My rating: 3 of 5 stars
To create a self-delusional character takes a genius. And indeed ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is a literary masterpiece by the genius playwright Oscar Wilde. Well, there happens to be a lot many books that I ventured out in my nascent stage of reading (9th and 10th grade!), and this was one of them. You are a sort of an idealist when you are young. When I first read this book, I was deeply disturbed. I found the subject matter quite disturbing and the protagonist too cruel. Never before had I read any book in which the central character was so amoral and also that he used seemingly rational argument to stem down the pangs of conscience and as a result become the epitome of exquisite cruelty.
But now as I read this book again, I was totally prepared for it. I had braced myself up against the death of Sibyl Vane and the murder of Basil Hallward. I had braced myself up against the logical reasoning that Dorian immersed into. As you read in this edition of ‘The Picture…’ published by Collins, describing the novel in a succinct prose, they say, ‘Dorian Gray is a young and handsome man who becomes obsessed with the idea of beauty when he has his portrait painted. He makes a wish that he might remain forever youthful and that the portrait of him will age over time instead.
‘Soon after the wish is made he commits his first sin and discovers that the portrait has already begun to change in response to his amorality rather than to time passing. Gray realizes that he has license to do whatever he likes and so he does. Over the next couple of decades Gray commits all manner of sins, including murder, until the portrait has become a hideous visage. Yet, Gray himself has not changed in appearance since he made his wish. Eventually Gray becomes tormented by his own behavior and attacks the painting with a knife. He is found stabbed to death, while the painting is restored to its original appearance.’
But one must blame the person who is worthy of it. And no one is worthier of it than Lord Henry Wotton. Prince Paradox that he is, he charms and delights whosoever he converses with. But his slick talk influences impressionable Dorian deeply and hence we see his metamorphosis from a simple, self unconscious boy to an unconscionable Satan. And Lord Henry does that quite willingly! Indeed in one of the passages, he says of Dorian Gray, ‘…Talking to him was like playing upon an exquisite violin. He answered to every touch and thrill of the bow…There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. No other activity was like it. To project one’s soul into some gracious form, let it tarry there for a moment; to hear one’s own intellectual views echoed back to one with all the added music of passion and youth; to convey one’s temperament into another as though it was a subtle fluid or a strange perfume; there was a real joy in that – perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us in the age so limited and vulgar as our own, an age grossly carnal in its pleasures, and grossly common in its aim…’
In some other paragraph it is mentioned that, ‘…Lord Henry, who found an exquisite pleasure in playing on the lad’s unconscious egotism…’
Lord Henry calls this an inquiry in natural science (earlier traces of anthropology!!!), and throughout the book one gets a feeling that
he is closely observing Dorian in a truly scientific manner. He even tries to defend himself, when he says, ‘The world goes to the altar on its own accord.’ But of course, the instigator doesn’t himself know how deep in shit his subject is.
Near the end, he utterly fails to judge Dorian, when Dorian tries to confess that what if it was he who murdered Basil. Lord Henry simply laughs this off, thinking that it was impossible for someone like Dorian to commit a vulgar act like that.
This book is a memoir of the degradation of the soul much similar to a drop of ink in the bowl of water. That drop of ink is the seed of ‘youth’ that Lord Henry incepts in the mind of young Dorian.
It takes a classic to truly disturb you. Once again, I found that ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ disturbed me, inspite of my being ready for it.
You indeed love the richness of the prose. Each line sounds lyrical and Oscar Wilde indeed can be called ‘the Bard of 19th century’.
P.S.: Sad to read that people of his time didn’t accept him (he was gay).