Review of The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)


Oscar Wilde (writer).

Read in 2021.

It’s well written, with some lively characters—Lord Henry especially—and cut-and-pasted snippets of Wilde’s dinner-party wit. However, the skeleton of the story is a moralistic Gothic fantasy and not a good one. The Faustian plot runs on the ludicrous premise that Christian sin and age have the same effects, which is disinteresting magical thinking. Wilde was inspired by “The Oval Portrait” (1842), which associates artistic obsession and achievement with neglect and death: A more elegant premise.

Despite the scandal and the obvious homoeroticism, the most extensive hedonism Dorian Gray gets up to is to catalogue some literal gems, and this ages him about 50 years in 18 years’ time. There is no vicarious or guilty pleasure in it, but it is what the Victorian age allowed to be printed. A Georgian version would have been based on Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies.

References here: Phantom of the Paradise (1974), “Man of the People” (1992).

text fiction