“A new Hedonism – that is what our century wants.”
Author: Oscar Wilde
Publication Date: 1890
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the story of the title character who somewhat unwittingly sells his soul to become ageless and beautiful forever, a portrait of him painted by a friend will instead show was time and age does to him.
SO many of the themes in this book are so relevant even 120 years later.
“…we live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.”
The core theme of this book is vanity. Not only the idea of being in love with one’s own physical beauty to the point that it becomes a fatal flaw but also the concept of desiring to live only in “picturesque” manner. I thought that this translated really well to the way that people today present themselves in such a way to the public that everything looks like sunshine and rainbows or worthy of being run in a television series when in reality hardly anybody has a truly “picturesque” life. It’s fake, it’s fraudulent and it only serves to let people ignore real problems.
This was portrayed in multiple ways. From the mother of an actress who laments that her son did not also go into the theater because then they would be such a picturesque little family! More than anything though, I think that the character Lord Henry was supposed to embody this idea.
Lord Henry meets Dorian Gray through their mutual friend Basil, a painter that has become quite enamored of Dorian and they frequently meet so that he can paint Dorian. Almost every time that Lord Henry speaks, he says something
stupid that goes against rationale.
“Those who are faithful know only the trivial side of love: it is the faithless who know love’s tragedies.”
“To me Beauty is the wonder of wonders. it is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”
Frankly, I wanted to reach in the book and sucker punch him every time he spoke. Even Basil brought up several times that there was no way that Henry meant or believed everything that he said. He said it all for the benefit of the listeners, so they would think him witty and wise and love him for being contrary. He spewed crap from his mouth and the people around him ate it up because it sounded cool.
I felt like Lord Henry was more the point or the cautionary tale than Dorian Gray was at times. Dorian Gray sold his soul for eternal youth and became so self-obsessed that he proceeded to live a life of debauchery that wrecked lives left and right everywhere that he went.
But Lord Henry is a reflection of a society that renounces actual intelligence over sounding and looking like you know what you are doing. And when you are more concerned with appearances than with actual substance, it is far too easy to fall into a cycle of shirking responsibility and blaming everyone, anyone else for your troubles rather than looking inward to find solutions.
I will warn that there is some misogyny but take a look at which character it comes from.
Again, it is our winner Lord Henry. The man meant to embody everything that Oscar Wilde found lacking in society.
If you don’t typically read classics but would like to try some out, The Picture of Dorian Gray is incredibly thought-provoking and the language is no barrier. The prose is very accessible making it easy to read even if classics are not usually your thing (except Chapter 11…I admit to just skimming that one).
Buddy read with Melanie!