O is for Oscar Wilde

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So for O I read Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray”.
I’ve read half of this before, when I was at uni, but never go to finish it. To be honest, I struggled through this. The story is too familiar to be surprising, and not engaging enough to be interesting.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure: The Picture of Dorian Gray tells the tale of a man who makes a bargain that changes his whole life. An artist paints his portrait – a beautiful moment captured in oil, at the height of Dorian’s perfection. Wilde conveys his Adonis-like stature well – the description is all broad brush strokes, leaving the reader free to fill in the detail for themselves. When Dorian sees the finished portrait, he immediately laments the inevitable loss of his youth and strength, which becomes the bargain, where the painting grows old but Dorian does not.
I like Oscar Wilde, I like that his blue plaque on his childhood home in Dublin has “Poet. Dramatist. Wit” on it I would like to be a Wit. I think the book suffered for being read in a week, though. In a week the quirks and phrases of a writer are amplified more than they would be if you read it in a month, and, just as if you spend a lot of time with someone, these quirks begin to grate.
Obviously, Oscar Wilde was a gay man who wrote in the 18th century, so girl power isn’t going to be prevalent. There’re only so many references and flip judgements about how women are only useful when they’re not thinking or speaking, before it gets tedious. Good writing should surpass time and society constraints, but there are other things missing from the story.
Character-wise, I found Dorian to be a compelling person, but I also found that Wilde didn’t paint him as deeply as he could have. Although the book spans decades of his life, the sense of time isn’t there. Dorian’s meant to afflicted by immoral urges, which show on his painting, but the instances of these, although shocking, are few and far between. It felt to me like an abridged version, as if it should have been a play instead, where the gaps could have been filled in with meaningful looks and pregnant pauses.
One aspect I did find interesting was the idea that the painting was the visual representation of Dorian’s soul – not just the place where his wrinkles go. For each mean spirited action or thought, there is a marker on the painting. It made me wonder what my own Dorian Gray portrait would look like. Maybe I would regret it if I did see it.

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