The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Perhaps Wilde was indeed certain even when writing the book that he would be punished for it, which eventually came to pass. His only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, was condemned as corrupted and adversely, corrupting others.
Image source: Libreto
Nevertheless, it was a surreal feeling to be holding a book that had been banned multiple times and I couldn’t get started. Wilde has a way with words, first introducing them with sincerity towards beauty and later turning scandalous, leaving the reader speechless whilst prompting the reader to jot down every cleverly constructed sentence for the fear of losing them to memory.
The protagonist in the book is the painting of a youth called Dorian Gray, as the title puts it bluntly. Dorian Gray, who is blessed with ethereal beauty, becomes the epitome of art to Basil Howard, who paints a picture of him. Meanwhile, for Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian is a face for New Hedonism, always encouraging the latter down the path of unbecoming. After seeing the beautiful painting, in a fit of rage that it would flourish while he would become old and lifeless, Dorian wishes himself to retain his youth and curses the painting to bear the burdens of his soul. His wish comes true!
Dorian gives in to self-indulgence, destroying relationships and committing one immoral act after another. His desires ultimately lead him to murder an old friend in cold-blood, while also being the cause of suicide of Sybil Vane and Alan Campbell. Through all this, he remains innocent and youthful but simultaneously turns into a hideous monster on the inside with no self-control (as reflected in his painting).
Image source: DeviantArt
All in all, it is a good story with subtle themes that were forbidden in the 1800s, like homosexuality. Wilde, in all his glory, has managed to incorporate the theme of homosexuality without expressing it explicitly. But what strikes me is that the similarities that the book portrays between those times and the lifestyle today. Dorian’s wish, which sprang from the desire to be superficially beautiful, makes a remarkable resemblance with the concept of ‘beauty’ in the society today. Dorian attempted to gain popularity by joining fancy dinners with high-class people, a pursuit which, in these times can be related to people’s hunger for higher numbers of ‘likes’ on social media or an invitation to ‘cool’ parties. Food for thought though:
Do we age as we sin? Or sin as we age?
Featured image source: IMDb
By Namita Suberi