The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde Three stars...with reservations. This was not a comfortable read for me; in fact, it was quite difficult for me to finish. However, the difficulty did not arise because it was poorly executed; rather, it was so well done that I couldn't bear to watch the destruction of one man's soul.

Oscar Wilde writes beautifully and eloquently, and this book overflows with witticisms and epigrams that are eminently quotable. However, many of these bon mots come from the observations of Lord Harry, who is the cynic that leads Dorian Gray down the road of temptation and vice. For that reason, I could not fully enjoy all of these wonderful sallies, knowing from whom they came and whose mind composed them.

Dorian Gray is by no means an innocent throughout this book. However, he begins the book as An Ideal - the physical embodiment of all that is good, youthful, innocent and free of sin. In fact, his ideal purity is what inspires his friend, Basil, to paint the titular picture of Dorian Gray. Once Dorian makes the acquaintance of Basil's friend, Lord Harry, however, Dorian is fascinated by Lord Harry's worldly and cosmopolitan views. In a burst of youthful enthusiasm, Dorian wishes for the picture to bear the physical outcomes of his actions so that Dorian can retain his beauty. He soon discovers that his wish has been granted. Adopting Lord Harry's way of life, Dorian descends into a lifestyle of vice and pleasure seeking and perversely (and childishly?) anticipates the devastation he can wreak on the portrait without bearing any evidence on his own physical form.

The levels of Harry's influence, Dorian's self-destruction, and Dorian's blindness to the true elements of his fall from "goodness" combined to make for a powerful read. I couldn't help but get a Faustian vibe throughout this novel, and I found myself calling Harry (in my head) "Mephisto! Mephisto!"

The story told in "The Picture of Dorian Gray" of the ruination of a man's good character and moral compass is terrible, tragic, and, despite the fantastical nature of a portrait that reveals the blackness of one's soul, terrifyingly realistic.