–Read India Initiative–
THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY
BY OSCAR WILDE
This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about
This is an amazing novel of its times but with an unearthly theme. The biggest truth of life is, everyone wants to look beautiful and that too all throughout their lives. This offbeat novel profoundly captures this primeval topic. Even in present times. You will find many celebrities and even average, well-to-do individuals going in for various beauty treatments to keep their looks shipshape.
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, in the year 1854. After a notable career as a poet, a lecturer, and even an editor, he published ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ in a monthly magazine in 1890. But he wasn’t satisfied with it. So he soon revised and lengthened it, for book publication in 1891. Wilde even wrote nine plays that included four celebrated comedies namely: Lady Windermere’s Fan, An ideal Husband, A Woman of No Importance, and The Importance of being Ernest. Sadly, Wilde died in Paris in the year 1900.
I had read this eerie book long ago. The story is not that easy to forget. As the essence of it keeps haunting you, even during your day to day existence—that is, how to keep your good looks alive. Remember, there are always moments in your life that can but change the drift of your pursuits.
While waiting to begin his final sitting for artist Basil Hallward’s portrait of him. The beautiful, young Dorian Gray has a conversation that changes the very course of his life. Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wotton fills Dorian’s head with the idea that youth, beauty, and pleasure are all that matters in the world. He urges Dorian. To, indulge in all of life’s sensual joys. Before, age catches up and his good looks fade.
When Dorian sees Basil’s stunning finished picture. He is transfixed by its reflection on his own beauty. But he is also troubled by the insight that the image in the painting will forever remain youthful and handsome, while he himself would grow old, and be less desirable in times to come. So, he wishes aloud if the roles could be reversed. Saying that he would give his soul, if only the painting would suffer the ravages of time and instead he would remain young forever. But as the old adage goes: Be careful what you wish for.
And that brings me to the splitting point. If Oscar Wilde’s only published novel is at an elevation of hedonism? Or is it just a cautionary tale, or something else, altogether? In his preface, Wilde warns readers not to search for meaning in the story. He says ‘Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.’ He further says ‘There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.’
‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is one of the most elegantly written books of all time. So I understand and even felt while reading.
The chief protagonist ‘Dorian’ has some unusual emotions and beliefs when you find him saying. “How sad it is!” murmured Dorian Gray with his eyes still fixed upon his own portrait. “How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June….If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”
Some call it a philosophical novel. But I would also call it a controversial one for that era of time. Since it has been published several times the plot of the novel varies between each of the published versions. The summary below deals with the longest version the 1891 novel.
‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ commences on a pleasing summer day of the Victorian era England. Where, Lord Henry Wotton, a dogmatic personality, is attentively observing the astute artist Basil Hallward while he is painting the portrait of Dorian Gray. A handsome young man who happens to be Basil’s ultimate muse.
While posing for the painting, Dorian listens to Lord Henry, espousing, his hedonistic world view. When he begins to think that beauty is the only aspect of life worth pursuing. This prompts Dorian to incessantly wish that the painted image of his, would age, instead of himself. Under the hedonistic influence of Lord Henry, Dorian decides to fully explore his sensuality. When, he discovers actress Sibyl Vane, who performs in Shakespeare plays, in some dingy working-class theatre. Dorian approaches and courts her and soon proposes marriage. The enamoured Sibyl calls him ‘Prince Charming.’ She swoons with the ecstasy of being loved. But her over protective brother James Vane, warns, that in case ‘Prince Charming’ harms her, he will murder him.
Dorian proudly invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet. Sibyl, too enamoured with Dorian to act, performs poorly on that day that makes both Basil and Lord Henry think. Dorian has fallen in love with Sibyl because of her beauty instead of her acting talent.
Embarrassed, Dorian rejects Sibyl. Telling her that acting alone was her beauty. Without which she no longer interests him. On returning home, Dorian notices that the portrait has changed. His wish has come true as the man in the portrait bears a subtle sneer of cruelty.
Conscience-stricken and lonely, Dorian decides to reconcile with Sibyl, but he is too late, as Lord Henry informs him that Sibyl has committed suicide by swallowing prussic acid. Dorian then understands, where his life is headed, lust and good looks shall suffice. Dorian locks the portrait up, and over the next eighteen years. He experiments with every vice; influenced by a morally poisonous French novel that Lord Henry Wotton gave him. (The narrative does not reveal the title of the French novel. But during the trial, Wilde did say that the novel he had read was ‘A Rebours’ (Against the Nature, 1884), by Joris-Karl Huysmans.
One night before leaving for Paris. Basil goes to Dorian’s house. To, ask him about the rumours of his self-indulgent voluptuary.
Dorian does not deny his debauchery and takes Basil to see the portrait. The portrait has become hideous. Which Basil is able to identify as his work, only by the signature he affixes to all his portraits. Basil is horrified and beseeches Dorian to pray for salvation. But in deep anger Dorian blames his fate on Basil and stabs him to death. He then calmly blackmails an old friend, the scientist Alan Campbell into using his knowledge of chemistry to destroy the body of Basil Hallward. Alan not able to come to terms kills himself over the deed.
To, escape the guilt of his crime. Dorian goes to an opium den. Where, James Vane is unknowingly present. James has been seeking vengeance upon Dorian, ever since Sibyl killed herself. But he had no leads to pursue. The only thing he knew about Dorian was the name Sibyl called him by, ‘Prince Charming.’ In the opium den he hears someone refer to Dorian as ‘Prince Charming,’ and he accosts Dorian forthwith. Dorian deceives James into believing that he is too young to have known Sibyl, who killed herself 18 years ago, as his face is still that of a young man. James relents and releases Dorian. But is then, approached by a woman from the opium den who reproaches James for not killing Dorian. She confirms that the man was indeed Dorian Gray by explaining that he has not aged even in eighteen years. James runs after Dorian. But by then he is gone.
James then begins to stalk Dorian, causing Dorian to fear for his life. However, during a shooting party, a hunter accidentally kills James Vane, who was lurking around a thicket. On returning to London, Dorian tells Lord Henry that he will live righteously now on. His new probity begins with deliberately not breaking the heart of the naive Hetty Merton, his latest romantic interest. Dorian wonders if his new-found goodness has reverted, the corruption in his picture. But when he looks at it he sees even an uglier image of himself. This makes Dorian understand that his true motives for self sacrifice of moral reformation were only a vanity and curiosity of his quest for new experiences. Deciding, only full confession will absolve him of the wrongdoing. Dorian decides to destroy the last vestige of his conscience, and the only piece of evidence remaining of his crimes—the picture.
In a rage, he takes the knife with which he had murdered Basil Hallward, and stabs the picture. The servants of the house awaken on hearing a cry from the locked room. On the street, passers-by who also heard the cry call the police. Upon entering the locked room, the servants find an unknown old man, stabbed in the heart. With his face and figure, withered and decrepit. The servants identify the disfigured corpse by the rings on its fingers that belonged to their master. And beside him is the picture of Dorian Gray, restored to its original beauty.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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