Kalliope's Reviews > The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
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really liked it
bookshelves: art, britain, ireland, france, 2014


Funny how books are moulded by the circumstances in which they have been read.

In Dorian Gray, some of its aspects are very easy to grasp and do not need great explanations.

For example, Wilde’s epigrammatic style is so very distinct. I have had a lot of fun selecting quotes and peppered with them my reading progress.

His sentences are like small diamonds. They can be held and set against the light and moved around so that their different facets will shine and reflect the world around them. They are also so tightly self-contained with an inner perfect structure that cannot be easily modified. They are perfectly balanced. I am thinking of sentences such as:


Nothing can cure the soul, but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.

These nicely constructed phrases seem to form part of the collection of precious objects that are presented in this novel as in a gallery or Kammerschatz. There is an abundant series of orchids, amethysts, velvety tapestries, emeralds, ivory caskets, jonquils, skull-caps parsemés with pearls, Japanase Foukousas, hyacinths, ear-rings of emeralds, Arabian aspilates, carbuncles of cinnamon-stones....

Yes, Wilde's precious epigrams could dangle nicely from a bracelet.

Wilde got clearly infected with préciosité during his extended visits to France. This novel has such an obvious debt to the French aesthetic tradition, with its explicit references to the Symbolistes and personalities such as Gautier (with his consolation des arts) and Huysmans, that I almost felt embarrassed. Wilde liked to shock but he himself was bewildered by Huysmans À rebours, published about six years before his own work, in 1884. This “book without a plot” and with that curious jewelled style,.. that characterizes the work of some of the finest artists of the French school of Symbolistes is the culprit of Wilde’s novel. As he diagnoses: Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book.

If Wilde’s book echoes the luscious elements of the French A Rebours, it, however, does have a plot. It is burdened with a very Gothic intrigue which I associate so strongly with Britain and the Victorian puritanical culture. Even if at the time of publication the book run into trouble with the authorities and was partly censored, the moralist background is there.

Another clearly discernible aspect is its Faustian theme. And this has fitted very well in my recent book choices. I have lately read the original anonymous Doktor Faustus, plus three of its later variations (Marlowe, Mann, Banville). Dorian Gray presents an interesting adaptation in which Art is the Devil and one of the characters, Lord Henry Wotton, who, like Wilde, loves to pronounce epigrams, plays a sort Mephistophelian role as the messenger or instigator. Wotton spells out the Faustian theme: By the way, what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose – how does the quotation run?—his own soul. P. 209.

Another echo to my parallel reading is the Dantean contrapasso that unfolds in some sections of the story, for each crime bears its misshapen brood.

But the aspect that has intrigued me the most is less obvious and has to do, again, with the circumstances surrounding the moment I have chosen to read this book. Unavoidably these shape my interpretation.

I have recently read Balzac’s Le Chef-d'œuvre inconnu and visited a couple of art exhibitions for which this novel is relevant. Both Cézanne and Picasso were fascinated by Balzac’s work because they identified with one of the characters, Frenhofer, the artist who seeks to represent the ideal in art, with tragic repercussions. In several of his paintings Picasso developed Balzac’s theme: the painter in front of his canvas trying to extract from the model its inner qualities and the ability to represent them through beauty. Cézanne’s practice of working and reworking a given motif confirms a similar obsession in this quest for the ideal.

So, it is to this particularity in Dorian Gray that I have devoted most thinking. For Wilde has also developed this theme: the relationship between the artist, the sitter and the painting. But in his pen, it becomes a devilish dance, and, as in Balzac, it also proves to be fatal.

Art and life and the act of representation. A trio. Which one is to have the upper hand?

In his Dorian Gray, Wilde does away with the creator once he has achieved the ideal. The artist has become redundant when it is recognized that his painting had gone quite off. It seemed to me to have lost something. It had lost an ideal (p.208).

Without the artist, the process of representation is corrupted and the nature of the sitter is not captured but instead comes apart. Beauty and eternity are split in the pact and the canvas grabs the soul.

The trio becomes a duel and just one survives.

Art withstands.




-------

Picasso had felt the threat and he rabidly fought and counterclaimed the role of the painter in face of the negation of the artist that PopArt implied. His painters, his paintings, would not be annihilated.

His art is with us.

It was his doing.
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Reading Progress

April 11, 2014 – Started Reading
April 11, 2014 – Shelved
April 11, 2014 –
page 8
3.67% "I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects."
April 11, 2014 –
page 18
8.26% "The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it."
April 12, 2014 –
page 23
10.55% "The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that caprice lasts a little longer."
April 13, 2014 –
page 56
25.69% "Ordinary people waited till life disclosed to them its secrets, but to the few, to the elect, the mysteries of life were revealed before the veil was drawn away. Sometimes this was the effect of art, and chiefly of the art of literature, which dealt immediately with the passions and the intellect."
April 13, 2014 –
page 76
34.86% "I wonder about this..\n \n Pleasure is Nature's test, her sign of approval. When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy."
April 14, 2014 –
page 93
42.66% "He was trying to gather up the scarlet threads of life, and to weave them into a pattern, to find his way through the sanguine labyrinth of passion through which he was wandering."
April 15, 2014 –
page 118
54.13% "There was the huge Italian cassone, with its fantastically-painted panels and its tarnished gilt mouldings, in which he had so often hidden himself as a boy.\n \n I love these cassone..\n \n "
April 16, 2014 –
page 122
55.96% "Fascinating echo of Huysmans's À rebours...\n \n It was a novel without a plot, and with only one character, being, indeed, simply a psychological study of a certain young Parisian, who spent his life trying to realize in the nineteenth century all the passions and modes of thought that belonged to every century except his own."
April 16, 2014 –
page 126
57.8% "Dear Dante shows up here too... of course, he was the taxonomist in the commerce of souls."
April 16, 2014 –
page 137
62.84% "Proustians perk their ears when Trouville is mentioned."
April 17, 2014 –
page 139
63.76% "for the canons of good society are, or should be, the same as the canons of art. Form is absolutely essential too it. It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality, and should combine the insincere character of a romantic play with the wit and beauty that make such plays delightful to us."
April 17, 2014 –
page 143
65.6% "Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book. There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful."
April 17, 2014 –
page 159
72.94% "Now a full quote from one of Gautier's Émaux et Camées. A few stanzas on Venice."
April 18, 2014 –
page 181
83.03% "Ugliness that had once been hateful to him because it made things real, became dear to him now for that very reason. Ugliness was the one reality."
April 18, 2014 –
page 189
86.7% "Names are everything. I never quarrel with actions. My one quarrel is with words. That is the reason I hate vulgar realism in literature."
April 18, 2014 –
page 189
86.7% "Beer, the Bible and the seven deadly virtues have made our England what it is.\n \n I can see how this book irritated Wilde's censors..."
April 18, 2014 –
page 204
93.58% "Civilization is not by any means an easy thing to attain to. There are only two ways by which man can reach it. One is by being cultured, the other by being corrupt."
April 18, 2014 – Shelved as: art
April 18, 2014 – Shelved as: britain
April 18, 2014 – Shelved as: ireland
April 18, 2014 – Shelved as: france
April 18, 2014 – Finished Reading
February 16, 2016 – Shelved as: 2014

Comments Showing 1-50 of 62 (62 new)


Yann Very interesting. I had no idea of these influences.


Rowena Beautiful review! I especially liked this sentence: "Yes, Wilde's precious epigrams could dangle nicely from a bracelet."


message 3: by M. (new) - rated it 1 star

M. Sarki This is one book I have tried two different times to read and just could not. I finally sold it. Glad it meant something to you. I liked your first sentence a lot. "Funny how books are moulded by the circumstances in which they have been read." Guess I have never been in the right place at the right time with Dorian Gray.


message 4: by Sketchbook (last edited Apr 18, 2014 02:42PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sketchbook Another influence: "The Story of a Masterpiece" x Henry James, 1868.


message 5: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue Interesting, the link to Faust. Nice review. I read this a long time ago and should read it again.


Hanneke Very interesting how you elaborated on the Faustian theme and connected the novels you recently read to 'Dorian'. And, yes, the bracelet with epigrams is a wonderful image. Great review, Kalliope, my compliments!


Florencia His sentences are like small diamonds.
Just like your reviews, Kalliope. The more I read, the more I fell for your writing style. Your comments on this book and how you established connections to other books and art even... impressive. Amazing review!


message 8: by Praj (last edited Apr 18, 2014 07:05PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Praj Once again, an excellent piece of writing, Kalls!

Without the artist, the process of representation is corrupted and the nature of the sitter is not captured but instead comes apart. Beauty and eternity are split in the pact and the canvas grabs the soul.

Amazing!! I read this books ages ago and so, thanks you very much for making me re-visit Dorian Gray's world once again through your erudite prose.


Kalliope @Yann and @Sketchook - on Influences.

Yes, it is a novel that can be read as Wilde's reaction to things he has been thinking about.

Sketchbook, thank you for the suggestion, since I am also a fan of James. I also have to read The Oval Portrait


message 10: by Kalliope (last edited Apr 18, 2014 11:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kalliope @Rowena and @Florencia, @Hanneke, thank you..

Your comments are also like little diamonds dangling from the review...!!


Kalliope @Hanneke and @Sue,

Yes, the Faustian theme is clearly there... I still have to read Goethe's but during the nineteenth century (and therefore before Mann, Thomas and Klaus, and Banville) it was treated very often in music... Several of these pieces (Gounod's) must have been in the back of Wilde's mind.


message 12: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I love the image of Wilde's writing as a Kammerschatz full of precious objects - if I went away with that idea alone, I would feel richer for reading your review, Kalliope.
But this piece is heaped with treasures - the recalling of Balzac's and Huysman's art novels, the link with the Faustus and Divine Comedy themes, the echoes of Proust's world, the updates, but most especially the further analysis of the artist/sitter/painting dynamic which you began in your review of Balzac's L'Oeuvre - I will watch out for you pursuing this idea in the future.


message 13: by Garima (new)

Garima Beauty and eternity are split in the pact and the canvas grabs the soul.

Fascinating. Deep down I was cheering for art only while reading your beautiful review. You have written it in your signature style, Kall and apparently that's exactly what this book required. Great work!


Kalliope Fionnuala wrote: "I love the image of Wilde's writing as a Kammerschatz full of precious objects - if I went away with that idea alone, I would feel richer for reading your review, Kalliope.
But this piece is heape..."


Thank you Fionnuala.

It is wonderful when books shake hands with each other and when other cultural and artistic interests tie in.

This thread takes me to at least three more readings, Poe, James and Huysmans.


Kalliope Garima wrote: "
Fascinating. Deep down I was cheering for art only while reading your beautiful review. You have written it in your signatu..."


Haha, Garima, inevitably paintings come to my mind particularky if the book is about a portrait and art.


Kalliope M. wrote: "This is one book I have tried two different times to read and just could not. I finally sold it. Glad it meant something to you. I liked your first sentence a lot. "Funny how books are moulded by t..."

M. I fully understand.. I read this when I was very young and what drew me but did not delight me was the gothic plot.

This time, though, I found all the connections I explain plus I also enjoyed Wilde's witty writing...


message 17: by Hanneke (last edited Apr 19, 2014 06:57AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hanneke In your Faustian string of novels, did you read 'The Master and Margarita' by Bulgakov? Sorry, I should have looked first before I asked! Don't forget that one if you did not. I would love to read your review on that one!


Kalliope Hanneke wrote: "In your Faustian string of novels, did you read 'The Master and Margarita' by Bulgakov? Sorry, I should have looked first before I asked! Don't forget that one if you did not. I would love to read ..."

You are completely right, The Master and Margarita is another one in the series. I read a few years ago as an isolated case. I am not sure I would read it again.

Did you like it?


message 19: by Hanneke (last edited Apr 19, 2014 09:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hanneke I thought it was marvellous, but I couldn't tell you exactly why. It was at a very subconcious level that I liked it, you could call it a gut feeling. Sounds like a cope-out, I know, but I cannot say anything solid about it.

How about you?


Kalliope Hanneke wrote: "I thought it was marvellous, but I couldn't tell you exactly why. It was at a very subconcious level that I liked it, you could call it a gut feeling. Sounds like a cope-out, I know, but I cannot s..."

When I read it, I got very engaged, underlying a fair amount and taking notes, but I think it left me exhausted, and am not sure it engaged me emotionally, more intellectually, like a puzzle.

Now you are making me curious and start wondering whether I should tackle it again... but even if I do, it will not be for a while.. my short and medium term horizon is already book-filled...!!


Arnie I read this when I was very young and loved the epigrammatic style (I also loved Nietzsche's). Your review was perfect for this book and, as usual, I loved your writing style. Hang me from your bracelet anytime.


Kalliope Arnie wrote: "I read this when I was very young and loved the epigrammatic style (I also loved Nietzsche's). Your review was perfect for this book and, as usual, I loved your writing style. Hang me from your bra..."

Thank you, Arnie.

Don't worry, you have your place in the bracelet....


message 23: by Teresa (last edited Apr 19, 2014 09:32PM) (new)

Teresa I read and enjoyed this novel pre-GR, but your review, Kalliope, has added another dimension to it for me.

The idea of the relationship between the artist and his work and the sitter was especially appropriate for me as today I saw this exhibit: http://www.newcombartgallery.tulane.edu/ and a few of the works were of artists sitting in front of easels with their subjects also in front of them.

So for me I have your review 'shaking hands' (as you said to Fionnuala) with my visual (and mental) experience at a gallery today!


Kalliope Teresa wrote: "
The idea of the relationship between the artist and his work and the sitter was especial..."



Thank you, Teresa. Yes, it is funny how depending on what one has in one's mind, one can extract different understandings or interpretations of a book..

Similarly with a painting.. we see different things... and rarely what the painter "saw".


Tajma This a wonderful review of one of my favorite pieces of literature in all the world! Excellent work, Kalliope.


Kalliope Tajma wrote: "This a wonderful review of one of my favorite pieces of literature in all the world! Excellent work, Kalliope."

Thank you, Tajma. I am very glad you have liked it, especially given that it is one of your favourite books.


ReemK10 (Paper Pills) "Art and life and the act of representation. A trio. Which one is to have the upper hand? " Literature, Kalliope and her reviews, a chemical composition that crystalizes differently every single time! Lovely!


Kalliope ReemK10 (Paper Pills) wrote: ""Art and life and the act of representation. A trio. Which one is to have the upper hand? " Literature, Kalliope and her reviews, a chemical composition that crystalizes differently every single ti..."

That is nice, Reem...!!

I think you should start crystalizing yours for the rest of us to enjoy.


Henry Avila Superb review, as always, Kalliope, makes me want to read this, again...


Kalliope Henry wrote: "Superb review, as always, Kalliope, makes me want to read this, again..."

Thank you, Henry.. The same book read at different times can elicit different responses... that shows how much one can get out of any book.


Henry Avila I agree, how you feel , effects your enjoyment of a book...


Jeffrey Keeten I just watched the Colin Firth version of Dorian Gray last night. How interesting to find your superb review lurking in my dailies (I'm way behind). What I like about this book is that it reminds me of the very best of Stevenson's books. Stevenson died in 1894 and was living in Samoa so it is hard to say if he had a chance to read this book. I have a feeling he would have really enjoyed it.


Caroline Terrific review, Kalliope; I missed all this when I read it long ago before having read the books it connects to. And thanks to all of the commenters who have added connections. I like the Stevenson comment.


Kalliope Jeffrey wrote: "I just watched the Colin Firth version of Dorian Gray last night. How interesting to find your superb review lurking in my dailies (I'm way behind). What I like about this book is that it reminds m..."

Thank you, Jeffrey. I did not know about this film with Colin Firth.. will look for it...


Kalliope Caroline wrote: "Terrific review, Kalliope; I missed all this when I read it long ago before having read the books it connects to. And thanks to all of the commenters who have added connections. I like the Steven..."

Thank you, Caroline.... Had I read this at another time I would have made different associations.. that is the magic of reading..., and also why GR is so much fun.


message 36: by Steve (new)

Steve You have such a beautiful, artistic sensibility that reviews like this showcase, Kall. I liked your diamond analogy as one case in point. Of course part of the beauty is the insight behind it.


ReemK10 (Paper Pills) You should teach!!!


Kalliope Steve wrote: "You have such a beautiful, artistic sensibility that reviews like this showcase, Kall. I liked your diamond analogy as one case in point. Of course part of the beauty is the insight behind it."

Thank you, Steve. I am glad you enjoyed it.


Kalliope ReemK10 (Paper Pills) wrote: "You should teach!!!"

LOL....!!!!


Lynne King Kall, I was browsing through my books as it is my Sunday morning ritual and picked out this one. So, of course, on to GRs and your review popped up.

Your review is excellent as ever but then this is a wonderful book to work on.


Elyse Walters Diamonds... You had me in the palm of your hands. Absolutely lovely!


Kalliope Lynne wrote: "Kall, I was browsing through my books as it is my Sunday morning ritual and picked out this one. So, of course, on to GRs and your review popped up.

Your review is excellent as ever but then this ..."


Lynne, I had not seen this comment. And yes, this is a wonderful to work on. To be read more than once.


Kalliope Elyse wrote: "Diamonds... You had me in the palm of your hands. Absolutely lovely!"

Thank you, Elyse.. your comment also shines.


Cecily Diamonds! Yes, not just a girl's best friend. And I love your conclusion that art endures.


Kalliope Cecily wrote: "Diamonds! Yes, not just a girl's best friend. And I love your conclusion that art endures."

Thank you, Cecily... yes.. best friends and art... haha.


Kalliope Sabah wrote: "Your review was wonderfully striking in its perfect balance between what endures and what only remains as an illusion within our own perceptions. Yes, the image captured certainly suvives in all it..."

Thank you, Sabah, for such a lovely comment. Suitable to the aesthetics of the novel.


Parthiban Sekar Beautiful review, Kalliope :)


message 48: by Laysee (new)

Laysee Dazzling review as exquisite as the diamonds you alluded to in Wilde's prose. Love how you integrated your literary and artistic experiences into your interpretation of this novel.


Jasmine Such an intriguing and fascinating review. Now I want to reread Wilde's novel over again...


Kalliope Parthiban wrote: "Beautiful review, Kalliope :)"

Thank you, Parthiban. I am glad you liked it.


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