Book Review: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’
Oscar Wilde said: “Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.”
Beauty isn’t subjective. But ugliness is.
We are born with inadvertent advantages and disadvantages. Attractiveness has remained an advantage since the beginning of human civilization.
Beauty is a physical quality that earns you privileges. In Ancient Greece, the word “kalo kagathos” translates to “the beautiful and good.”
This ideal explains that beautiful exteriors of the physical body were also thought to host beautiful interiors of the mind.
In 1890s England, beauty and fashion standards placed an emphasis on little to no makeup.
The use of lipstick and heavy makeup were considered tools of the devil and only used by prostitutes.
These standards of beauty mean the Victorian Era valued natural beauty.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde takes place in this era.
From 2,000 years ago to today, levels of attraction dictate that a beautiful person is also deemed a trustworthy person.
Dorian Gray is first described as radiant with his pale red lips and golden hair, “There was something in his face that made you trust him at once.”
At the beginning of the novel, Dorian is sitting for a portrait to be painted by Basil Hallward. Basil believes Dorian to be the muse that has opened Basil’s art to depths that surpass the canvas.
While Dorian sits for Basil’s portrait, a friend of Basil looks on.
Lord Henry promotes a life of hedonism, a life that encourages the rich to do and take as they please without consequence.
Basil recognizes Lord Henry’s manner and orders him to refrain from influencing Dorian, believing it to be a bad influence and having the ability to spoil Dorian’s youth.
In a mere afternoon, Lord Henry influences Dorian for the worst. Lord Henry insists to Dorian that he must cherish his looks and think of nothing but protecting his looks.
Lord Henry embodies the Grecian ideal that beauty immediately equates good. A beautiful person must protect their looks, the shield that keeps them “good” to society; despite their actions.
Further and further Lord Henry draws Dorian into an indulgent lifestyle that leads to debauchery.
Sibyl Vane, an actress, experiences the true feeling of love with Dorian and now can no longer act a part in a play.
She can no longer see the emptiness of the painted scenery of the stage or pretend to feel the sorrows of Cordelia from Shakespeare’s King Lear.
Dorian’s interest in Sibyl diminishes after she ceases to exist to Dorian as the shape and substance of great poets works.
He has no use for her now.
He leaves Sibyl heartbroken and crying out for him.
Once Dorian returns home, he is interested to see his portrait. In the face and on the lips of the painted Dorian is cruelty and an evil sneer.
The cast of beauty allows the prettiest people to do the ugliest things.
Dorian realizes the portrait represents his own soul.
Pitying the cruelty of the portrait and not himself, Dorian decides to make amends with Sibyl and try to continue loving her for the sake of saving his soul from further ugliness.
But it is too late. Sibyl is dead.
Wallowing, Dorian loses meaning for his life and visits corrupt places and mingles with the unsavory. Basil, hoping to restore Dorian, visits.
Dorian gloats as he shows the transformation of his soul to Basil. Tempted by his evil soul embodied, Dorian stabs Basil.
“Ugliness that had once been hateful to him because it made things real, became dear to him now for that very reason.”
Society can directly mirror individual thought. Believing ourselves separate from society allows us to distance ourselves, but not our ideals.
“The Picture of Dorian Gray” demonstrates that we allow great exceptions based on superficial qualities that will fade. For a book who’s meaning heeds a deep warning, I rate this 8/10 stars.
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