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Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for astute social observation and sparkling prose to The Picture of Dorian Gray, his dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. This dandy, who remains forever unchanged—petulant, hedonistic, vain, and amoral—while a painting of him ages and grows increasingly hideous with the years, has been horrifying, enchanting, obsessing, even corrupting readers for more than a hundred years.
Taking the reader in and out of London drawing rooms, to the heights of aestheticism, and to the depths of decadence, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not only a melodrama about moral corruption. Laced with bon mots and vivid depictions of upper-class refinement, it is also a fascinating look at the milieu of Wilde’s fin-de-siècle world and a manifesto of the creed “Art for Art’s Sake.”
The ever-quotable Wilde, who once delighted London with his scintillating plays, scandalized readers with this, his only novel. Upon publication, Dorian was condemned as dangerous, poisonous, stupid, vulgar, and immoral, and Wilde as a “driveling pedant.” The novel, in fact, was used against Wilde at his much-publicized trials for “gross indecency,” which led to his imprisonment and exile on the European continent. Even so, The Picture of Dorian Gray firmly established Wilde as one of the great voices of the Aesthetic movement, and endures as a classic that is as timeless as its hero.
Camille Cauti, Ph.D., is an editor and literary critic who lives in New York City. She is a specialist in the Catholic conversion trend among members of the avant-garde in London in the 1890s.
From Camille Cauti's Introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray
Perhaps the most salient episode of Wilde's life involved his three infamous court trials in spring 1895. They captivated the London press, much of which was only too happy to see Wilde, of whom it had long been jealously suspicious, debased and finally punished for his alleged crimes and for daring to live outside Victorian social convention. The first trial, in early April 1895, involved the author's libel suit against his lover Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensbury (before the trials, he was most famous for formulating the Queensbury rules of boxing). Angry over Wilde's alleged influence upon his son, Queensbury accused Wilde in a note of being a "posing somdomite" (sic). Queensbury's defense attorney even presented The Picture of Dorian Gray as an immoral, perverted book and as one of the fifteen pleas for justification of his client's claim (although the justice at Wilde's next trial chose not to rule Dorian Gray as evidence of Wilde's crimes). Thus the novel took on yet another role: involuntary accomplice to Wilde's accuser. The libel suit was not resolved in Wilde's favor, and during the proceedings Queensbury's defense provided enough potential evidence of homosexuality to have Wilde tried under the Criminal Law Amendment Act. Friends and associates urged Wilde to flee the country, as other homosexuals on the verge of being outed had done, but whether from stubbornness of his position or in denial of his vulnerability, he remained in London and was arrested on April 5, 1895.
After two trials on charges of "committing acts of gross indecency with male persons," Wilde ultimately was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum penalty of two years in prison with hard labor. He gave eloquent testimony on the stand to the legitimacy of, as he called it, "the love that dare not speak its name," which in large part drives The Picture of Dorian Gray. Among many other definitions, Wilde declared it "that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art like those of Shakespeare and Michaelangelo. . . . It is the noblest form of affection." His words were rewarded, really too late, with spontaneous courtroom applause. Yet the press exulted in Wilde's demise: "The aesthetic cult," the News of the World proclaimed, "in its nasty form, is over."
The details of Wilde's final five years, spent in prison and in lonely exile, are tragic. The prison labor, which at first primarily involved operating a treadmill for the equivalent of a daily 6,000-foot ascent, physically broke Wilde. His creditors and Queensbury had forced a bankruptcy sale of his property, and his valuable, carefully collected possessions were sold and disbursed. His wife, who had sought a divorce, died in 1898. He would never again see his sons. From prison, Wilde composed, in the form of a letter to Douglas, his apologia De Profundis (posthumously published in 1905), whose Latin title means "Out of the Depths," and which takes its name and religious tenor from Psalm 130, which reads, in part: "If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared." The probing, deeply religious nature of this last work still did not bring about Wilde's Catholic conversion, however. (Douglas would convert in 1911.) Unlike John Gray, Wilde could not bring himself to use religion as a refuge from his earthly problems. Wilde's conversion instead took place within the last two days of his life, when desperate friends, the Catholic Robbie Ross among them, who had long thought Wilde insincere when he mentioned his desire to convert, brought in a local priest to gauge Wilde's assent to the conversion and to administer Last Rites.
Appropriately, Wilde's last act was an assent to a final ritual-in this case, one that symbolically sealed the senses that had dictated his life-long self-creation. Wilde's only novel, over the years many things to many people, continues to serve as a symbol of its era. After experiencing it, a reader may want nothing more than to override questions of genre and influence, when The Picture of Dorian Gray itself tells us what it has been: "the type of what the age is searching for, and what it is afraid it has found."
Posted November 15, 2008
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This is one of my favorite books of ALL time. I've read it over & over. Oscar Wilde was an amazing author & master of witty sarcasm. He has a thought-provoking view on life & society.<BR/><BR/>My copy is riddled with highlighted quotes that I think perfectly sum up the quirks of human behavior. This book is a thriller, social commentary, philosophical discussion, & vocabulary lesson all in one! He can ramble at some points, but read through it because what these ramblings reveal are quite insightful. Don't be intimidated, though. It's short compared to a lot of other classics with similarly "difficult" language. Grab a dictionary, open up your mind...& you'll get a lot out of this read.
25 out of 26 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 19, 2009
I had heard the theatre tale of Dorian Gray and I wanted to know the real story. Something about the Barnes and Noble book cover of the portrait of Dorian Gray made it stand out amongst the other classics.
I normally don't mark my books but there were so many whitty remarks and absolute truths I had to mark them so I could tell others.
The story takes place over many years but somehow didn't feel rushed and leaves you screaming for more at the end. On top of that, the most interesting thing about the way Wilde writes this story is that he never really tells you what sins the character is guilty of, thus making you fill them in yourself.
How wicked is your soul's own thoughts?
Definately a buy and keep!
9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 10, 2011
Posted September 28, 2009
I started to read this book because I had wanted to read as many of the classics and I could bear through. The Picture of Darian Grey really fooled me. I thought it would be ho-hum until I stated to read it. What a lesson about life.
How very often we do away with someone who really loves us to get along with someone who just wants to use us......and we are too in love with ourselves to know or admit we made a mistake till it is too late.
Oscar Wilde was a terrific writer.
4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 5, 2009
I read the 13 chapter version, and then the 20 Chapter version. Never, ever read the 13ch version, it is dull and flat. The 20 version, the version we know now, is so much more provacative. While I would still recommend Frankenstein as a philosophical text of this, Dorian Gray makes you question within yourself the forces of hedonism and puritanism. The continual fight between Hedonism and Puritanism is still one we must struggle with today, and with both sides refusing to take a middle ground, Dorian Gray remains an important text.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 29, 2012
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Posted December 12, 2008
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I was first captured by this book by Oscar Wilde's wonderful use of language. Although many of his characters are rotten and dirty at the core, they are still very eloquent and every line could be a thought provoking quote. Even the narrations are equally eloquent. Aside from the language, the story is wonderful and I really enjoyed reading the book, as it is the only novel written by Oscar Wilde. If you enjoy the classics, you better not skip this one...and if you don't: still pick this one up from B&N, you will not be disappointed.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 18, 2011
Have no idea what would ever be considered great literature in this writing. Characters were so shallow and i didn't care about or for them one iota. I have much to say with negative emotion on this story but i will just say this, writing, thank goodness has come along way from this crap. If this is what literature was, i would cease to be a reader.
1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 3, 2011
Posted June 10, 2009
I read this book for a project in one of my english classes in high school. I loved it. The dialogue is great, the story is awesome, and I was always wondering what happened next. I recommend it!
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By now, you should know the, shall we say "speciallized" style of writing for the free classics, so i dont care about the typos. I'm used to it as a broke srudent. But the story behind dorian gray is so... undiscribable. He sells his doul for youth! How can this be a bad story? I am definately glad i read thisWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.