Who doesn’t love a suspenseful gothic fiction, peppered with decadence, fantastical happenings and psychological ponderings? And who better to write it than the exceptional Oscar Wilde. This story of a beautiful but vain man’s demise is a book that could convert a staunch reader of contemporary literature into a true lover of the classics.
Set at the end of the 19th century, the novel introduces us to Dorian Gray, a man admired by all for his breathtaking beauty, but also for his good nature. All is well until artist Basil Hallward paints a beautiful portrait of the young man, the most skilled masterpiece of his collection. It is then that Dorian becomes obsessed by the power of his own beauty, tempted by a selfishly lavish lifestyle and eventually evil. Yet, while his body doesn’t succumb to the stresses of age and corruption, his portrait begins to show the wrinkles, grey hair, and sinister grin of Dorian’s secret life…
This is simply an exquisite book. You find yourself drawn into the characters’ obsession with Dorian, implicated in his own greed and selfishness, and distressed by the horror of his ageing portrait. It is a study of the soul and the power of vanity to alter people’s lives for the worse. It is also a classic example of ‘be careful what you wish for’, the young man exclaiming ‘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!’.
Dorian therefore lives a life with no consequences. Whatever he does, the portrait bears the brunt of it, and so he shrouds himself in luxuries, cruelly breaks hearts and commits crimes. He is an exaggeration of what it meant to be a young aristocrat in Victorian England: beautiful, carefree and luxurious - though with hidden vices. He is a complex character, too, neither good nor bad at heart, and his character development is completely believable. We find ourselves invested in this troubled, three-dimensional character, constantly wondering if he is going to redeem himself.
The character development, fantastical elements and psychological strength of this novel are not the only groundbreaking aspects of this work. Many have noted the numerous references to homosexuality portrayed in a matter-of-fact way throughout the book. Oscar Wilde himself was arrested for his homosexuality not long after the novel was published, which attests to the risk of using explicit references to his male characters’ relationships with each other in the book.
This novel is just layer after layer of intrigue. If nothing else, read it for Oscar Wilde’s gorgeous, flowery, flowing prose. It almost rolls off the pages, it’s that smooth. It is a book you’ll be talking about for years and a true warning if you've ever considered selling your soul for eternal youth!
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