Sunday, April 14, 2019

27. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wile

Not the version I read; I liked the cover
It's interesting finally actually reading Oscar Wilde.  I am familiar with his life and career, the plot of Dorian Gray and his pithy witticisms and always felt highly of all three.  After reading the book, I still think highly of the first two, but all the quotes that seem so spot on when read out of context feel forced to me in the narrative.  This is my bias, but I felt like all right dude, I get it you are really witty and have all these clever aphorisms about the stuffiness of 19th century England but can we just get on with the story.  I am being even more unfair because had I probably never heard them before and read them here for the first time, most would have seemed quite brilliant.  Living in a day where the sort of moral uptightness of the Victorian age has been replaced by a thoroughly Dorian-Gray-esque excess of consumer capitalism, his words also feel misplaced.

I shouldn't start off with such negativity, but wanted to get it out of the way.  The rest of the book is really amazing and no question that this book's classic status is well justified.  The portrayal of Gray's descent into immorality is possibly the template for all future descents we read in literary and genre fiction today.  Wilde is fairly subtle most of the time.  The worst factual thing that Gray does is smoke opium, but the locations, the characters and their dialogue and the suggestions of worse that Wilde weaves together evokes powerfully the dark night of the soul that tempts us all.  The violence and aftermath are also so intense and nasty that one wishes Wilde had veered into doing straight up genre fiction himself.  He would have crushed it.

So yeah The Picture of Dorian Gray is a literary classic.  I would further argue that it is a foundational text in the thriller/crime genre and you would do well to read it if that genre is your jam.

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