Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

This book is one of my three Victorian novels read for A Victorian Celebration, hosted by A Literary Odyssey. I am woefully behind in my reading already and haven't even selected my next two reads, let alone read them. I'm thinking probably The Warden by Anthony Trollope, and... maybe some Dickens.

The Picture of Dorian Gray has long lived on the periphery of my reading consciousness. I knew enough to know it was a novel about a painting, but not enough to stop confusing it with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. When I drew it off the shelf for A Victorian Challenge, I was startled to learn that this was the only novel written by Oscar Wilde. And that it was short (my Penguin paperback edition weighed in at a mere 256 pages, and they were small pages). And that it was fascinating.

Wilde's deft pen brings Dorian Gray to life in ink, just as, I suppose, Basil Hallward's brush brings Dorian Gray on canvas. But while Hallward's portrait captured the beautiful innocence of the young Gray, Wilde's novel captures the self-centered, narcissistic soul of Gray--a soul hidden from the world. For when Gray wishes that he can stay young and beautiful forever, while his painting bears the brunt of all the age and wrongness in his life, his wish is, mysteriously, granted.

While Gray lives a life of duplicitous dealings and slow ruination, his face remains untouched by the scars of the years, of his guilt, of his buried selfishness. All the while, his painting sits buried in an attic at the top of his house, changing with each flippant action taken by its subject.

Terrifyingly, Gray's company continues to accept him as his is, despite the havoc he wreaks around himself; the disgraced ladies are sent away, and shamed gentlemen disinherited, as polite society morphs itself around Gray and his perpetually lovely face. Gray never takes responsibility for his own actions--nor is he asked to. He is under the eternal influence of others, and of his own obsession with himself. He is a puppet in a mass charade, and anything that stands in his way and in the way of aestheticism overall is simply set aside.

Wilde's only novel is so excellently crafted that it left me wishing he had written more in his lifetime. The Picture of Dorian Gray reveals Wilde's ability to peel back the layers of society, and of individual action, to reveal the truth that lies hidden beneath appearances. Most notably, and controversially, Wilde questions the importance of appearances at all, when what lies behind them is of little value and even less importance.


Thoughts from other bookworms (and Celebration participants, at that!)
Fanda Classiclit
Literary Stars
Haphazard Hollingsworth


The Picture of Dorian Gray | Oscar Wilde | Penguin | Paperback | February 2007 (originally published 1890) | Buy from an independent near you (Penguin Clothbound Edition)


  1. I love this one! It's such an incredible look at one man's depravity and a world with no consequences.

  2. This is one of my favorite "classics." I love the premise and how the painting reflects all of Gray's depravity.

    1. I can't believe I've made it this far without picking it up...


Thanks for stopping by!