Welcome back to Caroline’s Book Crypt! This month we’ll be talking about The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. It’s a famous and delightfully gothic story that was published in 1890, but is available in different versions; 1890 (13 chapters), 1891 (20 chapters), and 2011 (uncensored, 13 chapters). I think I’ve only read the 1891 version. Here’s a quick recap!
Dorian Gray is being painted by Basil Hallward, while Lord Henry Wotton is watching and talking about beauty and youth, and young Dorian then wishes that the portrait would grow old, so he can stay young. Henry continues to influence Dorian. Dorian falls in love with a young actress called Sybil Vane, he goes to her performances, and she calls him Prince Charming. Soon they’re engaged, despite Sybil’s brother James’ warnings, and that he will kill him if he hurts her. Dorian takes Basil and Henry to one of her performances, and she suddenly performs terribly. Basil and Henry leave, and Dorian is embarrassed. It turns out she cannot act anymore because she is so in love in Dorian, but now she is worthless to Dorian, and he dumps her. When he gets home that night, it looks like the portrait of him has changed a little. It looks slightly angry and mean, but he’s not completely sure. Did his wish come true?
He wants to apologize to her the next day, but Henry comes and informs him that Sybil has killed herself. He feels horrible at first, but with Henry’s ‘‘help’’ he quickly gets over it. Dorian then locks his portrait in the attic, so nobody can see how it changes. Henry gives him a book which makes him lead a life full of sensual pleasures and without morals.
18 years pass, and Dorian still looks the same, but the portrait has changed into that of a hideous man. He meets Basil again, who is about to leave for Paris, but wanted to ask him if all the horrible rumors about him are true. Dorian ends up showing him the portrait. Basil can barely recognize it and is horrified, and begs Dorian to pray for forgiveness. But it’s too late for Dorian, he blames Basil for his curse, so he stabs him to death. He then blackmails a former friend, the scientist Alan Campbell to dispose of the body, likely using chemicals. Later Alan kills himself.
Later Dorian goes to an opium den, where James Vane happens to be, and he overhears Dorian being referred to as Prince Charming, so he goes after him, wanting to avenge his sister’s death. Cleverly Dorian tells him to look at his face, convincing him that he is not the one he is looking for, as he obviously doesn’t look old enough to be the man he seeks. James is horrified that he almost killed a seemingly innocent man, but is then approached by a woman who tells him that Dorian has looked exactly the same for almost 20 years. But by then Dorian is gone. James begins to stalk him, but while Dorian is out with a hunting party, one of them manages to shoot James. When Dorian finds out that the dead man looks like a sailor (which James Vane was), he rushes to see the body, and is relieved to find out that it’s James, as he’s been so afraid lately.
Dorian then wants to turn his life around and be a good person, but Henry doesn’t believe him. Dorian goes to check the painting to see if his plans has changed it, but it hasn’t - it looks even worse. He grabs the knife he used to kill Basil with to destroy the painting, and stabs it. His servants hears a scream and a crash - when they break down the door, they see an unknown, ugly old man with a knife in his heart, in front of the beautiful painting of young Dorian. It’s not until they see the rings on the man’s fingers that they realize the man is Dorian.
This book really tells us that beauty (and youth) isn’t everything - especially if you’re a shitty person. That’s something we still can relate to today. It doesn’t matter how beautiful you look, how many followers you have, how popular you are - when you’re shallow, egoistic and not kind to others. And sadly there are a lot of Dorian Grays out there today.
In the beginning of the novel Dorian is a lovely young and innocent man, the perfect victorian man. But under the bad influence of Lord Henry he turns into a vain, selfish and reckless person. He ends up making people hate him and causing several deaths - both directly and indirectly.
One quote that really stood out to me which I found disgusting was this: "I am afraid that women appreciate cruelty, downright cruelty, more than anything else. They have wonderfully primitive instincts. We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters, all the same. They love being dominated.'' - obviously said by Henry. This really shows you what a disgusting guy he is, and why Dorian turned out the way he did.
Let's not forget to talk about the homoeroticism in this novel! This is Oscar Wilde’s work, so it comes as no surprise - he himself had male lovers and even ended up in jail for it. While Dorian falls in love with women in the novel, it’s very obvious that both Basil and Henry are in love with him. Basil’s love seems more pure, but Henry seems more like a predator, and sadly he gets his claws in him and corrupts him. This is what Basil is afraid of in the beginning of the book. Since I haven’t read the uncensored version, I don’t know what else is revealed there, but I would assume Dorian has a lot of sexual encounters with both women and men in his life.
I really love this book and think it’s wonderfully written. Good descriptions, and even though it’s very ‘‘flowery’’, I like it! The contrast between Basil and Henry is very interesting, and sadly the ‘‘bad side’’ wins Dorian (the young and innocent blank slate) over. But it’s really cool that Dorian can really see what being bad does to your soul. So it’s that classic gothic horror, but you learn something from it! You can kind of say the same about Frankenstein, didn’t mention that in my review of that. This is also getting 5 out of 5 open coffins from me!
Next month’s book will be The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson!
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