“Lord Henry laughed. ‘The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror. We think that we are generous because we credit our neighbour with the possession of those virtues that are likely to be a benefit to us. We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account, and find good qualities in the highwayman in the hope that he may spare our pockets”
I picked up this book after watching the first couple of episodes of ‘Penny Dreadful’ in which Dorian Gray appears as an elegant bachelor type character. I had a quick read online to find out what to expect and decided to give it a go.
The story begins with Dorian Gray who at this stage comes across as being very naive and innocent as he is being painted by Basil Hallward, a renowned painted who appears to come across as a guardian of Dorian in the early parts of the book. Dorian has no parents in the story, they died, so he asks questions like any young adult does, but instead of getting “’Cause it’s broken” as an answer to why things don’t work out like I did, Dorian gets some mad poetic answers that seem to distract from the initial query. Basil is obsessed with Dorian and over protects him without coming out and simply saying “Dorian I want to go balls deep in you”
However, Basil has a friend called Lord Henry who acts as the ‘devil on the shoulder’ in contrast to Basil’s guardian character. I like Lord Henry, he seems rather realistic and seems to be aware and just accept that things are crazy so lives his life on credit while he can. Dorian begins to turn to the dark side of Lord Henry.
Dorian falls in love with Shakespearian actress Sibyl Vane. The union lasts a chapter or two to the protests of Basil Hallward (he’s just being jealous) and the support of Lord Henry (who sees it as a social experiment) who both join him to watch Sibyl play Juliet in Romeo & Juliet. Unlike all the other nights Dorian has watched her perform, she is terrible and Dorian feels ashamed and embarrassed, telling her that she isn’t worthy to be with him. Dorian rethinks his actions but is too late when he is informed that Sibyl has killed herself.
Dorian sort of just goes off the rails after this, he discovers a wish he made earlier has come true and his physical form will not age while the portrait Basil painted of him represents his soul and will decay to mirror his sins.
The story seems to me to contain an undertone of rejection and alienation. Dorian Gray is left with no parents but comes under the guide of Hallward and Henry who try to mould him how they seem best suites their interests which inevitably pushes Dorian to think ‘You know what, fuck you both’ .
The story is a sort of tragedy too, Sibyl dies shattering Dorian’s belief of love and his sinning ways pushes anyone who becomes intimate with him into a downhill spiral whilst Dorian remains unscathed due to his appearance that he never ages or shows signs of the sins he has committed.
There was a part of the book that broke the flow of things for me, it was chapter eleven, it listed all the interests Dorian became involved with over the years as he lives the life of an incredibly wealthy sinner. I understand why it’s done, it shows abundance of the luxuries that are being described and the time lapsed, but I can’t help but not like it. It reminds me of the Christian Bible, just goes on and on ‘Sandy did this to Tom, who was the son of Mary, who made a house for a frog, who was eaten by a tree, who was planted by a stalk, that was made by a tornado, that was sent by Hercules, that was in a Disney film, that was played by the Rock...’ Oh shut up with your listing things, I get it shit goes on for ages, just say that instead of a 4 page list of made up words. It has a point in this book and isn’t written like my example but it’s still that sort of format.
In saying that, I really like Oscar Wilde’s style of writing, it’s still got that stylish rhythm to it that I enjoy and tend to find absent in a lot of contemporary stories. I like adjectives and verbs being placed everywhere, they can make the paragraphs feel poetic.
Oscar Wilde received some negative criticism from ‘ye olde England’ critics due to the novels homoerotic overtones, but as the novel came out in 1890 in Victorian England, you had little chance of not pissing someone off.
“I know how the people chatter in England. The middle classes air their moral prejudices over their gross dinner-tables, and whisper about what they call the profligacies of their betters in order to try and pretend that they are in smart society and on intimate terms with the people they slander. . . And what sort of lives do these people, who pose as being morale lead themselves? My dear fellow, you forget that we are in the native land of the hypocrite.”
- Lord Henry
I can’t relate to the splendid lifestyle in which Dorian and the characters in the book live, my sins are not vanity and gluttony, but the story works on another level as it seems to connect with other types of alienation and misguidance. Breaking it all down, Dorian has an unlimited wealth with no parents telling him what not to do. Instead he has two older role models who seem to have very selfish goals, they live fake lives which appeals to Dorian at first. Dorian soon sees that it is all a lie and reality isn’t a happy tale and can be lonely and tragic, so he hides it all away with material items and debauchery. (Which I feel is perfectly fair enough, trust me if I had a million pound I would be off the rails!) So when the snobby Victorians turn on Dorian and condemn his lifestyle I thought “Nah, Fuck them Victorians. Dorian Gray is class”