Author: Oscar Wilde
Country (language): Ireland (English)
Published: 1890

Summary

‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is a look at the corruption of a human soul.

The story tells the story of young, good-looking rich man named Dorian Gray who, at the beginning of the book, has his picture painted by Basil Hallward. Dorian then meets a man by the name of Lord Henry who teaches him the joys of hedonism, and to live a life that only looks for beauty and self-enjoyment.

As Dorian begins to enjoy his life, he makes a wish that he could keep his youth and good looks, and that his picture would age instead of him. After following Lord Henry’s ideals, he cruelly rejects the interests of a young actress he previous loved (named Sibyl), returns home and finds his picture has changed. He realises his wish has come true. He then begins an 18-year binge of wicked debauchery, during which he never ages. Meanwhile, however, his picture (which Dorian is now hiding in his attic) becomes more and more hideous, reminding him of his evil.

The story comes to a head as Basil begins to question Dorian’s life, and Sibyl’s brother James seeks revenge for his sister. Dorian also starts to question his own life, but the damage to his soul has already been done. Hatred for life, and the picture, takes over.

Notes

Although Oscar Wilde is one of the West’s most famous writers, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ was his only novel.

The book was re-edited in 1891 in order to appease people who called the book homoerotic. The original unedited and uncensored version only became available in 2011.

Wilde’s own lifestyle – homosexual in upper-class but conservative Victorian England – and his style of witty but cruel quips, made him a controversial figure during his life. He spent time in jail due to a relationship with a man, and died in poverty in France.

Saying a person has an ugly picture in the attic is a way to say to say that person doesn’t seem to get older (and may have sold his soul to the devil to achieve that). On the other hand, saying a person has a picture in the attic that is getting prettier is a way to say that person is old and ugly.

Sample

Finally, he came back, went over to the picture, and examined it. In the dim arrested light that struggled through the cream-coloured silk blinds, the face appeared to him to be a little changed. The expression looked different. One would have said that there was a touch of cruelty in the mouth. It was certainly strange.

He turned round and, walking to the window, drew up the blind. The bright dawn flooded the room and swept the fantastic shadows into dusky corners, where they lay shuddering. But the strange expression that he had noticed in the face of the portrait seemed to linger there, to be more intensified even. The quivering ardent sunlight showed him the lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had been looking into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing.

He winced and, taking up from the table an oval glass framed in ivory Cupids, one of Lord Henry’s many presents to him, glanced hurriedly into its polished depths. No line like that warped his red lips. What did it mean?

He rubbed his eyes, and came close to the picture, and examined it again. There were no signs of any change when he looked into the actual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expression had altered. It was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing was horribly apparent.

Reviews

The book originally met terrible reviews, with some people suggesting Wilde should be charged by the police for indecency due to the suggestions of homo-eroticism between some of the male characters.

It has now, however, become to be seen as a great piece of literature, and the vanity and hedonism of its characters a reflection of mankind’s obsession with beauty and enjoyment.