Friday, October 23, 2015

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Posted by A Drop of Romeo at 2:00 PM

Age: Adult
Category: Classic; fantasy
Rating: 5 stars

Marta Thinks: When Oscar Wilde was asked to name his hundred favourite books, he said he could not. When asked why, he replied, “Because I have only written five.” Witty and outrageous, Oscar Wilde was one of the best writers of the 19th century, if not of all times. Hyperbole? No, not a hyperbole, every word is deserved. A factual description then, of an irresistibly mesmerising and intelligent individual whose artistic ability is disputed by none. His most notable novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, does not propose a new plot (reminiscent, perhaps, of Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where there is a duality associated with a single human being), but Wilde is indisputably original, unrestrained as he explodes with outrageously clever ideas.

This is largely due to the fact that Wilde was part of the aesthetic movement, which encouraged writers to break free from the restraints and limitations society imposed, even in terms of moral etiquette. Wilde went even further and introduced the idea that an artist’s life holds more importance than any work he produces, i.e. his life is to become his most important masterpiece. This idea can be seen in The Picture of Dorian Gray, where Dorian’s life and portrait are inextricably linked, and their individual significance is questioned. Dorian trades his soul for the immortality of his beauty and his portrait is a mirror of how his own life degrades into nothing.

A relatively good amount of the novel is summarised in the preface, in which Oscar Wilde poses statements related to art, such as “The artist is the creator of beautiful things” or “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” Of course, these statements can be challenged and debated ad infinitum, which reflects rather neatly the novel itself. The first quote brings up the most implications: does art have to be beautiful? What can we define as beauty? Is Basil no longer an artist once his painting is ruined by Dorian’s crimes? Oscar Wilde’s response to this is also in the preface: “Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.”

Critic Roland Barthes wrote in 1967 an essay, The Death of the Author, in which he argued against including the artist’s biographical and social context into interpretation and that the creation must be separate from the creator, e.g. It does not matter whether the author intended for the red colour of the curtains to symbolise death; what matters is that they represent death. Ultimately, it does not matter what Oscar Wilde believed or did not believe; what matters is how The Picture of Dorian Gray becomes a mirror for own lives, allowing us to answer the ubiquitous questions concerning human existence.


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