He took the first step by not eloping with a girl whom he seduced, leaving her pure and her innocence intact. But he never quite went all the way – he didn’t truly repent of his sins; he didn’t truly feel sorry for his crimes and he didn’t ask for forgiveness. He had an opportunity to truly change, but he chose to hide his sins instead.

Personal thoughts

As I’ve said, I liked the story. The message is timeless, and is best summed up by that old saying, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul in the process?”

The story is very relevant, especially in this day and age when a lot of people are swayed by the philosophy of moral relativism. It recognizes the reality and ugliness of sin, and its very real and horrifying effect on the soul.

It’s funny how irrational and unreasonable Dorian was, and how ironic his experiences were — he wanted beauty so much and pursued it to great lengths and at great expense, but his soul only got uglier and uglier. He didn’t pursue true beauty — a clean, honest, pure and loving life.

My Rating: 4/5
Date Read: March 13-22, 2012

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