The Picture of Dorian Gray: A Rolling Review With Dark Academia Vibes

'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde on a desk, surrounded by old stationary: notebooks, postcards, and a fountain pen.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite classics of all time. Long before I knew what Dark Academia even was, I had picked it up, read it from end to end, and despite the conflicted nature of it, I was enamoured.

I was repelled by the evil and yet like Eve who too succumbed to Satan, my love for this book, this sensational masterpiece, won me over. So today, I will share my rolling review of this book, from back when I first read it.

I am adopting the rolling review method created by Eliza Lita in this review of The Song of Achilles because I think it will best encapsulate the wonder that struck my young and innocent 19-year-old mind.

Note: All quotes mentioned in the article are from The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, unless specifically mentioned.

But before we begin, here is how Goodreads describes the book as:

Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. 

The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. 

Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be — in other ages, perhaps.

10 April 2018

So I just started reading The Picture of Dorian Gray yesterday, and so far I’m loving it. The writer has introduced Basil Hallward- the guy who paints the infamous picture, later on; the man in question, that is Mr Dorian Gray himself, and their mutual friend Lord Henry Wotton.

I could realise that Lord Henry has a really magnetic personality and if we can use a term from today that would best describe him, it is that of the “influencer”. 

In the very beginning itself, we see Basil, hesitant to introduce him to Dorian because he was afraid that the young Lord would be a bad influence on his friend. And it is just as well, I think, because boy, does he have a way with words!

I have been mesmerized by the way Lord Henry speaks; there is this paradoxical quality about him that I really like, and he is just a very good orator. Most of the lines that I have underlined in the book so far are his speeches. I’ll put in a few examples here:

Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as they are, — my fame, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray’s good looks, — we will all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly.

This does bring in the element of Dark Academia, I believe — suffering as inevitable in human life. But also, note his pretentiousness!

I make a great difference between people. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their characters, and my enemies for their brains. A man can’t 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.

Oh very vain indeed, Lord Wotton!

I can sympathize with everything, except suffering. I cannot sympathize with that. It is too ugly, too horrible, too distressing. There is something terribly morbid in the modern sympathy with pain. One should sympathize with the color, the beauty, the joy of life. The less said about life’s sores the better.

And then he goes on to say this too. What a paradoxical man!

Days in summer, Basil, are apt to linger.

Henry is also a real chauvinist and you can see it right here.

To have ruined oneself over poetry is an honour.

But, let me ask you. Isn’t that the ultimate truth?

You will always like me, Dorian… I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit.

And here we come to the crux of the matter.

12 April 2018

I think Basil Hallward also has some amazing lines which I ought to share. This book is pure poetry and as Henry said, I am ruining myself over it.

I had a strange feeling that Fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows.

Oh, how tragic!

You might see nothing in him. I see everything in him.

Basil is so in love with Dorian.

I have given away my whole soul to some one who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day.

Oh, but for the tragedies of unrequited love! 

13 April 2018

Was it just me or did Dorian Gray not feel like the central character of the novel at all? Am I prejudiced towards Lord Henry Wotton? 

Dorian Gray does have a few lines, short and profound, but nothing compared to what I think Harry has.

I know, now, that when one loses one’s good looks, whatever they may be, one loses everything. Your picture has taught me that. Lord Henry is perfectly right. Youth is the only thing worth having. When I find that I am growing old, I will kill myself.

Henry’s effect is so obvious here. How vain Dorian has become, how shallow.

I am in love with it, Basil. It is part of myself, I feel that.

To love one’s portrait to that extent? Classic narcissist behaviour.

She is all the great heroines of the world in one. She is more than an individual. You laugh, but I tell you she has genius. I love her, and I must make her love me. You, who know all the secrets of life, tell me how to charm Sibyl Vane to love me! 

I want to make Romeo jealous. I want the dead lovers of the world to hear our laughter, and grow sad. I want a breath of our passion to stir their dust into consciousness, to wake their ashes into pain. My God, Harry, how I worship her!

What passion, what joy! I felt my own heart stirring, hearing these words pour out from Dorian’s lips.

You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were wonderful, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. 

You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid. My God! how mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been! You are nothing to me now. I will never see you again. I will never think of you. I will never mention your name. You don’t know what you were to me, once. 

Oh, how fickle Dorian’s love is!

14 April 2018

From what I’ve read so far, I can make out that the character of Lord Henry Wotton is quite shallow. He is a rake, very obviously. He seems to say a lot of things- wonderful things; he is a loudmouth. But it all seems like a façade to me. 

He must possibly be a lonely person trying to deny that through all his antics. He is a person in denial of the fact that his life has no meaning so far.

 Nonetheless, I love his character. He has that whimsical quality about him that I like- he makes me think.

15 April 2018

One line Sibyl Vane has said that has left me unsettled was- 

To be in love is to surpass oneself… he has preached me as a dogma; tonight he will announce me as a revelation. I feel it. And it is all his, his only, Prince Charming, my wonderful over, my god of graces.

Another poignant line of hers is:

You came, — oh, my beautiful love! — and you freed my soul from prison. You taught me what reality really is. To-night, for the first time in my life, I saw through the hollowness, the sham, the silliness, of the empty pageant in which I had always played…

You had brought me something higher, something of which all art is but a reflection. You have made me understand what love really is. My love! my love! I am sick of shadows. You are more to me than all art can ever be.

The chapter of Sibyl Vane’s death is very significant, I feel. We see Dorian finally morph into someone else- the change in his portrait is proof of that as his innate humanity has lessened, no doubt from Lord Henry Wotton’s influence. 

Then we see his realization regarding this change when he refuses to let Basil remove the screen he had placed in front of the portrait to prevent anyone else from seeing it. We see him growing suspicious of everyone around him, from his servant Victor, to even the frame-maker Mr Hubbard.

I got the word I was searching for Harry. His words are charming and clever- but they are cynical. He sends over The Yellow Book to Dorian which is similar to the poisonous influence he has over the younger man. 

The book is almost like an experiment he performs on Dorian, which turns out exceedingly to his liking. It fascinates Dorian as he sees aspects of his own life in the protagonist in this 

… novel without a plot, and with only one character, being, indeed, simply a psychological study of a certain young Parisian.

16 April 2018

I watched the 2009 version of Dorian Gray, starring Ben Barnes (Oh, how I love him!). The guy who plays Basil in the movie very eloquently said to Dorian about Harry- “You’ll never meet a more eloquent philosopher of pure folly”. And I totally agree.

Things have really turned for the worst when Dorian stoops to murder and blackmail (to hide the fact that he has murdered a man). He has finally become an image of Harry, but much more dangerous and immoral in nature. He almost does not have a heart. 

He is so dedicated to his pursuit of pleasure that he no longer knows what happiness is. The irony of it all is that he also knows what happiness and pleasure are and that there is a huge difference between them.

17 April 2018

I finished this book today. It was possibly one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is a wonderful novel, hence an obvious classic and I am so glad that I have read this masterpiece of the ages. 

Dorian as a character who repents too late towards the end, teaches us that the pursuit of pleasure is no doubt an aphrodisiac to the sense but this pursuit must be done only within the moral limits and not be obsessed over. Likewise, the fact that youth and beauty are transient and will fade away one day is a fact that we all need to accept.

Lord Henry is a cynic of the purest waters. He is charming with his words, delightful in his speeches. He is a bad influence, but I love him more for it. Basil, on the other hand, is a very good friend who ultimately dies due to the madness of the person he was trying to help.

The plot in itself was an awesome journey over the years in the Victorian Era and we see a bleak picture of London of the times, with its unbridgeable gap between the rich and the poor. It was this London of vices that unfortunately trapped the young and impressionable Dorian with Lord Henry’s help.

Oscar Wilde has created a sensational masterpiece in this philosophical novel and makes us explore the interrelationships between art, life, and the consequences of our actions. It beautifully plays with elements of sin, desire, and personal growth in a period when this was an outrage to the Victorian establishment. I rate it a solid 5/5 stars.

Nayanika Saikia graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and was also a Dean’s List student. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree and is also a Booktuber and Bookstagrammer. She can often be found on her Instagram account Pretty Little Bibliophile. You can support her by Buying Her a Coffee. To get regular updates and amazing content, sign up for her newsletter.

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