I first came across The Picture of Dorian Gray when my mother took me to see a stage production of it at our local theatre, The Hexagon. I was absolutely captivated by the plot, the wit, and the climatic ending and soon sought out the book.
Few people realise that despite being one of the most profound masters of the written word in our history, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s only published novel. It narrowly missed out on a place in the BBC’s Big Read, coming in at number 118. The Picture of Dorian Gray is very much a work of Gothic fiction, with strong parallels to the protagonist of German legend Faust, who makes a deal with the devil, selling his soul in exchange of boundless debauchery.
Thus, Wilde’s only published novel tells the story of Dorian Gray, of the young and the beautiful, who is painted by Basil Hallward, an artist infatuated with Dorian’s good looks and youth. Dorian then meets Basil’s friend, Lord Henry Wotton who leads a life of hedonistic decadence and persuades Dorian to follow suit. After a throwaway remark in which Dorian wishes that Basil’s painting would age in his place, his wish is fulfilled and consequently Dorian embarks on a life of decadence and sin, playing with both the beautiful and the corrupt. And while his immoral acts have no affect on his outward good looks, Dorian’s portrait clearly mirrors the decaying of his soul.
Both relevant and thought-provoking, The Picture of Dorian Gray is demonstrative of Wilde’s accomplishment as a writer; in both serious and witty realms. It is particularly relevant today where the quest for youth knows no bounds and vanity has infiltrated much of society. Like both Dorian and Faust before him, it seems that many are selling their souls to the devil in exchange for everlasting youth.