“If only it was the picture who was to grow old, and I remain young. There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t give for that. Yes, I would give even my soul for it”
First paragraph The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink flowering thorn.
Oscar Wilde’s only novel is a sensuous, decadent, witty, seedy tale. Straight away I knew I was going to love it. The opening paragraph sets the scene – indulgence of the senses which is one of the major themes of the book.
Young, beautiful and innocent, Dorian Gray’s beauty has enchanted the painter Basil Hallward. The resulting portrait is exquisite.
Lord Henry Wotton meets Dorian Gray through the painter and is immediately taken with him. He takes him under his wing and begins to influence him with his theories on life – art and beauty being the most important things and should be pursued at all costs. Religion, morals, marriage, convention – all undesirable and to be avoided.
Lord Henry Wotton is the sly villian encouraging Dorian Gray to lead in effect a double life, that of a respectable gentleman by day while indulging in unmentionable pleasures of the senses by night.
Lord Henry Wotton is the representative of Wilde’s wit. On almost every page is a statement about life – mostly obnoxious and controversial – and hilarious.
‘Not at all,’ answered Lord Henry, ‘not at all my dear Basil. You seem to forget that I am married, and the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties..’
Dorian Gray finds his wish for eternal youth and beauty granted. He remains physically the same while the painting which is under lock and key bears the effects of his sins, slowy growing more and more grotesque.
Of course there is a price to pay for everything and this is the moral side of Wilde’s story.
Controversial when it was first published, hints of homosexual relations and it’s apparent lack of morals meant it was poorly received by many critics. Wilde made several amendments to the second editon in response. The book was also used as evidence against Wilde in his subsequent trial.
None of the major characters were especially likeable or admirable in the story. What I loved about it was the humour, the vivid descriptions and the thought provoking themes. The difference between respectable Victorian London and the dingy night houses on the outskirts of the city were wonderfully written. I came away wanting to learn more about Oscar Wilde.