This is another book from my TBR 2015 challenge. A secondhand Collector’s Library edition, it’s a beautiful little book that has been on my bookshelf a while.
It is a well-known and intriguing gothic tale based on the Faustian myth. In 19th century England, a young and handsome man, Dorian, has his portrait painted. He desires to stay forever as pure and beautiful as the man in the portrait.
“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!”
As events unfold over time his immorality grows. He throws himself into a life of debauchery, art and pleasure, yet on the surface he remains as young looking and untouched as ever. The only evidence of the state of his soul is the portrait which, locked in a room in his house, reveals the horrifying reality.
While I enjoyed the story, I grew irritated by Oscar Wilde’s style. When I was younger I used to enjoy this kind of witticism in writing. His writing is clever and full of wise words, curious epigrams and sentences designed to shock, but I wonder if (like the character Lord Henry) he actually believes all that he says. I nearly gave up in chapter eleven when Wilde goes into intricate and agonising detail about the excesses of decadence and overindulgence. It was boring, though perhaps this was Wilde’s point.
I did enjoy the films based on Oscar Wilde’s comedic plays The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband, but I’ve had enough of 19th century England and its high society, for the time being anyway.