I picked up The Picture of Dorian Gray because the idea of the story intrigued me. It’s certainly an original concept, a portrait taking on a person’s ageing process as well as coming to represent their growing corruption. I also picked it up expecting some darkness. It is, after all, a Gothic novel.
‘As the chime struck one, Campbell turned round, and, looking at Dorian Gray, saw that his eyes were filled with tears. There was something in the purity and refinement of that sad face that seemed to enrage him. “You are infamous, absolutely infamous!” he muttered.’ Chapter XIV
I didn’t end up liking the book very much, and that goes beyond the issue that Gothic is not really my cup of tea. The Picture of Dorian Gray is laden with contrasts between the beautiful and the ugly. Unfortunately, the beautiful ends up being either corrupted, or little more than a façade. But ugliness is always there, sometimes veiled, sometimes explicit, and no-one seems to be able to do anything about it.
‘Suddenly from a lumpy tussock of old grass, some twenty yards in front of them, with black-tipped ears erect, and long hinder limbs throwing it forward, started a hare. It bolted for a thicket of alders. Sir Geoffrey put his gun to his shoulder, but there was something in the animal’s grace of movement that strangely charmed Dorian Gray, and he cried out at once: “Don’t shoot it, Geoffrey. Let it live.”’ xviii
There is a sense of futility and loss throughout the book. Basil Hallward finds his ideal in Dorian, and considers the portrait he made of Dorian to be the peak of his art. He later sees both brought low, a reversal and mockery. Dorian, after giving up his soul for beauty, begins to crave some sort of redemption. He loses it all in the end. Even Lord Henry, who speaks as if he has great perception, hasn’t the foggiest what is going on with his friend Dorian.
‘ “You have never looked more charming than you do tonight. You remind me of the day I saw you first. You were rather cheeky, very shy, and absolutely extraordinary.”’ xix
There’s no denying Wilde’s talent as a writer. He was skilled in his contrasts and descriptions, as well as his suspense. It’s also clear that he had strong observation. All this makes to a well written story, an interesting story, but not so much an enjoyable story.