Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

98. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Publication: Penguin Classics, Paperback, 304pp / ISBN 9780141439570
Genre: Horror
Read: March 12, 2010
Source: Bought
Summary from Indiebound:

Enthralled by a portrait of himself, young Dorian Gray makes a Faustian bargain to exchange his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Thus he is able to indulge in his desires, as only the portrait bears the traces of his decadence and becomes a nightmarish picture of his soul.


I’ve seriously had to restart this review about five times, because I don’t know exactly how I want to write it. I was disappointed with Dorian Gray because it wasn’t what I was expecting and it was (mostly) boring besides, but at the same time I can see its literary and social value and I do like a lot of what was there. So I’m going to do a list.

What I liked

  • the creepy way Lord Henry lured Dorian into a downward spiral of immorality
  • the ending, because I like it when the villain is punished
  • the whole thing with Dorian’s first love and her tragic story that then affects her brother’s life, etc. Very gothic and sad.

What I didn’t like

  • how Dorian was supposedly so evil but he basically seemed to be the same person in the second half of the book as he was in the first. It’s like I was more told of his evilness than allowed to watch it evolve firsthand, and that was annoying. Like a whole big chunk of Dorian’s story got cut out because Mr Wilde couldn’t be bothered to expand his narrative.
  • Lord Henry’s various speeches about beauty and art and blah blah blah. Interesting social commentary, to be sure, and probably very autobiographical, but it was still like having to wade around great big rocks in the river (if the river is the story and the rocks are Lord Henry).
  • how besides the ending and the bit with the painting, the story was mostly boring
  • how I don’t understand that if Mr Wilde was all for art and beauty and stuff then WHY does his narrative read like he’s trying to warn me away from art/beauty/etc? Dorian is corrupted by beauty! Lord Henry makes me never want to go to a witty dinner party EVER and yet surely that’s the sort of thing Mr Wilde enjoyed, so, so. What? (Maybe Mr Wilde is trying to say “all in moderation” or “don’t get full of yourself” or something?)

My problem with reviewing classic literature is that I always feel if I don’t like a book for its narrative I don’t “understand” it, or something, and I’m pretty sure I’m missing something with this book. I get the importance of its social context and whatever, but the actual story— or the writing, maybe– is weirdly uninteresting. And I didn’t overly enjoy reading it! And it’s like if I understand the book I should enjoy reading it, too, because those things have always gone hand-in-hand before, like with The Sound and the Fury and any of Virginia Woolf’s books, etc. So right now I’m suffering from feelings of confusion and it’s made this review all wonky. Ugh.


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Other reviews: Rebecca Reads | Musings of a Bookish Kitty | Eclectic/Eccentric | A Striped Armchair

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0 thoughts on “Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde”

  1. I think the idea is more that certain influences are dangerous – Dorian’s life is ruined by the influence of Henry Wotton, and Dorian of course ruins Basil’s life because Basil allows him too strong an influence on him (er, that first him was Dorian and the second was Basil – hunc and illum – why doesn’t the English language have a reasonable way to sort out its pronouns?). I’m not this book’s hugest fan myself, although I do think it’s interesting the chain of life-ruining that happens. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but Oscar Wilde said that Dorian was what he wanted to be, Basil was what he thought he was, and Lord Henry was what the world thought him to be. Cue spooky Oscar Wilde life foreshadowing music. :p

    1. See, this is why I should have gotten the fancy edition with the intro and the explanations and whatnot! I think I just miss too much with these classic books, beyond the obvious stuff I mean. I never get the layered stuff, and I always forget to check biographical/historically-related info that might help me understand stuff. 🙁

  2. I think the problem with books that have been dubbed Great Literature is that readers who didn’t enjoy one of these Great Works end up feeling the same way you did — like they missed out on something, didn’t get it, etc. It seems like it’s one thing to not enjoy regular old run of the mill literature, but something that’s been dubbed a Classic?? Well! Clearly there’s something wrong with you 😉

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