Published by Random House: Modern Library on June 1st 1998
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“When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy.”
I have heard this book referred to as a Gothic horror tale but I like to think of it as a Gothic tale of horror. This is in essence a cautionary tale of what happens when vanity gets the best of you. What would you do if you could stay young forever? Or at least appear young forever? How will those around you act if you fail to age as they age? If you could get away with it (not aging), how would this change you?
Dorian Gray is described as being “physically beautiful”. He is introduced to Basil Hallward, the painter, who paints Dorian’s portrait. He appears to be quite taken with the young man and spends hours painting a full length portrait of Dorian. He is not very happy when his friend Lord Henry, wants to meet Dorian. He considers his portrait of Dorian to be his masterpiece.
“Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world. No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him.”
In walks Basil Hallward’s pretentious friend, Lord Henry, who proudly proclaims that he is only friends with good looking people. He is the first to tell Dorian that looks are fleeting and he only has a few years to enjoy what God has given him.”the gods have been good to you. But what the gods give they quickly take away. ” He urges Dorian to enjoy his youth, to not ponder it away. Lord Henry talks about the “hedonistic” world and encourage Dorian to live and seek out pleasure. He basically tells him that his life will not be worth living once he loses his looks.
“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!”
Dorian being young and impressionable takes Lord Henry’s words to heart. He sets out to live a life full of pleasure. Dorian does things he would not normally do and in so doing, he meets the young actress Sibyl Vane. I wonder if her last name is a play on words as Dorian is becoming quite vain at this point. Dorian believes he is in love with her and invites his friends to watch her sing, but being nervous she does not sing well and Dorian is cruel to her and shuns. After this incident, he notices that his portrait is starting to change. Feeling guilty about how he has treated her, Dorian attempts to make amends but finds he is to late.
This is where Dorian really begins to spiral and indulges in many “vices.” Again, he gets ideas of these “vices” from a book Lord Henry has given him. Time goes by and his portrait continues to change. Many are noticing now that Dorian still appears young. What is going on with him? How does he maintain his youth? To what lengths will Dorian go to keep his youth? What happens when you have no consequences for your behavior? Does the way you live your life finally catch up with you? Did Lord Henry really push Dorian over the edge or was Dorian always on this path? Dorian destroys lives all the while wasting his. Is there a lesson here? Is the Author trying tell us something or is he holding up a mirror for us? So much emphasis is placed on beauty, what about what is underneath, if you never grow as a person, do your ever really live? What kind of life does he have?
This is my second reading of this book, and I found that I enjoyed it much more the second time around. The writing is a little hard to get used to at first – or I should say it was for me. But I enjoyed this tale and all the underlying tones. This book was quite scandalous when it came out. The picture of Dorian Gray was published in the July 1890 issue of Lippincott’s Monthly magazine. The editor edited out 500 words. There was also the 1891 book version and in 2011 Harvard University Press printed Wilde’s work in its entirety – no editing.
In discussing this book, Oscar Wilde once said “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry is what the world thinks of me: Dorian is what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps”