Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

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I wrote this book review for The Curiouser Newsletter, which you can find here.

What can I say about such a haunting masterpiece? What words could I utter to possibly give this novella the praise it deserves?

Dorian Gray is a beautiful, charming man with youth at his fingertips. Basil Hallward, an exquisite artist, becomes obsessed with painting him and creates his greatest piece: a portrait of Dorian Gray. The cynical Lord Henry Wotton tells Dorian that his youth will fade and to enjoy every moment of it. Dorian curses his beauty and wishes that his old age would appear on the canvas and that he could stay forever young. “I would give my soul for that,” he cried.

While Dorian lost his soul to a painting, Oscar Wilde captured mine with his witticism, intellect, and romanticism. Almost every phrase I read in this book was profound. I know I will never forget some of Wilde’s captivating words.

“The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history.”

Although his characters were sometimes overdramatic, I can’t imagine Wilde producing a plain one either. Each character, with his different but loveable flaws, spoke with words that hang on to the reader—words that, well, read for yourself:

“Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”

As Dorian ages and his young face remains the same, his heart turns cold. He becomes dark, and people begin to whisper. They wonder why he hadn’t aged in eighteen years. They wonder why he had become so corrupt.

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Toward the end, even Dorian himself longs to be moral again. But as he glares at Basil’s hideous portrait, he realizes only one way to gain back what he had lost. Dorian, a loveable human being, had turned into a tragic, evil man with more secrets than he could bear.

“Some things are more precious because they don't last long.”

I won’t spoil the ending for you. But I will say that there is a reason this book is still talked about over 120 years later. Because even though these words were written decades ago, they, like so many classics, can still cast a spell on any skeptic and turn him into an optimist.

“He had no curiosity. It was his chief defect."

If you haven’t read The Picture of Dorian Gray yet, go read it. It will enchant you, make you reflect on your own life, and maybe even turn you into a philosopher—if you’re in to that sort of thing.

“The one charm of the past is that it is the past.”