Monday, June 27, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray - a Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray was one of the books which I was itching to read. I’ve read a bit of Oscar Wilde (The Importance of being Earnest, An Ideal Husband) but it was this novel, his only one, which I wanted to get my hands on. I found it quite disappointing.

The story is pretty straightforward; Dorian Gray, described as ‘this young Adonis, who looks as if he was made of ivory and rose-leaves’ sits for a portrait for his painter friend, Basil Hallward. This life-size portrait is a striking image of the beautiful young man but it distresses Dorian and he makes a wish, a Faustian bargain. His wish is to retain his eternal youth, to remain unscathed by the ravages of life while his portrait bears the brunt of old age.

And so it happens. Dorian befriends Lord Herny Wotton, a friend of Basil Hallward, who quite unintentionally has a bad influence on the young man. Dorian takes in his words quite literally and makes them a sort of bible for his actions. “That is one of the great secrets of life – to cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul” (Lord Henry). In gratifying his senses, Dorian loses sight of all morals and adopts a debauched lifestyle. But the excesses of his lifestyle leave no mark on his demeanour because according to the wish, it is Dorian’s portrait that must bear the brunt of his wrong doings.

1945 Film Poster
The book reads like a suspense/mystery novel; I read the novel at breakneck speed to find out the end. It did become a drag in some places, especially when Lord Henry or Basil Hallward decided to deliver sermons, greatly varying in nature, to Dorian Gray. We know, from the author’s description of the portrait from time to time, of Dorian’s evil ways but their exact nature is never revealed. Does Wilde leave it to our imagination? Or are we supposed to keep Wilde’s own life in mind while reading the novel?

The hero of the novel is the portrait – its fate is what interests the reader most. How does each wrong act of Dorian Gray affect the portrait? It is the sinister nature of the portrait that, I believe, has made The Picture of Dorian Gray a popular novel.

Thankfully, such wishes are not granted, otherwise most people in Pakistan will have their portraits done. 

Photographs: 1945 film poster (Google Images)