Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Published: 1890
Shelved: Adult fiction (classic, Gothic, horror)
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #1
Rating: ★★★★
Buy: The Book Depository
More: Goodreads

A story of evil, debauchery, and scandal, Oscar Wilde’s only novel tells of Dorian Gray, a beautiful yet corrupt man. When he wishes that a perfect portrait of himself would bear the signs of ageing in his place, the picture becomes his hideous secret, as it follows Dorian’s own downward spiral into cruelty and depravity. (Synopsis from Pengujn English Library).

I chose The Picture of Dorian Gray to be my first classic of the year because I had seen people talking about it online a lot last year – perhaps because of the 2009 adaptation, I cannot be sure – and it made me curious, although I didn’t pay much attention to what they were saying. I prefer to begin a book knowing as little about it as possible. Unfortunately, this lead to an amusing assumption that it was a murder mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie. I began the novel and instantly adored its elegant writing and curious plot, but quickly realised it was not what I originally thought it was going to be. Instead, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an eerie Gothic horror story, set in 1890s London!

I also did not know what to expect from the writing, having never read any of Oscar Wilde’s work previously, and so I was blown away. I’ve mentioned here before that I’ve recently begun to appreciate ‘good writing’, whatever than may mean, but I do not think I’ve enjoyed it so much before, and as much as the actual story. It’s wonderful. I appreciated every sentence, every passage and highlighted it to death on my Kindle. I felt that the witty yet philosophical approach offered more insight into our three well-educated, upper class protagonists’ thoughts – socialites Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton, and artist Basil Hallward – than it probably normally would have. Lord Henry has a particular talent for airing his sexist, classist opinions in a way that’s strangely charming. The Picture of Dorian Gray is a fascinating concoction of treachery and superficiality mixed with elegance, so the reader ends up enjoying hearing from these characters even thought they are immensely unlikeable.

‘I never take any notice of what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do.’ – Lord Henry

As for the story itself, it’s quite simple in a way, as outlined at the beginning of this review, but it’s also multi-layered with meaning. I did, however, make the mistake of not reading the book all at once. As it relies heavily on narrative and (sometimes internal) conversation, reading a couple of pages a day on the way to and from work meant that I ended up getting quite lost in the middle of the book. I was reading the eBook and so therefore couldn’t flip back quickly to remind myself, although this just means I shall have to re-read it (and it gives me a good excuse to purchase the Penguin English Library edition) – no harm done! However, I loved it when I did manage to grasp what was going on and it all made sense in the end.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a haunting, Gothic novel that combines beautiful writing with a deceptively simple plot. It’s a thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable cautionary tale encouraging us not to give too much purpose to art and warns us about the aesthetic ills that society can possess.

‘The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.’

22 thoughts on “Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

  1. I laughed out loud at your Agatha Christie assumption. Oh, if it WAS…that would’ve been amusing. I’m glad you enjoyed it! Wilde’s writing is always very witty and elegant. Stephen Fry is a lot like Wilde: you don’t realize he’s making a joke until after he’s said it, because you’re too busy getting blown away by his vocabulary.

  2. I recently read this and it was such a DELIGHT.

  3. […] The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde ★★★★ • Goodreads • Buy […]

  4. I love this book! Apart from the fact it’s a bit slow to begin with. But it’s a beautiful morality tale, and portrait of human corruption. Great to see you enjoyed it!

  5. This sounds fantastic! Definitely going to check this out when I can, I love the quotes you included in your review. Really love these kind of thought-provoking classics. Great review! :)

  6. I plan to read The Picture of Dorian Gray in the coming weeks (next week I believe), so the review was well timed for me. Like you, I will be reading it on my Kindle so atleast I know it is one of those books that requires ‘concentration’, so to speak.
    Another wonderful review :-)

    • It’s doesn’t specifically require concentration exactly – it’s a pretty easy read, but I just found it difficult to remember exactly what was happening if I put the book down for a day or two after only reading a few pages at a time. I hope you enjoy it too!

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  8. For me it was so hard to understand. He’s mad about beauty.

  9. See Wilde’s preface to the book, ‘There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.’ This may change your mind about the novel being a, ‘thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable cautionary tale encouraging us not to give too much purpose to art and warns us about the aesthetic ills that society can possess.’ With the preface and authorial intent (or arguably/ironically lack of) in mind, the novel is significantly more complex than a mere tale about the dangers of hedonism… A brilliantly ambiguous and characteristically Wilde technique (no pun intended!)

  10. Such a fine writer. And so quotable. I actually published a little something with his quotes: http://prettyandwittyandbright.wordpress.com/2014/12/23/looking-back-wilde-quotes/

    Please, check it out and let me know what you think!

  11. Hello Stacey,
    this is a wonderful book, belongs to one of my most favorite from the English classic. Timeless story about how one’s own shallowness and selfishness can destroy the soul. There are more important things in life than beauty. I recommend this book to everyone to remind this important message.
    Julie

  12. Thanks for your well written review. I finished the book just a few days ago, and it was a fascinating one in my whole reading life, I must say!!
    I’ll love to call it a gift to “magical realism” genre. Perhaps, one of the best magical realism I’ve read in my life. But I’m not sure why everyone is calling it Gothic horror but not magical realism. :(
    Among many uniqueness of the novel, what attracted me most is its enthralling conversation style, of the three protagonists.. :)

  13. I like you review of this book however, I disliked it because of some of the reasons you liked it. My review is here: https://studentbydayreaderallnight.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/the-picture-of-dorian-gray/

  14. The picture of Dorian grey is my first book to read and I found it exquisite.. But hard to understand.

  15. The picture of Dorian Gray is my first classic book i read in English. I’m not an english speaker though. So there are lots of words i don’t understand. I was confused what happened at the end. Then i found your review and it said it’s a horror. It surprised me actually because it’s more a psychological novel to me. Great review anyway.

  16. Thanks for the review! Very insightful. I may have to try it out!

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