Musing: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Confession: I didn’t know much about The Picture of Dorian Gray until just recently. I know it’s a classic. And one most people can recite the premise of at the drop of a nickel. Some classics just haven’t hit my To Be Read Pile yet.

P.S. There are lots of spoilers ahead… So stop reading now if you plan to read this book and wish to be surprised. 

I decided to read this novel based on my adoration of Penny Dreadful (I’ll explain in another post soon, but I LOVED this show – except the last episode). It’s one of only a handful of shows I will absolutely watch again. The others being Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Daria, and the Ghost Whisperer. What? I’m into campy: Embrace your weird.

I picked this book up at Wicked Good Books here in Salem, and hoped to gain a better understanding of Dorian. I wanted to know:

  1. How the paintings came to exist in his mansion.
  2. More about his trans friend, Angelique (was she part of Wilde’s novel?? How scandalous for the time!).

Upon beginning the novel, I immediately realized it lacked the supernatural element of Penny Dreadful. I admit, Dorian was a bored rich dude whose friend painted a portrait of him that was so well done he decided to SELL HIS SOUL TO THE DEVIL to remain beautiful forever. It isn’t until a third of the way through the book that this becomes obvious, though. We hear about Dorian and his escapades, prompted by his hedonist friend, Henry.  Some of Dorian’s travels are explained in detail (AKA: A trip to an opium den) while others are left to interpretation. While reading this, I was frustrated – COME ON, Oscar! Tell me something Dorian is doing! Why won’t his friends talk to him anymore? Why do people leave the club when he shows up? How can I judge him for wanting to look like a painting forever if I don’t know the deeds he’s aspiring to since it became possible? Why does Henry remain his friend if it doesn’t further his own efforts?

As for my questions?

The first is easy: Dorian’s artist friend found him so beautiful he had to paint him. Easy peasy, right? BUT WAIT! There’s more!

Regarding question 2, Angelique is never mentioned in the book. BUT there is a curious part of the novel in which the painter, Basil, admits to Dorian that he is in love with him and is worried his fondness for Dorian has caused trouble. Dorian, of course, being the person he is who is going around doing goodness knows what, seizes this opportunity to kill his friend. Dorian feels so powerful (having given up his soul and all) that his frustration with his friend asking questions about why their friends don’t want to chill anymore empowers him to murder his friend. PAUSEWAITWHATHOLDUP. That’s right. No Angelique, but Dorian stabs his friend soon after a love confession. Woah.

I love the liberty Penny Dreadful took with Dorian’s character. I love that they saw this opportunity to introduce a new character to the story who could further Dorian’s tales, but at the same time demonstrate that he did, in fact, have love in his heart. Widle’s character is so wildly (like my pun 😉 ) unlikeable, that I didn’t feel any sadness for him when he finally decided he’d had enough and killed his portrait, ummm … I mean himself. I literally rolled my eyes and thanked the gods that he finally realized the time had come to stop being so ridiculous and selfish.

Truth be told, I enjoyed this novel even though it wasn’t what I’d anticipated. I appreciated the Victorian history, and the perspective of men of the time who felt it was their duty to have money and leisure. I do wish I’d better understood it’s premise, though, and hadn’t expected a Frankenstein-style revelation, but that’s on me.

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