I can't tell you why, of all the books on my ever-growing list of books I want to read, I randomly chose to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. It was complete impulse. I'm really glad I read it, though, and as it turns out, it was pretty freaking creepy, so it worked nicely as a kick-start into the Halloween season.
Oscar Wilde's (most famous novel, apparently, according to the cover art that I chose) The Picture of Dorian Gray is about exactly what it says it's about -- a picture. Of a guy. Named Dorian Gray. Dorian's friend Basil is a painter, and Basil thinks Dorian is just about the most beautiful thing he's ever seen, so he has him sit for a painting. During one of the painting sessions, Basil's friend Harry is visiting. Harry has a terribly cynical, blunt worldview that he likes to spout off to whomever will listen, and in the course of a couple hours, he has Dorian's head spinning with all these weird philosophies. Harry also can't seem to get over how pretty Dorian is and feeds his ego until Dorian realizes, "Hey, I really am pretty stunning, aren't I?" When the painting is complete, Basil gives it to Dorian as a gift, so that Dorian can remember his youth and beauty as it is captured in the painting. Dorian wishes that he could give up his own soul so that the painting could grow old and ugly instead of his physical self. Well... They always say to be careful what you wish for, right?
I won't spoil it, but suffice it to say that Dorian's life gets pretty bad pretty quickly, and things go downhill from there. The first thing that struck me about this novel was the fact that all of the male characters are totally in to each other. They are literally obsessed with each other, constantly going on and on about how they wish they could be like the other, and he's so pretty, and you're so smart, and blah, blah, blah. Geez. Get a room. When they do talk about women, it is remarkable how chauvinist they are. I wish I had highlighted some of the passages that stuck out, but wow -- these guys hate some women. It was pretty entertaining, to say the least. The Picture of Dorian Gray was originally printed in 1890, so it's not like I expected much better, but I can safely say I have never read something so misogynist. Some bigger issues come up, too, like accountability and morality and all of that, but I try not to get too College-Lit-Class critical when I read, because it kind of takes the fun out of it.
Anyway, this is a great piece of work, and it's well worth your time if you decide to read it. It's not too long, and there are only a few spots where it lags. (Ironically, the only part I found completely boring was an entire chapter that describes a book that Dorian reads and becomes obsessively fascinated by... It sounds like the worst book ever, and I hope it doesn't actually exist.) Even if you disregard all of the thought-provoking philosophy stuff of The Picture of Dorian Gray, there's still an interesting story there. Oscar Wilde definitely did his job there.
I will leave you with a quote found toward the end of the novel (when Harry is speaking to Dorian) that really struck a chord with me, possibly because, for those of you who don't know, it is Banned Books Week -- a week dedicated to raising awareness about the fact that many great pieces of literature are banned in schools and libraries because, essentially, they make people think or feel a way that some Higher-Up somewhere doesn't find appropriate. One of your favorite books is probably on the ban list in many areas. I know plenty of mine are. So, when I read this sentence, I had to file it away with my favorite quotes:
"The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame."
Very true, Mr. Wilde.
Read from September 19, 2011 to September 28, 2011