The Picture of Dorian GrayBook - 2003
Oscar Wilde's tale of a Faustian pact in Victorian England, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a both a slow-burning Gothic horror and a brilliant philosophical investigation of youth, beauty and desire. This Penguin Classics edition is edited with an introduction and notes by Robert Mighall.
Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray exchanges his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Influenced by his friend Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life; indulging his desires in secret while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only his portrait bears the traces of his decadence. The Picture of Dorian Gray was a succ#65533;s de scandale . Early readers were shocked by its hints at unspeakable sins, and the book was later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895. It has lost none of its power to fascinate and disturb.
This definitive edition includes a selection of contemporary reviews condemning the novels immorality, and the introduction to the first Penguin Classics edition by Peter Ackroyd.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), son of an eminent eye-surgeon and a nationalist poet, was educated in Dublin and Oxford and became the leading exponent of the new Aesthetic Movement. His work, including short fiction such The Happy Price (1888), his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), gradually won him a reputation, which was cemented by his phenomenally successful plays, including A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). Imprisoned for homosexual acts, he died after his release, in exile in Paris.
If you enjoyed The Picture of Dorian Gray , you might like Joris-Karl Huysmans' Against Nature (A Rebours) Wilde's real-life inspiration for the novel that slowly corrupts Dorian Gray, also available in Penguin Classics.
From the critics
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"Oh, brothers! I don't care for brothers. My elder brother won't die, and my younger bothers seem to do nothing else."
"When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was."
"When I like someone immensely I never tell their names to anyone. It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvellous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it."
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Written and set in 19th century England, this gothic psychological thriller is a classic horror story, refreshingly free of the graphic blood and gore that seems to be the standard horror theme these days.
The story begins with Dorian Gray, a young man of extraordinary good looks, having his portrait painted by his friend Basil Hallward. In the midst of posing for the portrait enters Lord Henry, a pompous and self-important character that convinces an innocent Dorian that his looks are his most important characteristic and that he will have tremendous power over people because of them. He tells Dorian that he should enjoy them while they last as like everything else they will fade with time and so will the power that comes with them.
Taking his words seriously, a naïve and melancholy Dorian wishes that his looks would last forever and instead of time ravaging his face and body, his portrait would age instead, leaving him forever young. As the story moves along and to Dorian’s increasing dismay, he starts noticing that his wish has been granted… with a twist. The portrait is noticeably growing more hideous as Dorian’s behaviour becomes progressively more callous and contemptible.
Though dated, the story is fast-paced, well written and an easy read. Its lighter side pokes fun at the aristocracy and their total uselessness while its darker side reveals the level of shallowness and depravity of human nature.
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