Wilde’s only novel, first published in 1890, is a brilliantly designed puzzle, intended to tease conventional minds with its exploration of the myriad interrelationships between art, life and consequence. From its provocative Preface, challenging the reader to belief in ‘art for art’s sake’, to its sensational conclusion, the story self-consciously experiments with the notion of sin as an element of design. Yet Wilde himself underestimated the consequences of his experiment, and its capacity to outrage the Victorian establishment. Its words returned to haunt him in his court appearances in 1895, and he later recalled the ‘note of doom’ which runs like ‘a purple thread’ through its carefully crafted prose.
I listened to this audiobook for free on Spotify through Audiobooks of my own accord. Therefore I was not required to write a review and all comments and opinions are entirely my own.
“Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?” -The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
What a truly captivating novel! There is so much to take in, contemplate, repel, and admire. It’s a book that exposes, primarily, the ugliness of sin in this world, and one’s self, and the consequences that happen to those who drink of the “pleasures” of life with no regard to anyone but themselves.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a dark, dramatic, and solemn book that quite beautifully illustrates the self destruction that vanity brings, at its extreme. Throughout the entire time I listened to this book, I was in awe of the writing, the dialogue, the careful analogies, and lengthy, but intentional, descriptions. It is truly a masterpiece of literacy.
The concept of the picture reflecting Dorian’s soul and his acceptance and fascination of that, which inevitably led to his own destruction, is an enthralling storyline. Once he became conscious of what he could do to the picture, and his hatred of the picture fueling his actions, he sacrificed his own soul to destroy it. There truly is a “terrifying moral”, as the synopsis of a different edition stated, in the life of Dorian Gray.
But amidst the darkness, there is an incredible appreciation of beauty all throughout this novel. There are lengthy chapters and conversations discussing the wonders of gorgeous gardens, the poetry that commits itself to one’s memory, the taste of a delectable meal, and art in all of its forms. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a blend of the beautiful and the hideous, the captivating and the repulsive, the good influences and the bad, and our choices in how we respond to them, and furthermore, how our responses and choices affect others around us. The Picture of Dorian Gray captures the complexities of life.
As far as content goes, I was surprised at how vague it was towards Dorian’s nightlife. There are never any scenes in which we actually encounter what he does to tarnish his soul, we only witness the aftermath in the destruction of his friendships and his misery that comes in the morning. And I liked it like that. It added to the mystery of him, and though we are given only snippets, like passing names or notes, the author burns a curiosity into the reader by never fully indulging Dorian’s actions, and even upon finishing the book, some things, we’ll just never know about Dorian Gray. So it is, very surprisingly if you’re acquainted with the movie (which I cannot share the trailer due to it being rated R for sexual content), a clean book.
I must disclose however that there is a substantial mention of suicide, a graphic murder, and plenty of emotional tension. The only sexual content is in passing conversation, periodically, that is in no way graphic (the worst was Dorian speaking about his ancestor and mentioned that he “housed orgies”, and nothing more was said). There is no cursing either.
So overall, I am inclined to give The Picture of Dorian Gray 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to lovers of classic literature as a novel they should attempt to read at least once in their life. I do recommend it for students aged 16+, or at the parents’ discretion, due to the heavy emotional content.