First Impressions: The Picture of Dorian Gray

So, this post is a bit late. I usually do my “First Impressions” posts after reading only a chapter or two of a new book, but this time, my interest in reading exceeded my patience for blogging. I am now at Chapter 8 of The Picture of Dorian Gray, which puts me near the halfway point of the book. I’m planning a full review, but for right now, I’d like to jot down a few random thoughts on this deliciously spooky little book.

This is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for ages. As a little girl, before I even knew there was a book, I still knew the story because its 1945 adaptation is one of my mother’s favorite films. Nine-year-old me found the plot a bit creepy, but intriguing at the same time. Eventually, I learned of the book, realized that it was written by the same man who wrote The Importance of Being Earnest (one of my favorite plays), and decided I had to read it. My fellow bloggers concurred and here we are.

So far, it’s living up to all my expectations.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Oscar Wilde, 1882. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Since my reading lately has gravitated toward more modern fiction (modern by my standards, anyway), I forgot how much I miss the pomp and circumstance of older novels. Nowhere but in the nineteenth century do you get clouds “like raveled skeins of glossy white silk,” nor are you likely to find “the hollowed turquoise of the summer sky” in modern-day, “realistic” books. Wilde’s writing demands to be reread and lingered over. Just take for example this passage, in which Lord Henry (the main villain) starts thinking of Dorian, whom he helped to shape and whose self-destruction he finds amusing:

With his beautiful face, and his beautiful soul, [Dorian] was a thing to wonder at. It was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end. He was like one of those gracious figures in a pageant or a play, whose joys seem to be remote from one, but whose sorrows stir one’s sense of beauty, and whose wounds are like red roses.

The passion and the verve with which Wilde wrote almost make the book worth reading by themselves.

Of course, the beautiful narration is not the only reason why I find this book so engrossing. The characters too are exquisitely drawn. Lord Henry, for instance, is about as loathsome as they come, but like all the great villains, one rather enjoys him just the same. Dorian himself is like a blank canvas waiting for someone to paint on it and unfortunately for him, that person is Lord Henry. Meanwhile, Basil Hallward is caught in the middle of these two friends of his, trying to protect one from the other and failing miserably. Wilde’s grasp of human nature is formidable, and it comes through especially clearly in these characters.

Not to mention, this book has so much to say about life, art, and morality that I could probably stay here until next week discussing it. The famous preface alone poses some interesting questions such as,

  • What is the relationship between art and morality?
  • Should artists pursue art for the sake of beauty alone?
  • In what ways does a work of art mirror the spectator?
  • What, when all is said and done, is the purpose of art?

I look forward to reviewing this book before long and hearing your thoughts on it. In the meantime, has anyone else read this already? What did you think? Are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments.

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11 thoughts on “First Impressions: The Picture of Dorian Gray

  1. This is one of my favourite books and I look forward to hearing your full review of it. The writing style, and the important questions it asks both drew me in, but like you I feel that it is the characters, and the world that Wilde paints around them, that left the most lasting impression for me. I haven’t seen the 1945 adaptation but I am very interested to watch it. The 1952 adaptation of The Importance of Being Ernest is a wonderful film but being a play it translates so easily, where as The Picture of Dorian Gray has so much going on that it is much more difficult to do justice to.

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    1. Yes, I’ve been intrigued by Victorian England for some time, so the atmosphere of the novel just thrills me. I haven’t seen the 1952 Importance of Being Earnest, but I will keep my eye out for that one.

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  2. I read it for the first time last year and actually just checked it out a few days ago to reread. Definitely a fascinating book. Wilde was quite an enigma, and I’m still not sure what to think of him after many years of reading his books. “The Selfish Giant” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” make me want to be friends with him, but “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Devoted Friend” make me think more than anything else, “you are a sad, strange little man and you have my pity”. I do love Basil though . . . and Lord Henry I just want to kick in the shins. If nothing else Wilde certainly has a gift for creating characters we either love, or love to hate!
    Anyway, I’m looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on the book! And on Oscar himself, the cynical little punk.

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    1. I’m not sure yet what I think of Wilde. He was a fantastic writer, but sometimes, a little too smug for my taste. When I read his work, I feel as though I can hear him chuckling over how smart he thinks he is. Nevertheless, I am really enjoying Dorian Gray, even though, as you said, I’d like to hurt Lord Henry badly.

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