The Poetic Youth

United Kingdom

Avid reader, writer, artist and poet. Keatsian and Wildean, loves the 19th Century.
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A Review of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

January 19, 2021

Would you sell your soul for eternal beauty?  
Before you answer so hastily, heed the warning of the protagonist himself, ““the soul is a terrible reality. It can be bought, and sold, and bartered away. It can be poisoned, or made perfect. There is a soul in each one of us. I know it."”

“Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book”. Will you…? Will you understand the reason why it was banned for decades for apparent immorality? Will you skim the base layers, or will you reach the meaning beneath the depths of Wilde’s excellent prose? Personally, I fail to see anything other than great reflections, the most gorgeous descriptive narratives and a generous dusting of profound philosophy. Opposing what the Victorians biasedly named immoral, I believe this book to be a conveyance of the deepest ethics- it teaches the reader to value the morally good and practice goodness, appreciate those around them and most importantly, to take care of themselves. I finished reading this book a month ago and have not been able to stop thinking about it since- this book is one for the thinkers, the believers and everyone else or in between.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is an excellent novel, predominantly due to it’s engaging characters, controversial themes, like exploitation and ruin the of the innocent, deep, philosophical descriptions, of which become queries thrust unto the reader, and riveting plot. It follows the demise of a young man become so vain.

So, by reflecting upon the profound words of the author, (of this novel and of other greatly witty and philosophical works) the renowned aesthete Oscar Wilde, “it is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors”, I believe that this novel will be a mirror to yourself. 

Look closely. 

Do you see any flaws, like Dorian’s? Strengths, like Basil’s artistic aptitude? Or do the meaningful reflections, excellent descriptions, or Lord Henry’s witty and ever-so-slightly silly quips touch you? 

Look closer. 

Within the lines you will experience the delicate touch of Wilde’s skilful technique, within the words carefully expressed (and even suppressed) emotions, and if you consider it as a whole, you will see the cracks in Victorian society, of which Dorian could be seen as a metaphor of- externally beautiful, but greatly twisted, tormented and selfish within- a side which Wilde experienced too. Not only is The Picture of Dorian Gray a classic, it is also a philosophical and reflective piece, upon society, the person, and the value of the soul. Perhaps it’s best, yet most excellently concealed, obscure form, is that of autobiography. Wilde himself said that “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps”. One can also see figures from Wilde's life reflected in the themes and characters too. 

With the use of superb, vivid imagery and Wilde’s personal experience, we are submerged into the upper-class 19th century life of the young Mr Dorian Gray. This novel is an excellently descriptive account of this immensely beautiful young man, described as a “young Adonis ( the Greek God of beauty)” and “made out of ivory and rose-leaves.” You should also note that he is referred to as “a Narcissus.” However, when the hedonistic, arrogant and disdainful (yet undeniably amusing and rather truthful, take, for example, his saying that “’the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value’” ) Lord Henry Wotton arguably taking on the role of a sarcastic malcontent, adding to the undercurrent sense of tragedy, nudging Dorian off that ledge of what he refers to as childlike innocence, into a whirlpool of desires, affairs, ruin of lives and more of this vortex of which Dorian is sucked into, indulges in, and fails to readily understand its consequences due to utter lack of conscience. We are also introduced to Basil Hallward and his astounding artistic talent- the talent of which creates a portrait so dazzling, so realistic, so alluring in its representation of Dorian’s beauty, that it completely absorbs him… within himself. When Dorian falls, we experience the woeful demise of many other characters, but are still enraptured in his life and his character- I both loved and hated him! It is the duality and great mix of emotions one experiences whilst reading this story which makes the characters so interesting and lifelike and contributes to the gripping nature of the plot. 

Trust me on my review. Trust this book (don’t trust Dorian!) and trust Wilde to take you along with him on this enjoyable, at times beautiful, others ugly, simultaneously heart-wrenching and didactic novel which follows a man, arguably Wilde himself, on a journey of self-discovery through a most difficult of ways. This story, no, great, will leave you thinking when the pages are half turned within your hands, when the book is strewn across your bedside table, and when weeks and months have passed. Wilde will capture you in the diaphanous thread of his beauteous style, wit and tragedy, and ideas “made iridescent with fancy and winged… with paradox”. 

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all, of all genders and all ages, because it has many lessons we can learn from. Some may consider Wilde’s writing to be tangential, but his reasoning and gorgeous descriptions capture you and delve you into a deeper understanding. I must also add that this book can hardly be read in one sitting; it requires deep postulation, appreciation, and an extensive mulling over of both Wilde’s voice and the characters’.  The genre of this exquisite novel is described as decadent literature, philosophical fiction (1), and Victorian Gothic fiction (2), but I believe that no matter your preference, whether it is science fiction or romance, there is something to engage everyone, their brains, hearts and souls in this, I dare say, most excellent piece of work ever written. 

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1 Comment
  • AstroWriter

    Welcome to Write The World! If you need any help, ask me on one of my pieces. Happy to help! :)

    over 1 year ago