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It seems like I run into references to Dorian Gray pretty frequently (Most recently in James Blunt’s song “Tears and Rain“). I decided to pick this up because I was tired of not understanding the references.
The Picture of Dorian Gray begins with one of Dorian’s friends, a painter named Basil Hallward, just finishing his portrait. Lord Henry is visiting Basil and happens to meet Dorian. Henry sort of becomes the devil on Dorian’s shoulder, asking something like, “Isn’t it a shame that this portrait will be forever beautiful, perfect, innocent, and pure, but you will age, wither and die?” This hits Dorian hard. In a temper tantrum, he prays that the opposite should happen. He wants to live unsullied and have the portrait bear the marks of his living. His prayer is answered. This frees Dorian to live the life of cruelty, debauchery, and addiction that he wants. The portrait is hidden away in the attic and it looks more and more horrifying. But since Dorian is forever a beautiful 20-year-old Adonis, no one ever knows about his secret life.
To me, this book was cautionary tale about not judging by appearances and how you might be able to hide your sins, but you can’t hide them forever. I was shocked to read the introduction (after finishing the book) and find out that the critics at the time of publication thought the book was immoral and terrible! The first version included some “homoerotic” scenes which upset readers in the 1890’s. Wilde’s popularity wasn’t helped by the fact that he was jailed for two years, basically for homosexuality. It seemed to me like Oscar Wilde and Dorian Gray became the same person in the minds of readers and no one wanted anything to do with the book or the author. But, obviously, someone saw the value of the book or it wouldn’t have become a classic.
I recommend this one. It’s very readable and, like I said before, references to Dorian Gray are everywhere. I’ll be glad to fully understand them now.
One final thing. I learned a great word from the introduction to this version–logorrhea. As in “Stephen King’s books frequently suffer from logorrhea.” Great word, right?
Reviewed March 6, 2008
Read an excerpt.
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Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!
I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore located in beautiful downtown Asheville, NC; and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.