Let me be the first to admit that my introduction to the character of Dorian Gray came in Alan Moore’s graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I knew a little of the story of Dorian Gray, but I had never read Oscar Wilde’s original work. Until now. I just finished reading Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray a few short minutes ago, and let me tell you that it was disturbing. Dorian Gray’s descent into immorality and madness was fascinating to witness but so uncomfortable that this tale will definitely stay with me for quite some time.
Dorian Gray’s life truly began with a painting and an introduction to Lord Henry Wotton. Harry, as Lordy Henry was called by his friends, introduced Dorian to a new way of thinking, where all manner of vice and excess was acceptable if not preferred. Dorian’s friend, Basil Hallward, painted the most glorious portrait of Dorian and captured his beauty and youth. Dorian, however, was appalled at the picture, for he knew that neither youth nor beauty could ever last. Dorian remarked that it would be wonderful if the portrait should age while he should remain forever young and unmarred by life. Harry concurred, for he opined that beauty should be esteemed above everything. As the saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.”
After a remarkably cruel act, Dorian looked upon his portrait and noticed a subtle difference. The mouth was cruel, and the eyes appeared to possess a glint of evil. At first, he thought he must be imagining things, but he gradually came to realize that his careless words about the portrait bearing the weight of his life had come to fruition. The portrait revealed the true nature of his soul.
Years passed, and Dorian delved deeper and deeper into the excesses of the world–drugs, debauchery, and all other manner of vulgarity, immorality, and sin. The life he led was reflected in his portrait. He rarely looked at the picture anymore, but, when he did, he was both fascinated and horrified. He grew increasingly paranoid that someone would discover his terrible secret, and he took great pains to make sure that didn’t happen. The paranoia, however, did not ease, and Dorian grew mad and despairing that his soul could ever be clean.
I’m not going to give away the end of the book (even though you may already know what happened). I can’t say that I really enjoyed this book because the theories presented as truth by both Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton went against everything I’ve ever held true. But I will say that this book definitely made me think, and that’s something I can’t say about some of the books I’ve read in the past.