Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wow. It's been a long time since I read The Picture of Dorian Gray. There were so many nuances that I just didn't pick up on 25ish years ago. When I read it then, what struck me was the horror of what Dorian's sinful actions had done to his portrait. Not the morality of what he did; not how his actions affected others. Just the plain facts of the portrait taking on the terrible traits. This time around, there is the influence of Lord Henry to contemplate. The juxtaposition of Lord Henry's influence to the voice of Basil Hallward as Dorian's conscience. There are the homosexual overtones that totally went over my teenage head. This is a much deeper novel than I realized.

Taking part in the Dueling Monsters Read-a-Long, there are several questions that Jill at Fizzy Thoughts would like us to contemplate. I'm not going to try to tackle all of them. But here are a few of my thoughts. It seems to me that Lord Henry Wotton and Basil Hallward represent the voices of temptation and conscience (the good angel and the bad angel which sit on our shoulders, if you will). Lord Henry is the one who opens Dorian's eyes to life and experience. He is the one who gives Dorian the novel whose main character spends his life trying to "realise in the nineteenth century all the passions and modes of thought that had belonged to every century except his own." He is the one whose epigrams and trite sayings Dorian takes to heart and makes rules to live by. It is said by several characters throughout the book that Lord Henry does not mean all that he says. Perhaps not...but Dorian takes his words as gospel. There are several moments in the novel where Basil serves as the voice of conscience...trying to get Dorian to realize the influence that he has allowed Lord Henry to have on him and to change his ways. The most emphatic, of course, is in their final meeting when Basil implores Dorian to repent of his ways and pray with him that he will be forgiven.

*****Spoiler

When Dorian kills Basil, he is not killing the man--a man that has been his friend for years. He is attempting to silence the "still small voice" that tells him that he has done wrong. Done wrong not only in allowing Lord Henry's epigrams and sayings to lead him into a life where it is possible to hurt those who love you, commit murder and blackmail, but a life where he has also led others into horrible situations and the doing of terrible deeds as well.

The sad thing about this novel is that at each point where it seems that Dorian may realize what he has done and what he has become and he might change his ways, he decides against it. At the end of the novel, he attempts to destroy the painting. Not in disgust at the terrible deeds reflected in the portrait of himself, not in an effort to somehow make amends and wipe out the sins of the past--but because he is sick of being reminded of his terrible crimes. He still feels no remorse for them.

I certainly think that this novel stands the test of time. It is very relevant to a culture that bases so much on appearance. And especially on the appearance of youth. Dorian Gray is willing to give anything to remain young, even his soul. As he says, "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!" And it would seem he has. If Dorian has not made a pact with the devil, then he has certainly called up some force, some power which grants his wish and allows him to appear as an unblemished youth until he attempts to destroy the picture. The story says much about those who are willing to risk all for appearance and the pleasures of this world that make much of appearance without taking account of substance. (Five stars out of five.)

9 comments:

booksploring said...

Wow! What a fantastic review...love your reading of this book! You've made me really want to read it again...

Bev Hankins said...

Thanks, booksploring! It's definitely worth another reading!

BookQuoter said...

I totally agree. This book is so timeless, and the lessons dealt with are so symbolic in so many levels.

mummazappa said...

I must read this soon. I can't believe I haven't already.

Red said...

I absolutely need to read this again. It's been so long and I'm sure I missed a lot on that first reading.

A friend had read Lord Henry as the devil who actually bought Dorian's soul. I didn't agree with this the first time around but I'm going to keep it in mind for this read the next time.

Bev Hankins said...

@Red: I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that Lord Henry is the devil...although he does attempt to buy/own the painting which holds Dorian's soul. Bu at the least he's a tool used to take Dorian down the horrible path to destruction.

May said...

Hey sweetie, just stopping by, checking in on you :)

Red said...

I'm excited to read this and see how much of a tool Lord Henry is and if he is a tool, is there someone controlling him? Or do you think it's essentially accidental, his sway over Gray? As you point out several characters say that Lord Henry doesn't mean what he says

Anonymous said...

I was sure Dorian was going to repent each time he was given the opportunity. Boy, was I wrong!