Book Review / Books

Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Pre-Christmas, I made a promise to myself to try and pick up more classical literature. After a quick trip to W.H. Smith where I splurged on many classic books – one of which you can see I’ll be reviewing today – I randomly decided that I wanted to read as many Penguin Classics branded books as I could. However, upon researching for more information about my spontaneous idea I realised there are a TON more Penguin Classics than I stupidly had anticipated and a complete set would put me $16,400 out of pocket so I’ll just stick to whatever the bookstore has available.

Technically this isn’t my first Penguin Classics book that I’ve read or reviewed, but it is the first that is featured on my blog. After seeing the Ben Barnes film a few years ago and after not thinking much of it, I decided it was finally time to pick up Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray because, after all, the book itself is usually better than it’s film counterpart.

Enthralled by his own exquisite portrait, Dorian Gray sells his soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty. Under the influence of Lord Henry Wotton, he is drawn into a corrupt double life, where he is able to indulge his desires while remaining a gentleman in the eyes of polite society. Only Dorian’s picture bears the traces of his decadence.

A knowing account of a secret life and an analysis of the darker side of late Victorian society. The Picture of Dorian Gray offers a disturbing portrait of an individual coming face to face with the reality of his soul.

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray was a succès de scandale. Early readers were shocked by its hints at unspeakable sins and the book was later used as evidence against Wilde at the Old Bailey in 1895.


The Picture of Dorian Gray is an insightful and intriguing novel. Wilde’s talent and wit is undeniable and the obsession with image that is addressed in The Picture of Dorian Gray is still relevant to today’s society making it a thought-provoking read.

However, it wasn’t one of those books that I could just sit and read for hours unable to put it down. When I could feel my attention waning, I had to abandon it which was a real shame. I think the main issue for me was the long descriptions and seemingly never ending musings from Dorian and his high society friends. Don’t get me wrong, when there was an actual scene playing out like Dorian breaking Sybil’s heart or Basil going to confront his friend which leads to a disastrous ending, I was fixated and very much engrossed in finding out what would happen next. I think Wilde just lost my interest a little with all the large chunks filling in the action, but I did wade through them and find some interesting quotes and tidbits that I really liked and felt summed up a lot of the issues raised rather nicely.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a somewhat sinister story filled with complex characters. Dorian himself is rather tricky as he isn’t a protagonist that we can really, truly like or at the very least find many redeemable qualities in. I hated Dorian and that’s not a bad thing as I don’t think he was written to be liked. On paper, he is a dream with his good looks and charm, but the reality is that he is unstable and impulsive. One minute he is besotted with Sybil Vane, a young actress, the next he is enraged and evil leaving her to take her life. Dorian is easily swayed by his newest friend Lord Henry who plants seeds of ideas regarding beauty and youth into the young lad’s head. Henry’s influence prompts Dorian’s declaration that he would rather stay youthful while the portrait that Basil has drawn of him ages instead. It’s not so much the “selling of the soul” element that is described on the blurb of the book, but rather he says it and he gets it. It’s a ‘be careful what you wish for’ moment.

Dorian may remain beautiful on the outside, but he is changing. His portrait may bear the physical appearance of Dorian’s aging and his wicked deeds, but Dorian’s actions equally become as sinister as the now unrecognisable portrait of the lad looks.

I’m happy that I did give The Picture of Dorian Gray a read because it is a fascinating tale that explores vanity, identity and the search to stay youthful. Obviously, it’s a very famous classic and it’s evident exactly why it is when you begin to read it. Despite this, I don’t think it’s a book that I will ever come back to and re-read any time soon. It was a fun experience to read and if anyone wants clarification, it was definitely better than the movie. Although, Ben Barnes isn’t too bad as Dorian.


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