I was first introduced to Oscar Wilde by happenstance, browsing my academic library. I stumbled upon the Importance of Being Earnest. I distinctly remember sitting in the secluded second floor niche trying to stifle my laughter. I was shushed anyways for those giggles and snorts that escaped me. After finishing the play, I eagerly returned to the literature section and pulled another book off the shelf.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is unlike The Importance of Being Earnest in every way. Dorian is far darker. It is a chilling metaphor of the internally corrupt and debauched nature of Man. It takes place in Wilde’s contemporary London. Wealthy Dorian Gray preternatural handsome visage opens doors to society and expands his ego. In an act of vanity he has portrait painted and wishes he would always remain so beautiful. His wish is granted. So he launches into new heights of depravity in his fascination of sin. Dorian begins to realize the normal repercussions of such a lifestyle are altering the portrait with gruesome results, but his being is untouched by disease, age, and the ravages of hedonism. The portrait comes to haunt him and as his reckless debauchery catches up to him.
Over 120 years, the story is still disturbing. Never one for slash literature and overt gore, I find the psychological leanings of the novel unnerving. Unsurprisingly, the Victorians were horrified when the piece first ran as a serial. Prior to turning the work into a novel, he deleted the most offensive scenes and added over five chapters. The Picture of Dorian Gray was not meant to be a moralistic piece per se, as Oscar Wilde tended to live the sinful lifestyle he described. However, as any writer can attest, the story and characters take on a life of their own, where the writer is just but a scribe. The Picture of Dorian Gray took a monstrous turn Wilde had not anticipated. He never wrote another novel again.
If you have not read this short novel, I encourage you to do so. The prose is wonderfully witty and the adjectives and descriptions are pure decadence. Of course, the fact remains a frightening story. If you have read the novel, what are your first impressions? Lingering thoughts? The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is the perfect opener for our Gothic-esque literature series every Wednesday this October.