The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Review 2/5

Overall Impression: This is a clever little book full of philosophy and morals, but it just wasn’t for me.

When I said in my Dorian read-along post that it would beThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde interesting if one of us hated the book so that we could get some debates going, it hadn’t even occurred to me that the person might be me! I was so sure I was going to love this book, I had been looking forward to reading it for ages. Gothic novels are my favourite type of literature but I just couldn’t get into this one for some reason. I know a lot of you love this novel, so maybe you can share your wisdom with me so I can appreciate it more and be less of a party pooper?
I can tell that in its time this little book would have turned a lot of heads, it’s daring, uncompromising and has a great premise. So why god dammit why do I feel so indifferent to it all?!
This book is also on the The Rory Gilmore Challenge.

Dorian is a good-natured young man until he discovers the power of his own exceptional beauty. As he gradually sinks deeper into a frivolous, glamorous world of selfish luxury, he apparently remains physically unchanged by the stresses of his corrupt lifestyle and untouched by age. But up in his attic, hidden behind a curtain, his portrait tells a different story.

Basil Hallward is an artist obsessed. Obsessed with the naïve and youthful vision that is Dorian Gray. When Dorian sits for another of Basil’s portraits they are interrupted by the obnoxious and obtuse Lord Henry. He is desperate to meet the muse for himself, seeing in the portrait something special of his own, the potential to guide, observe and influence. As Dorian sits, Lord Henry whispers to him about the pleasures of the universe, the beauty of youth and the tragedy of old age. When the portrait is finished Basil declares it his best work, but Dorian can only see it as a cruel reminder of how it will remain forever young while he will wither with age. In a reckless moment he declares that the painting should grow old and bear his sins, while he remains unchanged.
Dorian Gray’s life will never be the same.

Eugh, I have been avoiding this review. I finished the novel a while ago now but haven’t wanted to dwell on it and my disappointment. Something about this book literally sucked the joy out of me, putting me in a permanently bad mood until I finished it which is why I zoomed through the last half so quickly. But yeah…here goes nothing! :S

As much as I tried I couldn’t get on with Wilde’s writing style. It’s clear he is an intelligent author with an acute understanding for the shady thoughts lurking under the surface of everyday people. His writing on morals and vanity are still crucial today. When it comes to beauty and ideal lifestyle our society is hypocritical. Good looking people whether in the street or in the tabloids are put on pedestals and admired, at the same time society tries to rip them down from that pedestal because they are jealous of everything they possess, the advantages they will receive and their overall appearance of having a successful life. In turn, those people are often miserable, their beauty and success becoming a burden. Yet it’s what nearly every one of us strives for, right? So essentially, we’re striving to be miserable and to be hated by others. The fact that Wilde has realised this during his lifetime before the rest of us had time to catch up AND turned it into a novel is pretty amazing. He has obvious talent and insight, so why don’t I like this book? Agghhh!

Well for starters, the writing style pretty much contains every one of my pet peeves. It came across conceited and superior, the one thing I can never stand in books. I understand this is a reflection of the entire novel itself, it was written about people who thought they were gods gift but it is not that alone. The whole thing felt overdone, like it was trying too hard (more on this later). I didn’t find myself awed by any beautiful descriptions and the writing for the most part felt nondescript and flat without any kind of charm, especially after reading Great Expectations. It seemed repetitive (how many times did he use the word pathos?) and the writing was so so flowery. The fact that there was a lot of sexual and homoerotic undertones within his writing was quite interesting, as men were often described in the detail that would normally be focused on women, but its consistency throughout the novel unfortunately just made it seen even more flowery because of the intense focus on beauty.

The premise of this book is what originally drew me to it. The idea of a man who remained young and unaffected by life while his portrait grew old and withered bearing the burden of his passions and sins was a fascinating one. The problem was, that’s all there was to it. A cool idea which is spread over 200 pages. Dorian struts around enamoured with his own beauty, Lord Henry sprouts some contradictory and absurd remark which Dorian accepts as if he is a prophet. Everybody moans, rinse and repeat. In the end, the entire plot of the book is wrapped up in less than a page, which pretty much sums it up really. There are so many great themes tackled in this novel. Dorian’s pursuit of life’s pleasures, artistic aesthetics and immorality make a great opportunity to explore topics like vanity, love, aging, societal views and the question of what art really is, but to me Wilde’s attempts to do this got in the way of the narrative. The whole thing felt self indulgent and the story seemed secondary as though it was just there for an excuse to explore the themes. I like my classic’s social commentary to be subtle, integrated into the story at relevant points so that it impacts the reader at the right time, but with The Picture of Dorian Gray I had the constant feeling I was being lectured at which irritated me. I don’t like to be talked at by a writer, I like to be talked to, if that makes any kind of sense in a one way conversation.
Not only that, but the pacing was constantly bogged down by irrelevant details, for instance chapter 11 almost entirely consisted of Dorian’s love for pretty things like jewels and embroidery which could have been summed up in one paragraph.

If you’re looking for likable characters you won’t find them in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian the rich and self indulgent youth (who has to be one of the biggest narcissists in literature – could you imagine if he owned Facebook?) makes one stupid decision after the next which is always put down to his naivety and his susceptibility to manipulation, something which drove me mental. He never seemed to be able to look at the big picture or accept any responsibility and his treatment of those around him was horrific. He does make a fun character study to an extent and I could tell what Wilde wanted to portray, but he felt so unbelievable and once again because of the author’s ‘vision’ he seemed like an empty shell with the purpose of being a mouthpiece for various philosophies and ideologies.
Then there’s Lord Henry the vile hypocrite, wannabe philosopher and psychologist. His bizarre views and contradictory sentences were at first a lot of fun. He is the source of some great one liners and absurd remarks that do make you think, for example:

‘The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.’ – Pg190

I absolutely love this quote it is so true. There are a lot of little great ones like this spread throughout the book. However by the end I found his way of speaking by constantly contrasting two ideas repetitive and it became irritating. Especially as for every truly insightful remark there are twenty nonsense ones. Not to mention the insulting remarks about women:

‘My dear boy, no woman is a genius. women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.’ – Pg 44

These comments made my inner feminist burn. They were used to reflect his character but were hard to swallow! Still, at least I can take comfort from the fact that he was equally disparaging of everyone!
Finally we have Basil and Sibyl who should have been slightly more likable, unfortunately their obsession and love of Dorian just made me dislike them.
The odd thing is, books with unlikable characters usually become my favourites, I love that they make me question my own views and it’s fascinating to learn about someone so different from yourself, but Wilde failed to engage me enough to care because his writing felt so…unfeeling and transparent I guess.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a fantastically intelligent novel with a bold author who is not afraid to scrutinize all of society including himself, but the book was just not for me personally. I would recommend it to males or females 16+ who have an interest in the depiction of art, vanity, morals and 19th century English society over a complex plot.
Do not read this book if you are put off by the idea of snobbish characters having intellectual debates with the assumption that they have found the key to the universe.

And that chaps, be’s my muddled thoughts on Dorian Gray! Don’t forget to check out my read-along discussions on the book if you haven’t already. 🙂

Writing Style: 1/5
Originality: 5/5
Entertainment: 1/5
Character Development: 2/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.

Overall: 2/5

Image Sources:
Book Cover: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/608051.The_Picture_of_Dorian_Gray

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34 thoughts on “The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde Review 2/5

  1. Oh dear Becks… I guess Wilde isn’t for you then? I haven’t actually read this one but it’s been on my TBR for ages. Maybe I’ll prolong reading it for a bit after reading your review! I’m not sure whether I’d get along with it as I don’t tend to enjoy books with unlikable main characters… Though it’s interesting that you would still recommend it after hating it so much!
    Have you read his plays? I’ve heard they’re quite different from his novels. The Importance of Being Earnest is one of my all-time favourite plays and it’s hilarious. It’s not gothic, or dark at all so maybe you might give it a go if you like plays?

    • Haha it seems not! It’s odd, because I thought we would get along so well before I started *sigh*. 😦
      Yeah, the main reason I would still recommend it is because it made me think about our present societies views on vanity and beauty while also giving me insight into society at the time the book was written. Even though I disliked it I am still glad I read it. 🙂
      A lot of others love this book, so maybe you will too. I seem to be in the minority, hehe. Plus, it’s just under 200 pages so it’s very short, so if you don’t like it at least it won’t take long!

      This is the first of his work I’ve read, although I’ve heard a lot of people praise The Importance of Being Earnest like you! I feel this may have put me off Wilde for the moment though. :s Maybe further down the line…

    • It was a bit strange that it was in there when it didn’t really add anything to the book at all! Maybe it had some deeply philosophical meaning behind it that we all missed? 😛

  2. Well, I won’t be reading this one in a hurry. Sounds like a bunch of arse.

    I also noticed that the characters Basil and Sibyl are also in Fawlty Towers, with their names spelt in the same way. Probably not related though.

    • Haha you have such an eloquent way with words Michael. 😛 You know how to cut through the bull! I should have just said that in my review, it would be much quicker, LOL.

      As Venuskitten said I doubt it is a coincidence, hm, I’m all curious now. I love a bit of intertextuality!

    • Yepp, you went into spam again TBM. This is so mysterious! There were no signs of Caps Lock on my post to you either so I don’t know what’s going on. I guess WordPress is having some technical problems.

    • Hehee I’m glad at least someone is on the same wavelength as me! 🙂
      I am still glad I read it too, it often seems that way with classics, even if I don’t like them. Strange indeed!

    • Thanks Elisa I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. 😀 I hope on that ‘one day’ you will enjoy it a lot more than I did, lol!

      I think I might catch the movie version of it, everyone seems to have such high praise and I think I would enjoy it in that medium more rather than reading a play.

    • I know right!? It was so bizarre! I mean, it’s not a happy book but it wasn’t that alone, there was just something about this book and me that did not mix. :s

      I miss The Gilmore Girls too. 🙂

  3. I admire your honesty Becks, although now I feel weird because I did enjoy it 😛 LOL.
    I guess it’s the same with me and Jane Austen. Can’t stand her even though everybody loves her. I pick Wilde and his arrogance over her anyday! 🙂

    • Thanks Nisha, 🙂 no need to feel weird for liking it though, a lot of people do! I’m in the minority tehee.

      That’s exactly it, it was like I could see why people would love the book and I could understand what I was supposed to be feeling about it, but I just didn’t like it. Isn’t it odd how that happens? I guess we just don’t connect with some authors!

  4. Interesting that you didn´t like it. I haven´t read it yet myself but when my mother read it she practically shoved it in my face screaming ´read thissssss´. I think she liked it 😛 I guess I’m going to have to get to it. So much to read..

    • Interesting indeed! I wish I could of, there were a lot of great things about the book, but somehow the two of us didn’t gel. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. 😛

      Haha! Tell me about it, the list is never-ending so I sympathise completely. 🙂

  5. I found the same thing with this book, I got it as a Christmas present last year, and I was really looking forward to reading it. Then when I came round to reading it, I really couldn’t get into it. The generally concept of the novel I love, and the story is interesting and the language used is also. However there was something about it that didn’t really allow me to click with the story line completely, it’s a shame though because so many people do love this book. Gothic novels are normally to my taste however this one was just not up to it! Jane Eyre is a good one though if you like the Gothic genre (not sure if you’ve read it or not) and Jane Eyre written in a way that you can really gasp the characters and feel as they do when you read it.

    • Phew that is a relief to hear Jessica, I felt very quite on my own with my reviews when I wrote this review and it is always hard to say when you haven’t gotten on with a classic! It’s the worst of all when you have high hopes and are disappointed.
      I completely agree with you, the concept is fab but the whole time I was reading it I felt so…distant from the characters and their action I guess and I didn’t care at all what happened to them at the end.
      I am a big fan of Gothic novels too. 🙂 I haven’t read Jane Eyre yet because I am saving it for a rainy day. I’m also a little nervous to attempt it because I have such high hopes and I want to love it! I wouldn’t want to be let down again like I was with Dorian. :S Fingers crossed that I will love it as much as you did. 😀

      Thank you for reading, commenting and following!

      • You should definitely read Jane Eyre, it’s one of my favourite books. I’ve reviewed it on my Blog so you should check that out! It’s so lovely, the era and the story. But yeah, it’s amazing and one of those books that you can really connect with so give it a go :)) I’d be very interested to read your review of it as well because I love hearing other people’s opinions on the books I love the most!

      • Oooh, I will definitely check out your review!

        I love seeing people’s review of the books they love too, it’s interesting to see how their thoughts vary and how they pick up on different aspects of or story different to your own. 🙂

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