26. Wild Card: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
List Progress: 3/30
It is always so easy to blame your sins on someone else. It is the world’s fault, your friend’s fault, the media’s fault, anyone’s fault that you do bad things, and you are just swept along for the ride. The Picture of Dorian Gray, the 1891 classic by Oscar Wilde, follows the titular young man as he tries his hardest to avoid any and all consequences for his actions, even consequences from his own body. It is a story both deeply rooted in its Victorian setting and sickeningly universal. While the basic premise may have worked its way into the public consciousness, there is still a great deal of nuance and detail to be found here.
Dorian Gray is a beautiful young gentleman, and he knows it. His fellow elites praise him for his youth and good looks, and the lounging, sardonic Lord Henry tells him to enjoy every moment of his early years, before he begins to wither on the vine. This causes a huge existential crisis in Dorian, and when another friend, Basil, paints a beautiful portrait of him, he wishes to God that the portrait could age while he stays the same. And magically, it does. But more than just wrinkling and balding, the portrait takes on all physical and moral signs of degradation from Dorian’s actions. Dorian sees it as the perfect opportunity to spend his life drinking, carousing, whoring, and being a horrible person, while still appearing to be the specimen of purity. He freezes his outsides, and in the process rots his soul.
While the pitch of the aging portrait has worked its way into cultural osmosis, there are still plenty of twists and turns to be found in the actual plotline of the book, with how Dorian goes about his sins and avoids consequences. Lord Henry is a great character, with lots of lush monologues about morality and sin, and he is especially great to read out loud. The one downside is that occasionally both the characters and the narrative can be long-winded. A chapter covering a several-year time skip in particular is a bit of a slog. But for a piece of classic literature, this is one that still has a great deal to say to someone in 2022. Not that anyone who should actually read it would.
Would I Recommend It: Yes.