Basil Hallward sees Dorian Gray as his true inspiration as a painter, and the story begins with him finishing a portrait of the young man. During this same afternoon, Basil introduces Dorian to his friend Henry Wotton, a true dandy who swears by a hedonistic lifestyle, wherein the only real pursuits in life should be feeding the senses. Dorian is young and incredibly pliable, and Henry convinces him that beauty is what matters in life and to cherish what he has while he has it.
Always! That is a dreadful word. It makes me shudder when I hear it. Women are so fond of using it. They spoil every romance by trying to make it last for ever. It is a meaningless word, too. The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.
Dorian, immediately influenced by Henry’s outlook on life, finds himself distraught with the idea of someday losing his looks, and upon seeing his newly painted portrait, wishes offhandedly that he could sell his soul and have the painting grow old instead of him. And that’s exactly what happens. He spends his life acting selfish and petty, and the the portrait grows older and more horrid in his place.
He doesn’t just age gracefully and keep his looks, he actually doesn’t age at all. At 40 he still looks 20. This is brought up briefly when he tricks someone by pretending to be a young man, but I feel like those around him his entire life would be less oooh, how beautiful you still are and more aaaah, get away freakish manchild, but maybe that’s just me.
That is the reason I hate vulgar realism in literature. The man who could call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one. It is the only thing he is fit for.
Dorian Gray both glorifies hedonism, something it was widely criticized for when first published, and shows us its pitfalls. The picture may give Dorian leave to do as he wishes, but the shame of the image drives him deeper and deeper into his frantic vanity. It’s also a novel about influence, and how those around us can inspire, in the case of Dorian’s initial influence on Basil, or ruin us, in the case of Henry’s influence on Dorian.
I came into this expecting to love it, and I was a little disappointed overall. I found the dialogue heavy bits of this book incredible – I loved every scene in which Henry spoke – but the description heavy bits, especially a couple of chapters mid-way through, were very dull to me. I still really enjoyed this, though, and it makes me think I’ll love his plays.
I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. I have not got one who is a fool. They are all men of some intellectual power, and consequently they all appreciate me. Is that very vain of me? I think it is rather vain.
This book was brought forward as evidence against Oscar Wilde’s character when he was charged with sodomy and sentenced to two years of hard labour. He was released impoverished and in poor health, and he wandered about Europe for a couple years before his death in 1900.