The Picture of Dorian Gray could also be titled A Portrait of the Human Soul, for in his dark and tragic commentary Oscar Wilde spares no liberties in discussing morality, religion, society and the depths of the human condition. It is a deeply moving and inspired novel centering around the defining power of art. It is not an easy novel to read with its dark elements. For in paying heed to Dorian Gray’s demise one is drawn into a reflection of their own spiritual condition.
For those who have no idea what The Picture of Dorian Gray is about this reviewer shall endeavour to describe. As a novel it would class among the classics of the Gothic tradition, a horror novel with a didactic aim. The story itself focuses around a young man, Dorian Gray, who through the influence of others around him becomes led into moral disillusionment. He becomes obsessed with a picture of his young, vibrant body that reflects his mortal perfection while at the same time living a decadent and corrupt lifestyle. By some unknown curse his image begins to grow old but he physically stays as young as ever. All of which leads to a fascinating climactic moment!
Corruption spreads like wildfire, Wilde suggests. For it is the assertive influence of Lord Henry which transforms the naivety and innocence of Dorian into the semblance of a vile creature. A being who in turn afflicts other men and women causing them to lose hope and to die both figuratively and literally. No one exists who truly chastises or cares about Dorian enough to correct his vices and thus Wilde reveals how human flaws when unchecked become grave evil – a phrase which here becomes a double entente as Dorian in his evil maniacal rage slays supposed best friends.
There are no characters within the narrative who are pure or noble to the reader. Though Dorian possesses many friends who speak of their love for him such love is empty and flowerless. Their love is based upon outward appreciation of the beautifully angelic face Dorian bears. In this sense Dorian Gray’s life becomes a lesson akin to that of Jay Gatsby’s, serving to warn the reader of the perils of keeping shallow company.
It is curious that Dorian, despite possessing such youthful beauty is at the core found to be evil in the end. One cannot help but wonder whether Sigmund Freud would have enjoyed this work’s premise with the character’s psychology serving to support his thesis about human souls ultimately being ruled by hamartia. It appears that Wilde himself presents such a character as a moral warning against the darkness within, challenging that the outward flesh is of less importance than the immaterial soul.
This novel is entirely recommended, both as Oscar Wilde’s only novel and as a moral warning. For Wilde recognized the truth of humanity and portrayed it in his artistic way: that nothing is ever as it seems. And as such he warns avoidance of all sorts of hedonistic and shallow lifestyles.