Paula's Reviews > The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
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it was ok

** spoiler alert ** This book reminded me why I hate classics.

Like Frankenstein, it starts out with a great premise: what if a portrait bore the brunt of age and sin, while the person remained in the flush of youth? How would that person feel as they watched a constant reminder of their true nature develop? And like Frankenstein, it gets completely bogged down in uninteresting details and takes forever to get to the interesting bits. Seriously, in a 230-page novel, the portrait doesn't even start to change until 100 pages in.

And it's so damn flowery. Every time Lord Harry starts talking (and believe me, he likes to talk) he's so witty. Witty witty witty. Ahahaha, you're soooooooo worldly wise and charming. And entirely cynical! You just have a quip for everything, don't you? Look, reader, look. See Harry. See Harry corrupt Dorian. Corrupt, Harry, corrupt!

I actually ended up skimming most of the book. I really thought about stopping, but I hoped it would redeem itself by the end. It didn't. I should have just skipped to the last page. So to save you, dear reader, the same pain I went through, is the summary of Dorian Gray (spoilers, of course):

Dorian semi-consciously makes Faustian bargain to transfer all his sins and signs of age to his portrait. He sins and feels guilty about it, but keeps doing it anyway. He finally decides to get ride of the portrait/evidence and stabs the painting. Surprise, it breaks the spell, and he is left ugly, old and dead while his portrait returns to its original form. The end. You can thank me later.

UPDATE 9/3/12: Since this review is still around and kicking four years later, I thought I might point like-minded individuals to a new parody of classic literature to the tune of Call Me Maybe: Call Me Ishmael!

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
February 10, 2008 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-50 of 177 (177 new)

Kelly Amen! I won't thank you later, I'll thank you now.

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

As for me I will thank you never, because your review does not give the book justice, I think that you are mixing up the quality of the book with the quality of your ability to like good literature.

Philip I can't understand how anybody with an 8th grade reading level or higher can call this book uninteresting.

I've read it twice and loved it both times.

Paula Well, at least I'm not the only person who thought Dorian Gray is too chatty. Oscar Wilde commented, "I am afraid it is rather like my own life--all conversation and no action."

William I think you are just another of those people who desperately seek action in a book. I think this is when I have to remind you that we are not talking about some hollywood movie, but one of the greatest works of literature. So if you think the book is too heavy for you, go read something easy like "twilight".

Jason Whitney wrote: "As for me I will thank you never, because your review does not give the book justice, I think that you are mixing up the quality of the book with the quality of your ability to like good literature."

Yeah but his review was good literature. It was genius!

message 7: by Paula (last edited Jan 18, 2009 10:46PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paula For whatever reason, people get really agitated about this review in particular and imply that my literary judgement is, shall we say, non-existent. You'll also note that no one has refuted my statements other than saying it's a "classic." Just as a quick review, ad hominem attacks are logical fallacies, so please insult my ideas, not me.

But hey, maybe it IS me. Maybe the fact that I've read (and yes, enjoyed) classics ranging from Don Quixote to Lolita to 2666 (which is very good, btw, but not great) has left me incapable of appreciating literature. So let's check in with what a professional critic has to say about Wilde. Meet Daniel Mendelsohn, considered one of the greatest living critics and author of "How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken" (an excellent book that will make you love essays, of all things). From "The Two Oscar Wildes:"

..."It was evident that even 'Dorian Gray'... hadn't been the ideal vehicle for his gifts; Wilde himself knew perfectly well he wasn't really a novelist. ... His true metier, as the course of his career would soon demonstrate, was dialogue--real dialogue, rather than the rococo verses he'd put in the mouths of his early characters. It's the voice of Wilde the brilliant talker...that you hear in the plays."

Or for a different perspective, let's hear from Robert McKee, recognized as one of the best screenwriting teachers around. Surely he might have some insight on the unique advantages novels and plays have in comparison to movies?

"A great play is almost pure dialogue, perhaps 80 percent is for the ear, only 20 percent for the eye... What's more, the playwright has a license screenwriters do not--he may write dialogue in a way no human being has ever spoken... The theater's power to dramatize inner conflict through unspoken subtext is ample but, compared to the novel, limited."

Aha! So now we get to the crux of the problem with "Dorian Gray:" it is, in fact, a play masquerading as a novel. If I were to go back and edit out all the witty, witty dialogue, how much of the novel would remain? (Hint: about the same as the summary in my original review). The idea behind "Dorian Gray" is a brilliant idea, but a novel that is 80% dialogue does not a novel make. A better novelist would have made this story a true classic. Perhaps the best part of "Dorian Gray" was that it made Wilde realize that he was better (indeed, sublimely) suited to other mediums.

message 8: by Wec8469 (new)

Wec8469 You are obviously as hairy as you are daft!!! This book and author are key to intelligence and observance! This book is as pertinent today as it was almost a century ago!!! Only a true neanderthal would put this piece of marvelousness down!!!!

William ok, so you think that showing us the views of those critics will justify your review? that is pathetic. saying what others have said only shows that you do not have much to say.
and by the way, when critisising someone's views on literature, ad hominem attacks are necessary and should be expected. your ideas ARE you.

Paula You know, it's a shame that people in this day and age are insulting Neanderthals' intelligence when Geico has done so much to combat this persistent prejudice. At least Wec8469's comments get points for being ridiculous to the point of amusing.

But ad hominem attacks being necessary? You, sir, are an idiot.

Hey, see how I did that? I changed the topic! We just went from discussing whether ad hominem attacks are necessary to questioning your mental condition. You might be an idiot. You might not. It doesn't have anything to do with the truth of your claim. Brilliant people sometimes have dumb ideas. A broken watch is right twice a day. Your ideas AREN'T you and can be criticized separately.

I've stated my ideas several times now: Dorian Gray's concept is great. The execution leaves a lot to be desired. If you disagree, oh brilliant defenders of classic literature, please, do enlighten me. But guess what? Calling me names is probably not going to make me change my mind. How about pointing out that perhaps Lord Harry's verbosity is essential to the novel's theme in that language can also obscure a character's inner ugliness? That argument's a freebie. Come up with some others and maybe we can have an intelligent debate. Otherwise, I'm gonna assume you're insulting me because you can't prove my ideas wrong.

Finally, William, when criticizing someone's views on literature, make sure you spell "criticizing" right (though I would have also accepted "criticising").

Paula Okay, this lack of debate of Dorian Gray's literary merits has gone on long enough. If you've got a valid comment to make regarding the novel, go ahead. Otherwise, I'm deleting them.

William Paula wrote: "Okay, this lack of debate of Dorian Gray's literary merits has gone on long enough. If you've got a valid comment to make regarding the novel, go ahead. Otherwise, I'm deleting them."

so what is your idea of a "valid comment"?

Paula One that sticks to a critique of the novel. "Dorian Gray deserves to be a classic because it challenged social mores when it was published" is a good start. "Wilde's excessive dialogue is better suited to a play and weakens the work as a novel" is another. "You probably don't even know how to read" is not. If others are convinced Dorian Gray is a great novel, I invite them to explain why, so long as they don't resort to "because it's classic literature."

William Paula wrote: "One that sticks to a critique of the novel. "Dorian Gray deserves to be a classic because it challenged social mores when it was published" is a good start. "Wilde's excessive dialogue is better su..."

that is a good answer.

ok, here is my review (without insults and attacks):
i like the novel because it is full of beauty and cynicism. sometimes i felt like lord henry's cynicism was even more beautiful than beauty itself. never before have i read words so beautifully put together. when it comes to art, i only seek beauty (which, i think, is obvious from my frequent use of the word) and in The Picture of Dorian Gray i found more beauty than i could imagine.

Jessica If I read another line of Lord Henry's idiotic banter, I am going to find a way to go back in time, locate Oscar Wilde, and bludgeon him.

Conor E.k. The novel is brilliant, and what you failed to recognize was its merit in terms of characterization, and its revelation of the author's life. The reason this could not have been a play is because there is only one character in it: Oscar Wilde himself. When I read the novel, just within the first chapter or so I was struck with the realization that this was Wilde exploring his own psyche and simultaneously divulging his innermost dreams and fears.
In addition to being an exploration of one of the most fascinating authors in history, the language is still quite beautiful. Not only that, but it raises very interesting moral questions.

Is it the best novel ever written? Of course not. But it is rather good. In the author's defense and as you have pointed out, Wilde is primarily a playwright, and was working far outside of his comfort zone by writing a novel. I must say that satirical playwright Wilde's novel is a damn sight better than satirical novelist Twain's play, which is utterly unreadable.

message 17: by From (new) - rated it 2 stars

From I was about half way though when I read your review. I was a little pissed about you breaking the ending for me and even though I could def see where you were coming from I continued to read the book. I finished it, and yes I'm disappointed :-(

message 18: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 28, 2009 08:53AM) (new)

I highly recommend the illustrated edition!

Kenna I would just like to know why intelligent people cannot value an individual's opinion and instead leave scathing comments that question a person's intellect? Not everyone has the same taste in classics. This one definitely is very dry compared to many others. Not bad, but certainly not life-changing.

Paula You know Kenna, I would love to know the same thing. I am fairly amused by how people keep coming back to this particular review, though.

Oh, and for all those who do actually love this book because it is the greatest single work of literature ever bestowed on mankind, etc. etc., you should be aware that the movie is coming out in September. You're welcome.

Paula Also, Ana, I went and added a little spoilers note right before the full summary.

Ana wrote: "I was about half way though when I read your review. I was a little pissed about you breaking the ending for me and even though I could def see where you were coming from I continued to read the bo..."

message 22: by Doug (new) - rated it 5 stars

Doug Somewhat hypocritical of you to ask readers not to challenge your review with personal attacks when your review itself is, as I read it, "I don't like Dorian Gray because it was too chatty, but I skimmed it." Might I ask, why did you even bother writing the review if you just skimmed the book? Oscar Wilde didn't write this book to be skimmed. Oscar Wilde was an aesthete. His book reflects the entire aesthetic movement and himself with it. Inside and between nearly every line in this book there not only witticisms but meanings for why they were important, or what Wilde wished the reader to see in them, or how they strengthened the plot itself. Depending on your edition, these instances are sometimes marked in footnotes or brought up in the appendix. Sometimes it just takes a little patience to find the parallel later in the story, or earlier on the second read.
...and sometimes--rarely, I should say--they're just pointless, snarky quips of Brit humour :P

I agree that the book takes patience and you, yourself, have recognized you did not give it that patience. It could be Wilde's fault as a writer that his book could not keep your interest in a different age, or it could be your fault for not approaching it in the right way to enjoy this book in the way millions of students, asthetes, philosophers, theists, casual readers, etc. have in the past.

Brian I suppose this is the review to respond to when a fan of Dorian Gray see's such a review. I think many people are responding to this review and keep coming back is because it highlights the problem with reviews.

First as Doug pointed out one can not review a book by skimming it, your review would do better in the cliff notes section of Dorian Gray.

Second, there is a trap in holding Faust as the pinnacle and holding all other like pieces in contempt. The soul is a universal topic not an idea Goethe pulled out of his own head. You do not explicitly praise Faust over Gray but your citation of Gray making a Faustian bargain implicates it.

Lastly, the flowery wit is best understood then skimmed through. If the wit bothers you then there must be a reason why and that would be understandable but there seems to be no reason, couple that with skimming through the wit and I can only conclude you had no understanding of what Lord Henry was in effect saying.

Unfortunately I would not recommend you to read it again. The fact of this thread has probably contaminated any objective reading possible. Let us never speak of Dorian again.

Nicole I would just like to say, that your review of this book could very well be my own. It was scary seeing my own thoughts put into words, especially since I was convinced that I was the only person who wasn't that fond of this book.

Hannah Eiseman-Renyard Hey Paula, I liked this novel a lot better than you did, but I think all your points are more than valid. Nice review. I think you might like Dorian An Imitation by Will Self a lot more. If you can stand any more on the Dorian Gray theme, that is.

And people - please. You can't judge a person's individual response to art as 'wrong' - and it's this kind of flaming which makes me reticent to review things honestly incase someone starts telling me I'm stupid because I don't think exactly like them.

Courtney i totally agree... the book is about 100 pages or so too long... say after the first chapter just skip and read the last 100 pages. if you take out all the sh*t in the middle... it's not bad

Nicole @Courtney - haha I see you found the review I told you about :)

@Hannah - I completely agree. People respond differently to things. It doesn't always mean they "didn't get it" or are "too stupid" to understand. Sometimes things just don't resonate.

Paula Well this thread got completely ridiculous. Has everyone had a chance to vent their spleen yet?

Daniel I'll be honest. I skimmed through this review. Having not finished the work in full, I was left with the impression that the author had a lot to say about the topic, and was clearly infatuated with its subject matter. It was only later that I found the author drifting from her purpose, stumbling upon the realm of Quixote and Lolita for reasons my unsuccessful attempt at the work could not illuminate.

Like Frankenstein, it starts out with a great premise: What if I read the body of work I was reviewing? Would I find myself in a position to judge it more accurately? An interesting premise, to be sure, but just not one I was able to hold onto by the time I reached the third paragraph.

It was at around this time of submission that I realized I had to come up with an excuse for not liking the review. Taking a page out of Paula's book (of which I can assume roughly half are missing), I decided the best course of action was to imitate the writing style in the worst conceivable way possible.

Look, reader, look. See Paula. See Paula spew nonsense from every orifice. Spew, Paula, spew!

Paula semi-consciously (anesthesia?) makes a Faustian bargain to transfer all her bad writing to Goodreads. She writes terribly and feels guilty about it, but keeps doing it anyway. I finally decide to get rid of the terrible review and close my browser. Surprise, it breaks the spell, and the review is left ugly, old and dead while my rationale returns to its original form. The end. You can thank me later.

Paula So... you read and disliked the review and 28 comments so much that you wrote your own. Okay then.

I don't know why this damn thread is so popular. I read this book almost 2 years ago and have since moved on with life. I suggest future would-be posters do so as well.

Paula To clarify, the suggestion to move on was a general suggestion to all posters, not a personal one. Let's all collectively find books more worthwhile of debate. Thanks, the management.

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

Exactly what I actually think... =)

Christy People keep coming back to the review because it's at the top of the page. I trust you recognize the irony in complaining that people are commenting 2 years later on a review of a book written 120 years ago? A review posted online where people can encounter it for the first time for years to come?

You open your review stating that you hate classics. Argumentum ad hominem isn't always fallacious, as sometimes the character or motive of the person in question are relevant. Having immediately established that you hate classic literature, you invalidate almost any argument that follows. And your argument is merely that the book is too wordy and Lord Harry too witty. And then you confess to skimming. In this case you have virtually asked for ad hominem criticism, and I think there is a certain validity to it.

Following up with context-less snippets from reviews stating simply that Dorian Gray is less successful than Wilde's plays (a fair critique) does not back up the assertion that the book is bad or deserving of hate. Ur unworthy of discussion.

But I agree that the description feels endless! I might love it as a short story. As a novel it dragged. The jewel collecting bit was especially rough.

Christy OR, not ur. sad.

Kalishacp i get where your'e coming from, it does kind of drag on, and henry is pretty annoying, and hard to understand at times, but i still have to say i liked the book nevertheles. what can i say, im an oscar wilde fan :)

Goddess Of Blah Oh dear Paula – I'm not going to start insulting you over your review. I can see you received a lot of “stick” for this already. And I'm assuming its because this book “touched” many people who read it
I greatly admire this book. But not when I first read it (which was years ago when I was a school kid). And even the second time I read it (aged 21), I was dubious as to my thoughts regarding its merits. I felt that it was very witty and challenging, but I found myself skipping pages to get to the crucial bits of the plot. However, my third time, I was fascinated, repulsed, horrified and obsessed with with the book.

I ventured to read it a third time because I'd had just watched a brilliant ballet production (based on the book) at Saddlers Wells theatre (Angel, London) and I suppose I was in a morbid frame of mind. I decided another perusal of this book was necessary and that's when I appreciated it. It was morbid, gothic, and left me haunted. I began in fact researching the effects of opium and started paying more attention to the heroin addicts at the homeless shelter (as well as donating to charities which dealt with education and prevention). Hence, may be its just one of those books you need to read again. I'm not entirely sure, but its definitely not for everyone's taste, I agree. (Sorry for "still" going on about it!!)

message 37: by Tatiana (new)

Tatiana i completely agree with you

message 38: by Myth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Myth I've read several classics now and have to agree that this particular book is purple prosed and has a ton of pointless rambling going on. I did not feel that was so with Frankenstein though. I liked Frankenstein quite a bit more.

I've read Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Pride and Prejudice, but I really felt the Picture of Dorian Gray was a "meh" book at best.

message 39: by AJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

AJ Slater This book is a vehicle for Henry's paradoxical epigrams. Criticisms of character or plot are probably warranted. If you don't like Henry spouting off, you won't enjoy the book. I found it adorable.

message 40: by Dave (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dave The twist is that the knife ends up in him rather than the painting.

If you hated the book you're more than likely to despise the recent film adaptation. I mean, I *liked* the book but the film. Well. It was shit.

message 41: by Adele (new)

Adele McVay I've read your review and subsequent comments (entertaining, if not meanspirited) and I'm still undecide if I should read this book.

As a rule I prefer not to read reviews by people who've skimmed the content, but I think it's okay to review after skimming provided the reviewer makes us aware of the skimming. I also think the desire to skim speaks louder than any review!

People may not agree with your point of view, but at least (unlike a review a read a few weeks ago) you are reviewing the book and not the film :-/

I think I will enjoy the sunshine as I walk to the public library then I shall let availability decide if it's my time to read this book.

message 42: by Gabby (new)

Gabby I don't think it's fair that you've written a review and blatantly state that you only "skimmed" the novel. How do you really know the content then? I understand that long descriptions bore people and random tangents can be quite annoying to get through, but simply skipping over entire sections or skimming lightly doesn't do it justice.

Also, in regards to Deb's comment above, Wilde himself wrote in a letter: "Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry is what the world thinks me: Dorian is what I would like to be." So yes, you've completely proven Wilde's point in saying that Henry "is" Wilde. And of course it's outdated - it's from the Victorian period, not this millenium.

I hope the main review doesn't dissuade people from at least picking it up; it's really an interesting read once you get into the rhythm of it.

Amanda L Re: "Seriously, in a 230-page novel, the portrait doesn't even start to change until 100 pages in." I think you're failing to understand that the work is more about character influence and regression, with the portrait serving more as a figurative literary device. You are selling it short and failing to see the bigger picture, as would be expected with a mere "skim" of the novel.

Jamie Paula:"Wilde's excessive dialogue is better suited to a play and weakens the work as a novel"
Im coming in this late but I understand your sentiments in your comment. However I would like to point out that most novels, most great novels of all times consists of mostly dialogues. Especially in older eras. Good examples 'War and Peace' and 'Crime and Punishment', those are but a few.

Davytron Thanks for the hilarious review! I wish I had read it before I read Dorian Gray because I completely agree with you. I must say I'm quite surprised by the attacks on your intelligence by other users. It's shameful, really.

Ashwini Nocaste whitney said it

Zeus1982 so beautiful

Zeus1982 so beautiful

Ctg7w6 I disagree, I thought it was a great book. The flowery language was great, too.

message 50: by Alex (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alex Billey Quite often, during the period in which this book was created, authors were paid by the word. This monetary motivator is quite likely the root of the lengthy, over detailed classics that I have grown to love. The descriptiveness is what really gives you a glimpse into the author's mind and into the world you are in while reading the book.

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