Trevor's Reviews > The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
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Mar 23, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: literature

This is another of those books I’ve been meaning to read for ages and kept putting off. Although I’ve a particularly good reason for putting this one off, as a very good friend of mine, who died a couple of years ago, spoke to me about this book and I was worried that might make it hard to read for quite other reasons.

He said that when he read this book as a young man it made him certain that he was not homosexual. Now, that in itself was enough to make me curious about the book. This is a book that could only have been written by a homosexual male and it is a book about homosexuality in very many ways. The obsession with youth and beauty is almost a cliché of homosexual obsessions – though the ‘dandy’, the vanity of men, is much more common now, I think. We are increasingly a culture obsessed with appearance. I wonder if reading the book and seeing this obsession was the thing that convinced my friend he was not homosexual, if that was the thing that made him say, ‘no, that’s not me’. Or rather if it was the expression of desire very early in the book for Dorian Gray by Basil, his painter and ardent admirer, that convinced him.

Lord Harry is one of those talking desk calendars, in fact, other than Hamlet, I think it would be hard to find a book with more quotable quotes per page. Some of them are deliciously funny and others are just the sort of illumination that a match struck in a dark room makes.

There were moments in this book, as there are in other works by Wilde, when one gets a feeling of premonition of his fate – it is hard to think of a sadder story than that of the last years of his life, or one that makes more plain how incredibly stupid are societies that punish people for their sexuality. There would be very little I could not forgive Wilde for, particularly after he wrote The Importance of Being Earnest – this book, his only novel, is nearly as good.

Our sins are not quite displayed as clearly on our faces as is assumed here, but our lives do mark us – it is a pity that in our obsession with youth that we forget how beautiful our scars can be and that love, real love, the love that touches us most deeply, is when another accepts our scars and loves us for them, rather than in spite of them.

One of the most quotable quotes in this book is an attack on realism in fiction – “That is the reason I hate vulgar realism in literature. The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.” I understand this is hardly a ‘realistic’ story – I mean, it is really a myth and takes liberties with ‘reality’ so as to comment on the world through the form of a myth – but like all such stories centred on something that is clearly ‘over-the-top’ it is contained in a shell that struck me as remarkably realistic. There was no time when I felt Wilde was calling a spade an implement for cultivation or some such silly phrase. His writing is always clear and to the point. The most ‘flowery’ language is perhaps when he is describing the perfumes Gray becomes fascinated in and seeks to understand ‘what there was in frankincense that made one mystical, and in ambergris that stirred one’s passions’, but even this is hardly as romantic or less real than TS Eliot’s (that most ‘modern’ of writers) “In vails of ivory and coloured glass / Unstoppered, lurked her strange synthetic perfumes,” Even at his most flowery, Wilde is hardly ‘unrealistic’.

I came to this book expecting it to be much ‘sillier’ than it turned out to be. I’ve no idea why I thought this – perhaps because I knew that the central idea of the book was that a man has an odd relationship with a painting in that he stays young while the painting gets old. But the book wasn’t nearly as silly as I thought it would be. I really did enjoy it.
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Quotes Trevor Liked

Oscar Wilde
“I like Wagner's music better than anybody's. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time without other people hearing what one says.”
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Reading Progress

01/31/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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Helen (Helena/Nell) The role of the artist interests me too, because of the possible allusion to Wilde himself as 'painter'. The picture shows the 'true' inner self of Dorian Gray, not just his aging process but how coarse and cruel he becomes.

So does the novel show the 'true' inner self of Oscar Wilde? Outwardly he was very Lord Harryish, all flair and cleverness. Inwardly, he was terribly principled, I think, which caused horrendous conflict and meant that he had to judge himself, in the end, badly.

After all, in his situation, it wasn't good being Catholic. I love that quotation allegedly from his death bed in Paris -- this is from memory 'One of us is going to have to go, either me or the wallpaper.'

But I love his writing generally, and certainly this, his only novel. His life was such a tragedy, such a waste. All his mother's fault of course -- and do you know about his two sisters whose dresses were set alight standing too close to a fire and died as a result? Truth is stranger than...

Courtney Stirrat Trevor -- your review so perfectly captures so many things I have been contemplating while wondering what to say about Dorian Gray that I am going to have to steal it and quote you from it in my review. There is no way I could have said it better!

message 3: by Abi (new) - rated it 4 stars

Abi This book is about a lot of things, but homosexuality? I suppose it plays a marginal role in that Basil's adoration of Dorian seems a little beyond ordinary friendship. However, it's explicitly mentioned that this adoration is non-sexual; Dorian is a classical manifestation of perfection, the archetypal artistic muse for Basil. He sets him on a pedestal because of his youth and appearance, and obviously Wilde challenges this linking of appearance with morality. He also challenges the value of wit over true wisdom, and the superficiality of society in general. This is a challenge to 19th century values, not homosexual values, although I agree there is an implicit inditement of those values that consider homosexuality immoral.
Dandyism in fin-de-siecle Europe also had nothing to do with homosexuality. Male vanity was the norm amongst the upper classes and as a historical aside, I think you're wrong when you say "the vanity of men, is much more common now".
Just because Wilde was a homosexual, I don't agree with narrowing the scope of the book like that.

Doug Cheers to Abi! Trevor, did you read the preface by chance? You would make Oscar Wilde cry if he saw your review! After the multitudes of magazines and other critics coming down on his book for his personal life--seeming to have not even read any words in the books but those that incriminated Wilde--he wrote his preface to ask that readers look at art as a nongendered, nonparented item; completely emancipated from its author.

The emphasis on beauty is not a property of homosexuality, but of aestheticism. An aesthete would believe in "art for art's sake" and so an aesthete may surround themselves with as many things of beauty to as many of their senses as possible at any time. In Wilde's book, Dorian, who is essentially a personification or a literary legend of the movement, takes this to the point of what many would consider vanity or reckless indulgence.

Trevor It was not my intention to make anyone cry. I hope Oscar will forgive me - I am rather fond of him.

Stephen Isn't it wonderful that a book like Dorian Gray can still make us talk about it, wonder about it, and argue for this or that? What a testament to Wilde's genius.

I found the book to be very unsettling. Dorian became more and more horrible, and his murder of Basil gave me goose-flesh. The one that surprised me the most was Lord Harry. He really, in the end, was the one that saw through Dorian.

Trevor As you know, Stephen, I'm reading Arthur and George at the moment and there are references to what polite society thought of that 'sodomite Wilde'. I'm still enjoying it, by the way. Barnes knows exactly how to get me to hate a character - bad mouthing Wilde is as quick a way as any.

Stephen Hahahha. I don't know the exact literature to back it up, but I was told in college that Wilde was given every chance available to not to go trial, but he was the one that insisted on the trial.

Poor dumb-ass. Shows you can be a genius and lack common sense.

message 9: by Joan (new)

Joan Baldridge This review made me want to read the book. Thank you!

Trevor If you do read it, Joan, let me know what you thought of it. All the best.

Firial This book shows the complications of some hummin beings goes in the depth it's wonderful. Book I love it I always go back for it

message 12: by Nathan (new)

Nathan Woodruff I am really glad that you enjoyed this book. Honestly I have read so many reviews where people complain about flowery language and how it's annoying and it ruins the plot, but I don't think that's true. I do think that the flowery language is anachronistic, it adds a nice touch. I think it is kind of interesting that you chose to touch on the issue that Wilde or Gray were homosexuals. It is quite possible that Dorian is a homosexual, but I'm not completely sure that he is. At the time it was bad to be homo, so that is probably why he is not so expressive about it. This quote suggest that he might be,"“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it (Dorian Grey).” I also like how you talked about how real fiction. The main conflict in the book is caused by something that could never happen, but it is so real. I am really glad that you read this book. It was a great classic that all should read. I don't think there are a lot of people who got as much out of it as you.

Cathleen This is one of those novels I've known about forever and am now only getting around to reading. I wish I hadn't waited so long. Then again, I may not have loved the language, the ideas, and the novel as much as I do now. I've been thinking a lot about Dorian--how he appears completely impervious to anyone's feelings or perspectives but his own, and his determined pursuit of all experiences, every experience for experience's sake. I can't think of another character in literature like him, so that makes him even more compelling for me to think about. And as for the rest of his society and society in general--it seems we're all fools for beauty, no matter what the cost. I really enjoyed reading your review, Trevor. There's so much to think about and admire in this novel.

Trevor I wonder if Dr Faust fits the bill of another character from literature who learns too late that the meaning of life is love - not entirely, I guess, but interesting to think about.

Thanks Cathleen.

message 15: by Elsie (new) - added it

Elsie Dippenaar Such a beautiful review! Now I'm even more excited to start reading this book.

Trevor Thanks Elsie - do let me know if you like it.

Sarah This novel is actually my favorite novel! Homosexuality definitely is hinted at in this version, although the "uncensored" version is much more blatant, of course. Nice review!

Trevor Thanks Sarah

message 19: by Jalawa (last edited Feb 15, 2015 08:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jalawa I have to agree with you about his identity comment when he wrote the book. The book oozed his true sexuality. Many of the scenes and continuously complementing the other men physical appearances was contradictory.There were definitely other red flags. However, it doesn't negate the fact that Wilde was an excellent writer.

Dushyant "Our sins are not quite displayed as clearly on our faces as is assumed here, but our lives do mark us – it is a pity that in our obsession with youth that we forget how beautiful our scars can be and that love, real love, the love that touches us most deeply, is when another accepts our scars and loves us for them, rather than in spite of them."

Loved what you said!

Trevor Thanks Dushyant, That is, I guess, one of my core beliefs about love.

I've been thinking a lot about this book lately - mostly because I've been thinking about advertising and how images are used to 'perfect' the world - in almost exactly the opposite way to how the painting here works. The blemishes of our world are airbrushed away in advertising images, often selling us products (like McDonalds) that literally do us harm. The painting here is very interesting, I think - Classical lit has lots of references to people becoming art (think Medusa) or art becoming human (Pygmalion) but this book is interesting for art being what receives human wickedness and then leaving humans apparently untouched.

The link between beauty and truth is a deeply troubling one. I've recently learnt that people are more likely to believe something is true if it rhymes. I've also known for ages that people who are beautiful tend to earn more and be forgiven more than we botched snd bungled. We really are a superficial lot, we humans.

David Sarkies It's funny that we were talking about this book at my book club today and the only time we mentioned homosexuality was in relation to Wilde. I never thought of this book as being a homosexual novel, but you do make a really good point with regards to appearance. In a way (and I know I do) we all want to look young because being young means that we are attractive.

Trevor It was impossible for me to read this in any other way, given my friends comments. There is a lovely experiment where some Russian guy tracks people's eye movements as they look at photographs. Interesting enough. But then he asks different people, 'do you think she is rich?' 'Is he friendly or nasty?' 'What does she do for a living?' And, of course, their eyes scan the photos differently - we literally see differently depending on what we have been primed to see. I suspect this review is a bit like that.

Vessey Trevor, I think your whole review is wonderful, but my most favourite part is this:

Our sins are not quite displayed as clearly on our faces as is assumed here, but our lives do mark us – it is a pity that in our obsession with youth that we forget how beautiful our scars can be and that love, real love, the love that touches us most deeply, is when another accepts our scars and loves us for them, rather than in spite of them..

It excited me very much and I believe it to be true. Thank you for this great review. I also read your review of "Persuasion" and I loved it.

Trevor I still believe it to be true, too, Vessy, with quite a few more years of scars under my belt now than when I wrote this. To live a life is to be scarred and so the 'perfection' people seem to want appears to me as a kind of wish to have not lived, if not quite a death wish.

Thank you for commenting, you've made my morning.

Vessey Trevor wrote: "I still believe it to be true, too, Vessy, with quite a few more years of scars under my belt now than when I wrote this. To live a life is to be scarred and so the 'perfection' people seem to want..."

Trevor, I wholeheartedly agree. Very beautifully said and very true. You sound like a poet and a philosopher. Thank you so much for your friend request. I was honoured to receive it. :)

Trevor Do you know the story of the origin of the word 'philosopher'? Someone said to Pythagoras that he was a wise man and he replied, no, not wise, just a lover of wisdom. I'm a bit like that with poetry - not a poet, but a lover of poetry. And poetry needs more lovers than it needs poets.

Vessey Trevor wrote: "Do you know the story of the origin of the word 'philosopher'? Someone said to Pythagoras that he was a wise man and he replied, no, not wise, just a lover of wisdom. I'm a bit like that with poetr..."

Oh, this is very interesting. I hadn't thought about the literal translation of philosopher, even though I do know the meanings of the two words of which it consists. I have a thing. When I learn something new, I’m dying to share it with somebody. So when someone starts talking about philosophy, I will be like “Now that you mention it…” Of course, I’m going to make it sound like I've known it all along. :D Thanks for wisining me up, Trevor. Wisdom is one of things that are of a big value to me, so I suppose I’m a philosopher myself. :D Regarding poetry, there is this proverb “Birds of the same feather flock together”. (Oh, I only recently used that one. That’s it. Once something gets stuck in my head… :D). My point is that in order to appreciate something, you need to carry a piece of it in yourself to begin with. So I believe every lover of poetry is some kind of a poet himself. If not by calling, at least by heart. So what you’re saying makes sense. Poetry, like every thing of beauty and every human soul, needs our love and support in order to thrive. So yes, let’s keep our passion for it alive. I really need to start reading more poetry!

P.S. I am very sorry about your friend. I’m sorry that I didn't mention it at the beginning.

message 29: by Kat (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kat I've just started reading Dorian Gray, great review and enjoyed reading it.

message 30: by Cherisse (new) - added it

Cherisse Thyme Mumm gene

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