The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde

The reaction to this book takes opposing Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author to a new level. This piece of fiction was taken to be autobiographical to the extent that it was used as evidence in Oscar Wilde’s trial. That seems extraordinary to me but so does homosexuality being illegal. It can be said that this book was written in a very different time to our current day. It is very well crafted and can be analysed to the end of the Earth. But what does it mean to a reader today?

As a quick summary, we follow Dorian Gray who is highly admired by a painter who introduces him to the opinionated character of Sir Henry. After seeing the finished portrait of himself, Dorian becomes obsessed with preserving his beauty and youth, making a pact with the painting that his looks will be maintained and the painting with ruin with the hardships of life.

While this book can be read very well through queer theory (the introduction of my copy pointed out the parts that suggested homosexuality), it doesn’t have much going for it in terms of a feminist interpretation. Female characters were included with a secondary standpoint but I wouldn’t say they were strong characters that I admired. Sir Henry, a friend of Dorian’s, has very cynical and harsh viewpoints so I can’t say he looks on women favourably. In fact, there were times that I got annoyed at Dorian’s and Sir Henry’s opinions. However, it seems that the characters are intentionally unlikable. Together the characters talk a lot about the philosophy of life including the themes of youth, beauty and art.

Oscar Wilde is amazing at description and overall I enjoyed the story. Chapter 11 had me completely confused but I quickly got back on track. You have to really concentrate on when reading this book but I found that with most classics. Modern books reflect more of how we use language today which is easier to read. I appreciated what this book did and the craft that went into it.

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