In times of personal uncertainty, sometimes learning about the plights of others is the best escape. In this spirit, I picked up a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray and listened to it on audiobook. This book is a gothic classic written by Oscar Wilde. Filled with philosophical musings and quote-worthy moments this book lives on both because of its curious plot as well as its often off-handed commentary.
Without giving too much away about the story, I will describe The Picture of Dorian Gray as a book about a young man who has his portrait drawn. The portrait captures Dorian in the best possible way and strongly evokes the majesty of youth, beauty, and vitality. As Dorian’s life becomes more complicated, the portrait haunts him and serves as a cruel reminder of his struggles. The book has many twists and turns that makes it a popular candidate for parody and satire in contemporary media.
The way the author speaks about women in this 1890 work is equal parts expected and baffling. I have read a number of Victorian classics and am accustomed to male authors writing about women as servile, uneducated, and frivolous. While many others make commentary about the role of women in subtle, incidental ways, Wilde discusses women with the bluntness and indifference of a farmer discussing the worth of a cow.
The main characters of this book are all men—Dorian Gray the protagonist, Basil Hallward (the artist), and Lord Henry Wotton (the philosophical friend). Each is well-educated, outspoken, and egotistical. There is no significant female character in this book. The women are accessories to the plot and act as mere shiny objects that serve to reflect the brilliance of men. While the three men speak about life, death, and everything in between, the women skip around gaily thinking about prince charming, or are simply there to question and misunderstand the men’s profound ponderings.
The overt and implicit sexism was irksome to me, however, I set my feelings aside and was able to enjoy the story. Other interesting topics confronted in this book are the role of art, beauty, youth, guilt, status in society, and happiness. On this last note, the book seems to imply that we can only achieve happiness with inner peace. The book shows that life always moves forward. However, if we wake up each day feeling regretful, guilty, and sorry for ourselves, then we are doomed to confront pain at every turn. However, if we do the hard things—seek forgiveness, right wrongs, and make peace—we can unburden our souls and once again live life towards happiness.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic worth reading. The story is captivating and takes you to places unexpected. The words, sometimes harsh other times passionate, are meaningful, expressive, and filled with pathos. This is the sort of book that really makes one sit down and think. I listened to this story on audiobook and was wanting for a highlighter to capture thought-provoking arguments and witty one-liners.
So, Dear Reader, if your day is a bit rainy like mine is right now, (or, perhaps, if you are reading this in the midst of the pandemic and are on self-quarantine), I invite you to pick up a classic book and expand your world from the comfort of your own home.