The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
This short novel reminded me of parables and morality tales by Hawthorne, especially in the way that its “lesson” was both heavy-handed and inscrutable. My interpretation was that it showed how wrong it is to consider beauty/youth/aesthetics as their own morality. The action of the story demonstrated that though we want to see physical beauty as reflecting moral goodness, these things don’t necessarily go together, and in fact excessive preoccupation with these surfaces can corrupt. It was frustrating that Dorian kept getting away with his crimes again and again; every time it seemed like his misdeeds were going to catch up with him, nothing happened. Even more frustrating was realizing that there would be no consequence at all for Sir Henry, even though he sort of acted like the tempter, sparking and encouraging Dorian’s long decline. I found it interesting that a book was the form of temptation he used.
The language was the thing I admired most about the book. The descriptions of Dorian’s aesthetic obsessions and collections were sumptuous and sensual, showing just how tempting that world can be. The dialogs are full of the witty, pithy aphorisms and paradoxical wisecracks that Wilde is known for. I disagreed strongly with the substance of many of these, especially the ones about women and marriage, but I think for the most part that I was meant to, that they were supposed to show the arrogance and folly of Sir Henry, who was spouting most of them.