Sunday, 28 July 2013

Book Review: 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde

by Viva Avasthi                                                                                  
                                                                  Rating out of 5: ★★★★★

You might be someone who is interested in what others have been reading and what they have learnt from or enjoyed about particular books; in which case you'll be interested in this summer's series of book reviews on this website. This month I've read two novels and a text better referred to as a fictitious extended essay than anything else.

The Picture of Dorian Gray
To keep my account in chronological order, I'll start by mentioning some of my opinions on the first of my reads: 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). The novel follows the descent of an outstandingly handsome but initially naive man who makes a Faustian bargain, trading his soul for eternal youth. He emerges as a corrupt individual prioritizing beauty over everything else and ruining countless lives including his own.

If you haven't already read this classic, I would highly recommend that you do so - if not for the marvellous prose, then at least for the brilliant storyline. There have been at least six film or television adaptations of this book, and although I have only seen the 1945 film version, I find it difficult to believe that any production could do justice to the book. Filled with vivid descriptions and numerous witticisms on almost every page, this book was such a wonderful read that once I'd finished, I was very tempted to start reading it all over again.

I risk writing an extremely long essay if I start going into the details of my opinions on how Wilde develops the novel, so I will keep my comments fairly brief. I am very aware that there are multiple reviews of this book already in existence and I do not wish to simply restate what others have already mentioned. What I felt was particularly interesting, however, was that this book was the only novel that Oscar Wilde ever wrote because of how scandalous it was perceived as being when it was first published in 1890. When I read the book, I could not find anything very scandalous in it at all, and I found Wilde's writing style to be fairly subtle in the points that it raised (aside from in the preface, in which Wilde was very blunt about his opinions on the nature and value of art).

However, the edition I read (and which you probably have read or will read) was the revised version which was released in 1891 after Wilde was forced to make some changes to respond to the views that his book was immoral. Being well aware that tolerance levels were terribly low in nineteenth century Britain, I would like to read the original from 1890 to see which changes Wilde made and to what degree they affected the brilliance of his novel's messages. An uncensored version of the book was published by Harvard University Press in 2011 entitled 'The Picture of Dorian Gray: An Annotated, Uncensored Edition'. More details are available here.

This Gothic, somewhat serious novel exploring the moral influence of art on our actions is available in the public domain, which means that you can read it for free on your preferred electronic device (for me this was my Kindle). I highly recommend you put this first on your reading list!

If you've already read this book or are thinking of reading it, please do share your thoughts by commenting. 


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