Dorian Gray’s Enduring Lesson

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde offers a compelling take on the old moral that looks aren’t everything.

Dorian Gray starts out as a likable character who is somewhat naïve. He sits for an artist who paints a spectacular portrait of him that captures his youth, innocence, and overall chaste soul. During the process, he meets Lord Henry Wotton whose downright cynical view of society and the world in general taints young Gray’s optimistic perspective. So changed is he, Dorian Gray makes a silent plea that he could trade his soul in order to retain youth and beauty. As fate would have it, his plea is actually heard. So follows a life of despicable acts both great and small. While Dorian Gray remains youthful, charming, and beautiful throughout his life, his appearance is just the equivalent of shiny wrapping paper hiding a grotesque soul. He realizes this the moment his portrait begins to change. With each lie, act of selfishness, and unforgivable discretion, his face in the painting becomes ugly with hypocrisy, deceit, and hate.

Wilde takes great pains to stress that people are much too often caught up in the show that is life. Outward appearances, social status, material belongings, and reputation often steal attention that would be better spent on the soul. Wilde chooses to make this point not only through Dorian himself, but with an intricately crafted metaphor invovling the arts, (i.e. music, paintings, fiction etc.). The surface  beauty of all these mediums is treasured and admired with great reverance. Through Lord Henry, Wilde contends this is a great fault of humanity. For we transfer this love of tangible beauty to humans and fail to see the real person.

c.b. 2012

25 thoughts on “Dorian Gray’s Enduring Lesson

    • I never saw the movie! I had the book for years before I finally sat down and read it. Wilde has an odd voice, but Dorian Gray is an amazing example of how to tell a story. Every time I see it on my shelf, it gets me thinking. I love that! 🙂

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  1. mademosiellebluebell

    This made me want to go out and read the book. I’m familiar with the story but have never read it in it’s entirety. You have inspired me to do so.

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    • I hope you enjoy it. 🙂 It’s easily one of my all-time favorites – I know this because I actually underlined passages and dog-eared pages. I never do that unless a book really gets under my skin.

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  2. Thoughtful insight, C.B. Thanks for sharing. If this were true, would not the people in Washington, D.C. be sporting boils, warts, horns, pointed tails, etc.? Just wondering.

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  3. Trivia about ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’: it was commissioned for ‘Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine’ in 1889 at the same meeting at which Conan Doyle’s ‘The Sign of Four’ was commissioned. Both stories appeared in 1890, Doyle’s in the February issue and Wilde’s in the July issue (I’m assuming they were each serialised over several issues).

    M

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  4. I first saw the black and white movie version in High School and was fascinated by this idea of letting a picture reflect our soul, and us never again. I remember thinking at the time, I don’t ever want to grow old, either. Soooo n ow it’s 2012 It was on the other night again, that same old black and white version from the 1940s, and I thought wow now I am old! I could hardly watch the entire thing. Very creepy. Alas, I think outward appearances will always hold more weight than inward, at least at first meeting.

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    • I hope you enjoy the read! 🙂 It’s one of those books I always had in the back of my mind as a “must read” book. After reading it, there’s no question in my mind as to why its a considered a classic.

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  5. A beautifully incisive, succinct review that cuts to the bottom of it. It’s especially so given the complexity of this novel and Wilde’s grandiloquent tendencies. You are a true wordsmith, C.B. and I keep being inspired by your craft!

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    • Thanks! 🙂 I’m hoping the process of writing book reviews will help me figure out the format of writing a synopsis for my novel. So far, I’m encouraged that I’m getting the hang of it.

      Thanks for reading!

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  6. This is such a timeless story and always gets you soul searching. Oscar Wilde is a fabulous character anyway and his life was as dramatic as his writings. You are a very succinct, precise book reviewer and it will definitely allow you to write your own book’s synopsis. Keep at it!

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    • After reading this book I did some research on Wilde and found him to be absolutely fascinating (the eccentrics always make for the most interesting people). I admire him greatly for his bravery to be himself, regardless of the consequences.

      Thanks for the words of encouragement. I brought my synopsis “stuff” with me to my writing spot today. As soon as I get done making the rounds online, I’m going to start playing with some outlines. 🙂

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    • I love James Blunt! Back to Bedlam is one of my all-time favorite albums. 🙂 I had the pleasure of hearing him sing the song you mentioned in person. His voice is beautiful and so are his lyrics.

      Hope you enjoy the book! 🙂

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