There’s one thing that people probably know about this novel before going in, because there’s one single feature which seems to have resonated in our public consciousness: the idea of a man who does not age, because he has a painting of himself which ages instead. While this is certainly one aspect of The Picture of Dorian Gray (and an interesting one at that) there’s still so much more to it than that.
At the heart of the story are three friends: Basil Hallward (my favourite), Lord Henry and, of course, Dorian Gray himself. Dorian is an innocent young man (at least initially), Basil is a sensitive artist (who paints the titular picture of Dorian) and Lord Henry is a hedonistic man who sees people as nothing more than a means through which to experience sensations. I appreciate that the three main characters all have very strong personalities and are all very distinct.
Something I should also mention is the fact that Basil is in love with Dorian. Since it was the nineteenth century, they never outright say that he’s gay (or at least not heterosexual) but the extent to which he talks about how much he loves Dorian in a way that he’d never loved a woman makes it pretty obvious. With this in mind, it’s also especially good that he’s the moralistic one… Although it’s not too surprising, since Wilde himself was bisexual.
The bulk of the plot is about the corruption of Dorian at the hands of Lord Henry, but ultimately Dorian ends up as much, much worse person than Lord Henry. The two of them share many conversations about their attitudes towards other people and, honestly, their perspectives are disgusting – but they’re also fascinating. These parts were probably my favourite bits because as much as I disagreed with Lord Henry, I enjoyed his perspective so much.
If you think that that sounds like it would be really boring, I should mention that there are several huge and highly distressing events which take place which I couldn’t mention without spoiling things. But, basically, this is a pretty shocking book. In the best of ways: do brace yourselves. Also, if you’re someone who struggles with classic literature, I feel like the writing style in this novel is a little more accessible, so you definitely give it a try. I strongly recommend this for everyone – a glorious portrait of human nature.