By Jeremy Niass
A picture can tell a thousand words.
But what could a book about a picture tell? You don’t have to wonder, because such a story is offered in Oscar Wilde’s book The Picture of Dorian Gray.
A famous poet-playwright in the Nineteenth Century, Wilde was known for his wit and flamboyance, which he reflected in his works in the literary and performing arts.
So, while The Picture of Dorian Gray was his only novel, Wilde was able to exhibit his shrewdness throughout it by weaving in some remarkable aphorisms and interesting viewpoints on life and society.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is set in England during the late 1800s. A young man bestowed with beauty and born into an aristocratic family, Dorian Gray seemingly has the qualities that make him apt to live the high life in English society.
His beauty does not go unnoticed. Basil Howard, a painter, is in nothing short of absolute adoration of Dorian’s youthful charm and handsome appearance.
On a summer’s day, Basil invites Dorian to his house so he can paint a picture that will capture Dorian’s beauty. Observing the event is Howard’s friend, Henry Wotton, who engages in conversation with Dorian while the picture is being painted.
This interaction is anything but surface level and vain.
Henry seeks to influence Dorian’s worldview. He does so by attempting to imprint on Dorian philosophical views that are filtered through a hedonistic ideology.
And he succeeds. Dorian comes to realise that the fleeting nature of life will one day result in the loss of something precious to him: his beauty.
In his despair, Dorian sells his soul to the freshly painted picture in order to preserve his youthful beauty.
However, there is a steep price to pay for this exchange.
While his external appearance will remain the same, the picture will change to reflect Dorian’s “true” appearance as he embraces Howard’s ideology and treks the path of temptation, hedonism, and sin.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a book that has earned its place in gothic literature.
By providing the perspective of the protagonist being able to view his reflection in the picture, it cleverly explores the everlasting struggle between who we are on the outside and who we are on the inside.
Combine this with its many other philosophical perspectives and with an undertone of homosexuality (primarily through Basil’s adoration of Dorian), and The Picture of Dorian Gray is a mixture of themes that makes for an insightful and compelling book.
The book is made more enticing due to its ease of reading. On average, each chapter is 10 pages long, making it an easy book to pick up and put down, and the wonderful prose combined with wit and character means each chapter delivers an important development in the book while remaining succinct.
At the time it was written, The Picture of Dorian Gray would certainly have invoked criticism and the ire of certain members of society – and indeed, it may still do the same today.
If you want to explore the themes such as morality and hedonism, or if you want to read a book that is considered counterculture, The Picture of Dorian Gray is recommended for you.
Check out more reviews of the book on Goodreads.