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3rd January
2009
written by Tony
1890

1890

Recently, as I was perusing our steadily growing book collection looking for something new to read, I ran into Steph's collection of Oscar Wilde's writing. It is a massive tome, and being someone with a sick penchant for reading thick books, I decided it was time to tackle some Wilde. Reading the book from start to finish (I told Steph it has over 900 pages and she said something along the lines of "you're stupid, why are you reading all of that at once?") the first story I came to was The Picture of Dorian Gray. I'll tell you honestly, it may be a while before you see another book review out of me, as I don't plan on filling our blog with all and sundry Oscar Wilde reviews. Seeing as this is one of his more famous works I decided it would be good fodder for a review. The plot is fairly straightforward at first, and revolves primarily around three friends in London in the late 1800s. One is a painter, one is a hedonistic lord of some stature and the third (Dorian Gray) is a well-positioned layabout. The painter, Basil, paints a masterwork of Dorian, which is finished while Dorian is engaged in a life changing conversation with Lord Henry (the hedonist who is obsessed with beauty and living for the day). Badda bing, badda boom, Dorian makes an impulsive wish and everything slowly goes to hell, in a fascinating and slightly phantasmagoric way. The premise of the novel is obviously outside the realm of reality (once you get to the meat of it) but is a very interesting commentary on the superficial nature of the English society of the 1890s. The hedonism, the Faustian choice (eternal beauty for the wisher, but at a terrible price) and the latent homosexuality all combine to create a dark and disturbing novel that smacks of Wilde, though it lacks his usual humor (as I have found in later stories). The novel is engrossing and at once compelling in its arguments (both for and against the hedonism that Lord Henry promotes) and its rhetoric. It's easy to see why Wilde was condemned as a closet case and a hedonist based on this writing. No matter, though, since the message and the language are wonderful. Wilde's writing is lyrical and engaging and his characters are at once three-dimensional and interesting, though essentially despicable. It's interesting to note that the main compelling force in the novel (Lord Henry) is rarely taken too seriously by anyone in the novel other than Dorian, and yet Lord Henry seems to espouse the sentiments that were most closely associated with Wilde at the time. Considering that both Lord Henry and Dorian are essentially horrid people, it makes me wonder why there was so much flap over their dogma since it clearly didn't do anyone in the book any good. Even though I genuinely disliked the main characters (as I am sure Wilde intended) I did enjoy the book. It's a solid piece of writing and generally a good exemplar of Wilde's quirky (and overtly feminine) style. It does lack his particular sense of humor and tends to be quite a bit darker than his other work, but that is certainly not a deterrent. For anyone interested in a Victorian era novel dealing with the notion of beauty and the deception necessary to maintain a facade of perfection, all written in elegant prose, I recommend this novel highly. 4 out of 5

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