Book Talk

The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde


So before I start this review I would just like to point out that this is one of my all-time favourite books. If this review is slightly biased, then so be it.

I read this book at the beginning of my A-level studies and instantly fell in love. This book is a brilliant way to ease into the classic and gothic genres. The language is intelligent, yet simple, which helps make it a gateway novel into more complicated classic titles.

Oscar Wilde does an outstanding job of describing everything in poetic detail which captivates and engages the reader. Despite the in-depth descriptions of surroundings and characters, the novel never loses the sense of mystery which is integral to the plot. This mystery enshrouds the characters themselves, especially the title character of Dorian Gray.

Dorian is a relatable main character who never fully fits into the role of protagonist or antagonist, which I would argue is closer to reality than the strong black and white of a fairy tale. His vices are kept in the dark which allows readers to place their own versions of what the most depraved acts might be. This is an intelligent choice made by Wilde as no one person will have the exact same experience when reading the novel. It also allows the text to move with the times, it never feels outdated as we as the reader can see modern-day alternatives to the crimes he may be committing.

Supporting characters such as Basil, Sybil, and Lord Henry Wotton are not wasted, they all make significant impacts on Dorian himself and are all well-rounded and complex in themselves. My personal favourite character is Sybil Vane who I think is a beautifully written character who appears so relatable and tragic. Coincidentally, my favourite quote from this book describes this character, "The girl laughed again. The joy of a caged bird was in her voice."

The plot advances at a pleasantly quick pace, which is so rare in classic titles. This is one of the reasons why it makes such a good introduction to more sophisticated titles as it is not difficult to get started or maintain interest. The plot is intelligent and not complicated, although Wilde never explicitly states the true explanation, and feels modern and fresh. The painting itself is beautifully portrayed in Wilde's writing style, which I just can't get enough of.

This novel deals with the themes of beauty, youth and sin. All issues which I would argue are extremely relevant in today's media-obsessed society. It also deals with the controversial theme of homosexuality, this book, in fact, was used as evidence against Oscar Wilde in court during his trial. Whether or not you think Dorian was gay is up to individual interpretation, but I think it would definitely add to the character's complexity when considering the time in which this was written (first published in 1890).

This novel is a perfect example of the classic Victorian gothic. It is engaging, beautifully written, and best of all easy to read. I would completely recommend this to anyone, especially during winter so you can curl up with a tea and get sucked into the drama.