11:09 PM 28 OCTOBER 2016
Oscar Wilde has long been lauded for his inventive use of English and his mastery of the one-liner and such skill is wonderfully paraded through his most celebrated book, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, published in 1891.
“I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.”
And yet the decadent nature of this tale is an unlikely vehicle for such humour, as it grapples with weighty issues of morality and the hypocritical persuasion of Victorian society.
Dorian Gray is a beautiful human specimen befriended by an artist (Basil Hallward) and socialite, Lord Henry Wotton, both of whom are besotted by their young protege’s physical appearance. Indeed, Dorian inspires the artist to create an exceptional portrait capturing his youthful perfection, though acknowledging the reality that the subject must age and deteriorate, while the painting will preserve his revered looks. Stung by the realization, Dorian’s wish to be spared the ravages of growing old is mysteriously granted and instead it is the painting that begins to change and reflect the deterioration in Dorian’s face and conscience. Thus, the picture comes to represent Dorian’s soul, upon which the toll of his indulgent and increasingly debauched life is visited.
Influenced by Lord Henry’s belief that the pursuit of pleasure, via a sating of the senses, was legitimate, Dorian lacks the maturing effects of ageing on his emotions and thinking, such that his disinhibited behaviour proves corrosively ugly and is ultimately the source of his ruin.
An interesting book, the reader can but be impressed by the guile and artfulness of Oscar Wilde, but the themes may also resonate today, with the contemporary obsession with image and the dominance of ‘beautiful’ people in popular culture.