I hate very few books, but when I do, I do it with vehemence.
(Spoilers, not that the book is worth reading)
The Picture of Dorian Gray (It takes place in the UK, why it is not Grey, I will never know) is the story of youth and corruption.
The book begins with Basil, and older artist, telling his friend, Lord Henry, that he is painting a fantastic person, and he must come meet him. As Dorian sits for Basil, Henry talks to him about many things, but especially the meaning of life, and how much youth is worth.
After the painting is complete, Dorian cries (this verb is horribly overused throughout the whole novel) out, “How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June. . . If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”
And of course, that is exactly what happens. After Dorian falls in love with an actress, Sybil Vane (Ooooh, clever. You can use name symbolism? Wow. [Sarcasm]). Once he tells he tells her he is in love, she ceases to act well, and then he tells her he doesn’t love her. And then she commits suicide. After that the picture changes “with the touch of cruelty in the mouth” afterwards.
After that, Dorian first tries to change the painting, then when he can’t, hides it away. He then becomes socially exiled as he doesn’t age and is suspected without proof for Sybil’s death, and becomes more and more of a hermit with his only social interaction being with Lord Henry — for 10+ years.
One day Basil comes to see him, and they talk. Basil says many things about Dorian changing, and cries out (Gah!) something along the lines of: If only I could see your soul! Dorian decides to show him the painting. Basil is horrified, and says he must have his sins cleared. Dorian “suddenly [had] an uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Hallward came over him, as though it had been suggested to him by the image on the canvas, whispered into his ear by those grinning lips” and killed Basil. The painting has blood on its hands. He blackmails a old chemist friend into disposing of the body.
Dorian is invited to a party with Lord Henry, and Henry can tell something is wrong, and tries to find what it is. Dorian feels bad about killing Basil, and realizes that Henry has corrupt him. Dorian make excuses to leave, and goes to the opium den to be away from people he knew, but finds James Vane, Sybil’s brother. Dorian gets away by saying that Sybil’s murderer would be much older looking. Then another person in the den tells James that Dorian hasn’t aged, so James goes out to kill Dorian.
Dorian is scared for his life, until he heard of James’s death (I was sad at this point. I was hoping that James would kill Dorian, which is not usually something you hope about a main character). Dorian vows to be a better, uncorrupt person, and goes to see if the painting has changed. “He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite.” Then Dorian stabs the painting to destroy it, and then “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.”
The books premises, and themes were interesting, however the writing was not. Page long monologues, pages of poetry, the history of medieval tapestries, and the worth an look of different stones are not what I want to read about in a book about a beautiful face with an ugly soul.
Wilde’s writing style was also frustrating, when he tried to be witty, it was boring or cliche. The cried out was overused, and the long, jumbled sentences to show passion were frustrating.
I read this book as part of a book club, and the discussion of the book was much more interesting than the book itself, and its interesting themes are why I give it two stars instead of one.