The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I read this book on a recommendation. Allow me to add to that endorsement: I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The premise of the book is simple: our lives, our character and actions, are imprinted on our visage as we age. This book considers what might happen to a person if this were not true.

The story is told of Dorian Gray, a beautiful, innocent youth who is the favorite sitter for a burgeoning painter. After his picture is complete Dorian bemoans the beautiful face in the painting knowing that his own beauty will fade while the likeness in the picture will stay young and perfect forever. In a twist the painted portrait begins to show the wear of life while Dorian remains unchanged. Of course, I have revealed nothing of the plot as this is merely the setup.

This story reflects on the shallowness of human nature. First on the propensity of a man to indulge himself in every form of evil when consequences are removed, and second on the fact that society is so quick to accept and believe anyone with a pure face. The slow descent of Dorian from purity to terrible evil is well told and thought provoking. Throughout the book he is guided by his mentor who enjoys turning morality, religion, and societal norms on their heads. He sounds very much like people today who see freedom as the only virtue worth guarding. In this way the book was surprisingly current.

This book considered the nature of the soul and its relation to the body. It is not merely our deeds but our character that is revealed in our face, according to Mr. Wilde. The blackness (or innocence) of our heart is projected through our eyes and the contours of our face. We cannot hide who we are from the sensitive observer. Ultimately everyone will be exposed for who they are, no matter how hard they try to hide it.

I heard that they were turning (have turned) this book into a movie. I will be impressed if they can paint a portrait with the same subtleties and effect. I'm not hopeful, but every now and then movies can surprise and delight. Either way, don't let the fact that this book has been given Hollywood attention dissuade you from giving it a read.

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