"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is the only novel ever written by Oscar Wilde and, like other classic authors who only wrote one novel in their time, Wilde produced a real gem. The Picture of Dorian Gray is taut, tense and tragic, rather like Wilde's own life. At the same time, the prose is beautiful and flowing, with an intricate and haunting plotline.
The story begins with Dorian Gray sitting for a portrait for a popular artist named Basil Hallward. Dorian is an incredibly handsome young man and Hallward regards him in the light of a Greek hero, idealizing him. At the same time, he's afraid that the friend he has introduced Dorian to, Lord Henry Wotton, will be a bad influence on the innocent youth. This fear turns out to be justified because Lord Henry often talks about being "amoral" and living a hedonistic lifestyle, without caring for society's norms and customs. Although Lord Henry himself is all talk and no action, he inspires Dorian to start living the kind of life he imagines. Thus begins the downward spiral of Dorian Gray.
However, before indulging in any immoral acts, Dorian makes a fatal wish, expressing his willingness to trade his soul in return for the youth and beauty that Hallward has captured in his portrait. From this point on, Dorian remains beautiful and youthful no matter what he does; the passage of years does not affect him. However, the portrait starts to change, subtly at first, and more drastically as time passes, with each immoral act that Dorian commits. His first misdeed is to make an innocent actress fall in love with him and then leave her, causing her to commit suicide. After this, Dorian goes wild, indulging in all kinds of debauchery, but his outward appearance is so benign that he still manages to remain a member of society.
In a tension-filled scene, Dorian finally shows Hallward how hideous and old the portrait has become. He blames Hallward for his corruption and, in a fit of rage, kills him, disposing of the body. As the story continues, Dorian escapes a murder attempt and finally attempts to change who he has become. He decides to be good to his latest conquest, Hetty Morton, but the portrait reveals to him that what he thinks of as goodness is really vanity and hypocrisy. Eventually, he attacks the portrait and, in doing so, kills himself. When his body is discovered, it is found to have aged and become hideous while the portrait has reverted to its original beautiful state.
The Picture of Dorian Gray created a great furor when it was published and many people thought it to be indecent and immoral. However, Wilde wrote a preface defending his book, saying that art should be appreciated for itself and not for any moral values it might reinforce. To us, of course, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not that scandalous but in Victorian society, the debauchery of Dorian Gray and the hints of a homoerotic nature were shocking to a straitlaced audience. In a sense, Dorian Gray is a representation of Victorian society itself - beautiful on the outside but with an underbelly of sin and hypocrisy.
Oscar Wilde was born in Ireland and studied at Trinity College in Dublin and later, Magdalen College in Oxford. He settled in London where he got married and started writing plays. His comedic plays, the most popular of which was "The Importance of Being Earnest", were quite popular but "The Picture of Dorian Gray", now accepted as a classic, was greeted with widespread criticism. The same year that he published this novel, Wilde also became involved in a homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, which led to a scandal and Wilde's imprisonment for two years. After being released from prison, Wilde left England and never wrote under his name again.
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With a dreamlike story of a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty, Oscar Wilde brings his enormous gifts for sparkling prose and astute social observation to The Picture of Dorian Gray.
After artist Basil Hallward paints his portrait, Dorian Gray frivolously wishes that the picture change but he remain the same. Remarkably, his wish is granted. Allured by his perverted friend, Henry Wotton, Gray jumps into a life of depravity and sin. With each sin Dorian commits, the painting of him grows increasingly hideous, a perfect illustration of what is happening to his soul.
Taking the listener in and out of London drawing rooms through a life of sex, lies, murder, and crime, this melodrama about moral corruption has been horrifying and enchanting readers for more than a hundred years.
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