Classics · Ida's English Reading Corner

Review | ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde (1891)

’Each of us has Heaven and Hell in him, Basil’, cried Dorian, with a wild gesture of despair. Hallward turned again to the portrait, and gazed at it. (…) It was from within, apparently, that the foulness and horror had come. Through some strange quickening of inner life the leprosies of sin were slowly eating the thing away.

– The Picture of Dorian Gray, p. 150

A few years ago, I first read The Picture of Dorian Gray and was shaken by its plot and message. These past two months I decided to write my term paper in university about this dark novel, so I reread it. And what can I say? There are passages I read over and over again, some notes are wildly scribbled between lines, marking my late-night thoughts about the story and its characters. Now my copy of the book is visibly read-through, with notepads on nearly every page, and I deeply love it. With every secondary literature I read concerning the Victorians, Oscar Wilde and his novel about a narcissist young man, I fell more deeply in love with this book.

I was fascinated by how the decay of Dorian’s mind and soul is clearly linked to his own portrait and how the corruption of his soul is mirrored in his increasingly terrifying behaviour. As a reader, one silently wishes for Dorian Gray to find a way out of this corruption – and is devastated when he keeps nurturing the evil part of himself. Dorian’s friend Basil Hallward, the painter of the portrait,  also keeps clinging to Dorian’s outward appearance as a sign of his purity – I have to admit, I got shivers all over when Basil cries out: “My God! don’t tell me that you are bad, and corrupt, and shameful.”, realizing for the first time that all the rumours about Dorian might be true.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loved Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and to those who would like to read about a young man’s split soul because he craves an undying, timeless beauty, making him into a monster created by Victorian society.

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