Books

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

If you haven’t read this particular book or any of Oscar’s, then you’re missing out. Wilde is one of my favorite writers and poet. Don’t worry so much, because I’ll be giving a brief description of the whole novel.

I’m going to discuss some of the highlights with you below;

Character List

Dorian Gray— A radiantly handsome, impressionable, and wealthy young gentleman, whose portrait the artist Basil Hallward paints. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian becomes extremely concerned with the transience of his beauty and begins to pursue his own pleasure above all else. He devotes himself to having as many experiences as possible, whether moral or immoral, elegant or sordid.

Lord Henry Wotton— A nobleman and a close friend of Basil Hallward. Urbane and witty, Lord Henry is perpetually armed and ready with well-phrased epigrams criticizing the moralism and hypocrisy of Victorian society. His pleasure-seeking philosophy of “new Hedonism,” which espouses garnering experiences that stimulate the senses without regard for conventional morality, plays a vital role in Dorian’s development.

Basil Hallward— An artist, and a friend of Lord Henry. Basil becomes obsessed with Dorian after meeting him at a party. He claims that Dorian possesses a beauty so rare that it has helped him realize a new kind of art; through Dorian, he finds “the lines of a fresh school.” Dorian also helps Basil realize his artistic potential, as the portrait of Dorian that Basil paints proves to be his masterpiece. His love for Dorian however changes the way he sees art; indeed, it defines a new school of expression for him. Basil’s portrait of Dorian marks a new phase of his career.

Before he created this masterwork, he spent his time painting Dorian in the veils of antiquity—dressed as an ancient soldier or as various romantic figures from mythology. Once he has painted Dorian as he truly is, however, he fears that he has put too much of himself into the work. 

Sibyl Vane— A poor, beautiful, and talented actress with whom Dorian falls in love. Sibyl’s love for Dorian compromises her ability to act, as her experience of true love in life makes her realize the falseness of affecting emotions onstage.

Alan Campbell— Once an intimate friend, Alan Campbell is one of many promising young men who have severed ties with Dorian because of Dorian’s sullied reputation.

Lady Agatha— Lord Henry’s aunt. Lady Agatha is active in charity work in the London slums.

James Vane— Sibyl’s brother, a sailor bound for Australia. James cares deeply for his sister and worries about her relationship with Dorian. Distrustful of his mother’s motives, he believes that Mrs. Vane’s interest in Dorian’s wealth disables her from properly protecting Sibyl. As a result, James is hesitant to leave his sister.

Victoria Wotton— Lord Henry’s wife. Victoria appears only once in the novel, greeting Dorian as he waits for Lord Henry. She is described as an untidy, foolishly romantic woman with “a perfect mania for going to church.”

Mrs. Vane— Sibyl and James’s mother. Mrs. Vane is a faded actress who has consigned herself and her daughter to a tawdry theater company, the owner of which has helped her to pay her debts. She conceives of Dorian Gray as a wonderful alliance for her daughter because of his wealth; this ulterior motive, however, clouds her judgment and leaves Sibyl vulnerable.

Lord Fermor— Lord Henry’s irascible uncle. Lord Fermor tells Henry the story of Dorian’s parentage.

Duchess of Monmouth— A pretty, bored young noblewoman who flirts with Dorian at his country estate.

Mrs. Leaf— Dorian Gray’s housekeeper. Mrs. Leaf is a bustling older woman who takes her work seriously.

Victor— Dorian’s servant. Although Victor is a trustworthy servant, Dorian becomes suspicious of him and sends him out on needless errands to ensure that he does not attempt to steal a glance at Dorian’s portrait.

That’s a whole lot of characters we got there😀

Dorian Gray: Character Analysis

At the opening of the novel, Dorian Gray exists in my opinion as something of an ideal: he is the archetype of male youth and beauty. As such, he captures the imagination of Basil Hallward, a painter, and Lord Henry Wotton, a nobleman who imagines fashioning the impressionable Dorian into an unremitting pleasure-seeker. Dorian is exceptionally vain and becomes convinced, in the course of a brief conversation with Lord Henry, that his most salient characteristics—his youth and physical attractiveness—are ever waning. The thought of waking one day without these attributes sends Dorian into a tailspin: he curses his fate and pledges his soul if only he could live without bearing the physical burdens of aging and sinning. (such graving task!). He longs to be as youthful and lovely as the masterpiece that Basil has painted of him, and he wishes that the portrait could age in his stead. His vulnerability and insecurity in these moments make him excellent clay for Lord Henry’s willing hands.

Dorian soon leaves Basil’s studio for Lord Henry’s parlor, where he adopts the tenets of “the new Hedonism” and resolves to live his life as a pleasure-seeker with no regard for conventional morality. His relationship with Sibyl Vane tests his commitment to this philosophy: his love of the young actress nearly leads him to dispense with Lord Henry’s teachings, but his love proves to be as shallow as he is. When he breaks Sibyl’s heart and drives her to suicide, Dorian notices the first change in his portrait—evidence that his portrait is showing the effects of age and experience while his body remains ever youthful. Dorian experiences a moment of crisis, as he weighs his guilt about his treatment of Sibyl against the freedom from worry that Lord Henry’s philosophy has promised. When Dorian decides to view Sibyl’s death as the achievement of an artistic ideal rather than a needless tragedy for which he is responsible, he starts down the steep and slippery slope of his own demise.

As Dorian’s sins grow worse over the years, his likeness in Basil’s portrait grows more hideous. Dorian seems to lack a conscience, but the desire to repent that he eventually feels illustrates that he is indeed human. Despite the beautiful things with which he surrounds himself, he is unable to distract himself from the dissipation of his soul. His murder of Basil marks the beginning of his end: although in the past he has been able to sweep infamies from his mind, he cannot shake the thought that he has killed his friend. Dorian’s guilt tortures him relentlessly until he is forced to do away with his portrait. In the end, Dorian seems punished by his ability to be influenced: if the new social order celebrates individualism, as Lord Henry claims, Dorian falters because he fails to establish and live by his own moral code.

Quotes by Theme

“I am less to you than your ivory Hermes or your silver Faun. You will like them always. How long will you like me? Till I have my first wrinkle, I suppose.”

Dorian makes a wry observation about Basil’s preoccupation with beauty after seeing in the finished painting how Basil idealized Dorian’s own handsomeness. Dorian accuses Basil of preferring art to his friends, because pieces of art will never change or grow old. The painting has made Dorian realize both the power and the transient nature of appearances, and he becomes jealous of anything that will remain beautiful forever. His accusation of Basil reveals that Dorian projects his feelings onto others, assuming they feel as he does. Basil has made it clear that he values Dorian for more than his looks.

“Sibyl is the only thing I care about. What is it to me where she came from? From her little head to her little feet, she is absolutely and entirely divine.”

Here, Dorian describes his adoration for Sibyl Vane to Lord Henry. Dorian previously explained that the theater manager wanted to tell him about Sibyl’s past, but he was not interested in learning more about her. Sibyl herself attracts him and he regards her history with other people as irrelevant. His observations on her petite body and porcelain skin reveal that Dorian’s feelings for Sibyl focus on her appearance rather than her personality. Dorian not only values his own good looks, but those of others as well.

“And yet who, that knew anything about Life, would surrender the chance of remaining always young, however fantastic that chance might be, or with what fateful consequences it might be fraught?

Dorian sees what his actions have done to his soul in the name of youth and beauty. He considers praying to undo the link between his soul and his portrait. Yet here Dorian reveals that even though he’s seen his soul’s decline, he doesn’t consider this consequence severe enough to try to alter the situation. His rationalization that anyone who “knew anything about Life” would make the same choice has an element of dramatic irony: Dorian’s still-young life hasn’t given him the experience to assess the cost of remaining young and beautiful.

Our next topic highlight is the various themes used in the novel.

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

To be continued…

I’ll discuss the next topic highlights in my next blog post. So, stay tuned for that! Send me an email, I’d love to hear your take on this novel. Guests are welcome too! Feel free to reach me on social media also.

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8 comments

  1. Totally love this book. Good write up on its highlights too. The whole book made me feel like I am lost in the world where Oscar Wilde was – it’s like a peak to his reality. Watching out for your next post as I really adored the various themes and concepts tackled in the novel too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dorian’s obsession with Basil’s portrait was indeed wry, if you ask me.😂 Nice one BTW! And who knows, I might eventually join WordPress bcos of you.😁

    Liked by 1 person

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