The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

I have recently felt that ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is a book that deep down had the traits and darkness of a sensation novel and so decided that as I am doing The Sensation Season I would give this book a go. I have to admit I had tried and failed with this book before. I didn’t like the characters; I thought the book to wordy and filled with too many additional characters with too much to say. I also just didn’t believe it, aged 21 I put the book down after page 30(ish) and left it thoroughly unimpressed by this “Oscar Wilde”. Six years later, and reading it in Oscar Wilde’s old room, would I again be defeated by what I think I once deemed shamefully ‘a very silly short book’?

Though The Picture of Dorian Gray is a short book it has hidden depths and very dark undertones. We first meet the image of Dorian Gray in a painting which Lord Henry Wotton sees at his artist friend’s house, Basil Hallward and falls in love with the painting as he thinks the person depicted may be one of the most beautiful and alluring people he has scene. When Dorian then arrives Henry sees in the flesh he is even more so. Soon the two people Bail is closest too and never wanted to meet have struck up an unlikely friendship and under Henry’s influence Dorian comes to believe youth and beauty are the only thing that matter. He then makes a fateful wish as he wants never to grow like the painting of him. He soon notices that indeed the picture does begin to age and as it does so it gets crueller looking as if the painting is the true Dorian himself.

Now if the plot wasn’t enough the book is also very much about society and which on a first read years ago I didn’t care for I completely and utterly loved. Looking at the upper classes who have endless money to burn and too much time on their hands other than to ‘chase the dragon’ or embark on affairs the thing they go very well is gossip and discuss. I could easily write endless wonderful quotes from the book as to what they say “he is sure to be furious and I couldn’t have a scene in this bonnet. It is far too fragile” and also how they are described “she was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked like they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest” in fact so many quotes it would probably make up 98% of the book.

I found the whole book a truly dark and delicious read. It doesn’t quite fall under the exact ‘sensation’ definition but I definitely think its great reading if you like books like that or a classic from around that era. Have you read the book, I would imagine quite a lot of people have and I am very, very late reading this now. If you have, what did you think? Is it on anyone’s TBR pile or wish list?

I have also found it really interesting to try a book again that only six years I really didn’t like and now think is brilliant. It’s interesting to see how my opinions have changed and my book likes and dislikes seem to have changed in various ways. Are there any books you started at one point in your life and hated only to then go on and fall completely under the spell of after a second chance later on? I would love to know!

21 Comments

Filed under Oscar Wilde, Review, Sensation Novels, Vintage Classics

21 responses to “The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

  1. I, too, really loved Dorian Gray! You’re so right about all those quotes!

    I haven’t gone back to read any that I didn’t enjoy before, but I want to. It’s only in the last couple of years that I believe I became a mature enough reader to appreciate “literature” as opposed to “entertainment”, and there are so many I now want to revisit!

    Lezlie

  2. Funnily enough I had precisely the opposite experience with this novel. When I first read it during my undergraduate, I loved it. I re-read it for my MA earlier this year, and was profoundly irritated throughout by its smugness.

    I’m quite prepared to be in the minority on this one, though! 🙂

    • Susan

      I read this in college and loved it – especially the ending.

      Regarding opinion changes on books: for the life of me I cannot get through A.S. Byatt’s “Possession” which is adored by so many. I want to like it. I want to be able to enjoy it. I have no idea why I cannot and others can. As an English major in college I became practically a professional at reading and truly appreciating some real yawners as well as incredibly difficult material. This is the only book I’ve tried twice to try to master and could not.

      Just started reading your blog and love it.

      • Thank you very much Susan thats very kind of you!

        Possession is one of the books that I have yet to start though I have some small ray of light of hope after enjoying The Children’s Book so much! We will see as its definately on the hit list.

    • It had its moments of smugness I will agree Kirsty. I think with the characters being like they are it would be difficult not to have smugness though. I love the fact you have the opposite opinion to me its intriguing.

  3. This was one that my mother suggested I read when I was a teen and I loved it. I’ve read it a few times now and spent far too much time watching the movie every time it happens to be on. Each time, as I’m a bit older, I have a different perspective on the book.

    I would argue that it IS a sensational read with the murdering and the whoring and, well, the whole portrait thing. Not your every day fare.

    • Oh which movie? I am off to see the new version next week with Novel Insights so will be reporting back after that.

      I think its on the cusp of sensation reading as its not really a ‘family drama’ actually maybe in parts… oh controversial.

      • The 1945 version starring Hurd Hatfield. He actually ended up not able to get many more acting jobs because he was so convincingly Dorian. It also has a young Angela Lansbury and the ever wonderful George Sanders whom I adore. I recently discovered that the degenerate portrait that they used is now hanging at The Art Institute of Chicago.

  4. I’m still undecided whether to read this or Agnes Grey for my “grey” colour for the COlorful REading CHallenge. But am leaning more towards this one. Your review helped!!

  5. I read this as a teen and I remember thinking it was a clever idea. But I think I missed some of the deeper issues. In fact, I’m reading it with my book club in a few months, so I’m looking forward to rereading it and actually getting more out of it.

  6. justicejenniferreads

    This is definitely on my TBR list. There aren’t very many books I try to read again if I couldn’t read them the first time. Usually, if its worth reading, I push through the first time.

    • Hmmm I have been pleasantly suprised on the odd occasion when a book that I have previously thought was dreadful has then crossed my path and I have loved it. I do think the timing of when we read a book is very important.

  7. Jo

    I enjoyed this when I read it in school. I’m about to re-read it before I see the film, so I’ll have to see what I think now.
    I can’t think of anything i’ve returned to and didn’t like but I do go the opposite way with Dickens. Used to love it but like it less and less the older I get!

  8. I’ve read this a couple of times, once very quickly when I was 14 (I liked it, but didn’t love it) and again when I was 19 – when I really loved it. The quotations you posted are wonderful – sometimes it gets a little *too* much like every sentence is an epigram (my brother hates it for this reason) but generally I love it. Will be going to the film tomorrow evening.

    Claire, Agnes Grey is also wonderful! Read both!

    • I can see slightly what your brother would mean. If you love books qith those sort of quirky quotes this is a fabulous book. If you don’t I would imagine this is a nightmare to read.

  9. Hayley

    I also read this in my teens and loved it. Wilde’s brand of cleverness was new to me then, and I loved the horror of it all. Not sure how I’d feel about it now if I re read it.

  10. Pingback: This Evening, When You Read This… « Savidge Reads

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