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The Book Club

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture Of Dorian Gray

Taken from http://www.acrossthepage.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/PicofDorianGray-728143.jpg.This is part of my “A Book A Week” endeavour, an extension of The Book Club I started on this blog when I was completing my National Service.

1. A compact tale of Hedonistic excess: tracing the descent of protagonist Dorian Gray into Hedonistic excess, the novel is a compact read: there is a tight group of three main characters (with Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton), their relationships with one another mirror the progression of the plot (since Gray is in the centre of it), and loose ends of the plot are tied up nicely in the end.

2. The corrupting influence of “the yellow book”: following the demise of Gray’s first love, Sibyl Vane, Lord Henry sends over the book which accelerates the descent of the protagonist. Throughout the chapter, his decadence is evidenced by the self-indulgent passages about perfumes, music, and jewels, which never do satisfy him.

3. Sibyl Vane and her demise: the death of Vane is received with callousness, yet it also has influence over the development of Gray – who detaches and distances himself from her – by shaping his future interactions. Even his rejection of her love (also the basis of his affection) appeared superficial, rendering Gray susceptible to the influence of Lord Henry.

4. A sprint to an inevitable end: from that chapter on, the pace of the plot picks up. Gray is met with a few unexpected confrontations, and while he seems to avert disaster each time the sense of danger persists until the end. And the inevitability of the conclusion – likewise – persists, with foreshadowing a significant feature.

5. Chance: events seem to happen by chance – especially after the death of Vane – with no plausible recourse for the protagonist

6. A superficial society: the society in which the novel is set in is presented by author Oscar Wilde to be no less superficial too. Discerning members do shun Gray when rumours about him circulated (although that may speak to the superficiality in the first place), but because of his good looks and aesthetic pursuits the protagonist continues to keep polite company.

7. The corrupting influence of Lord Henry: he is like a know-it-all who espouses grand theories, backing them up with intelligent-sounding puffery and charming his shallow counterparts with some wit, yet his ignorance of Gray’s descent and predicaments becomes clear in the second half of the novel. Besides “the yellow book” as a gift, his many conversations with the protagonist have had their effect.

8. Hallward and his commitment to Gray: on the other hand, Hallward is devoted to the protagonist. Even though in the beginning he came across as possessive of and obsessed with Gray – with his youthful beauty – described as idolatry, the commitment is steadfast, and even to the end his genuine concern for Gray is evident.

9. Homosexual undertones: in this vein, much is often made of the bonds between Gray and Hallward, as well as Gray and Lord Henry – especially since Wilde was homosexual – and while it colours these relationships their homosexual camaraderie, as a reader, it did not influence my reading of the novel. It is perhaps worth noting that the intolerance of homosexuality is not as pervasive today as it used to be in the past, which is the intimacy in dialogues and between the characters are not quite as problematic.

10. “All art is quite useless”: I glanced over the preface, but it is worth reading it in greater detail after one finishes the novel. Some knowledge of Wilde’s situation with “The Picture of Dorian Gray” will be useful, and while the final quote may seem superfluous, the notion of art as self-expression – beyond the meanings ascribed to different works by criticism – is not unreasonable.

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About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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