The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray CoverI don’t know if it says something of my nature that I seem to enjoy such wicked men in classic literature, so long as they possess a sharp, eloquent wit. This has been true in the past with Vladimir Nabokov’s Humbert and Hermann of Lolita and Despair fame, respectively, and it is certainly true with Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Though, in Lord Henry’s case, perhaps “wicked” is too strong a word; “careless” would be more apt a description for the way Lord Henry exerts his influence over the titular character, turning an innocent young man to a life of sin and misery.

Wilde comments throughout Dorian Gray on then-current Victorian high society, with all its hypocrisy and superficiality. Aesthetics being paramount, Dorian––who is blessed with eternal youthful beauty, his portrait withering and aging instead of himself––repeatedly escapes from scandal with his reputation intact, for how could one with miraculous good looks such as he possibly be so horrid? Surely it would corrupt his fair visage in some way.

Wilde apparently wrote too much of his own life into the story, effectively fanning the flames of his real-life scandals. It’s unfortunate that Dorian Gray struck such a sour note at the time, because, in spite of the occasional tedious escapade, the largest thing that stuck with me as I read was the unmatched beauty of Wilde’s prose. It also startled me to find how thoroughly surprising the book was, with the sole exception being, unfortunately, the ending. Nonetheless, I can easily extend a recommendation to anyone who can get behind flowery descriptions of both miraculous beauty and intense corruption and, of course, numerous Wildean witticisms at every turn.