Man, I miss Oscar Wilde. There aren’t half a dozen wits as sharp as his today. I haven’t read a book this full of amazing quotes in… well, in a long time. I think I blogged five or so? Wrote down another ten more? Yep. That’s pretty awesome.
As with so many books, it seems, there’s a history with me and Dorian Gray. In fact, my old paperback copy is (rather strangely and unexpectedly) sitting right next to the family computer. I tried to read it when I was in like 9th grade. Hated it. I’d seen The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (don’t judge me: a) I love Sean Connery and b) the original comic series is actually really quite something) and was familiar with everyone BUT Dorian. Okay, his painting ages and he doesn’t – got it. But there had to be more to it, so I went and picked up the book. And I was borrrred. Oh man was I bored. Couldn’t finish it, ended up skimming the middle and reading the very end and being thoroughly underwhelmed.
Fast forward to 2010. I run across Coralie Bickford-Smith’s beautiful hardcover design (along with the rest of her Penguin designs, all of which are brilliant – the Classics, the Boys’ Adventures, the Horror, the Sherlock Holmes… all brilliant) and decide that its time for me to give it another go. I’m 21, I’ve visited and kissed Wilde’s tomb, and I have a healthy appreciation for Wilde’s wit. So I picked it up, originally intending to read it in Paris.
However, Sebastian Horsley’s memoir was a bit too overwhelming for me and so it dropped down my list a little ways. Not too far though – and then, incidentally, it ended up at the top of the heap just as my friend Shannon was zipping through it and well it was finally time.
This go-round was much better than the first. As I said, I found so many quotes in this book – I just absolutely loved Wilde’s outlook, his wit, his philosophical musings. Lord Henry is an idiot but he says some fascinating things, Basil is tragic and full of R/romantic sentiment, and Dorian is the perfect main character – developing in an almost too-obvious way as he goes from being the innocent youth to the jaded and inwardly twisted man.
The beauty of the book is not in the plot, though it is a good one. Its not a spoiler to say that the painting ages while Dorian retains his looks – it is the image of his inner twisted soul. I was fascinated, though, at how Dorian never comes to terms with the painting. He is not redeemed by the end of the novel but you can’t really condemn him, either. He is entirely human in his struggle – he has just become something more-than-human (or, I suppose, not-quite-human) in the way it played out. The Gothic nature of the novel could’ve been a bit stronger – but then, that’s the modern influence coming in. I learned very quickly in “Poe & the Gothic” that when Gothic was created, it was far less-so than it is today.
The only problem I had with the book is that Wilde’s propensity for description and chatter gets the better of him at times. Chapter 11, for example, with the incessant descriptions of what Dorian is reading or seeing or buying or collecting… It was trying. Engaging and delightfully written, but I couldn’t help but want to say ‘THE PLOT, Oscar.. the plot…’ but eventually we got back to it and things were again delightful. I could even forgive the digressions because you can tell Wilde just adores writing them.
Rating: 4 out of 5. Wilde’s writing is the real joy of this book – the language is the best. His creation, Dorian, is a memorable anti-hero – but his legend may in fact be more thanks to his life beyond the book as an example/metaphor/character in other fiction. Do yourself a favor and read this if just for the amazing quotes. It’s a good Gothic novel, too – not a great one, but still quite a good one. Let yourself sit back and enjoy – that’s my advice.