The Picture of Dorian Grey – Book Review

“Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.” -G.K. Chesterson

This article contains spoilers.

My book challenge list consists of reading a classic novel. I chose The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. I am really fond of Victorian gothic novels. (Being a cheery person, I really think I need to think through why I love the general sadness of these books. Hmm. I may need to write about that later.)

The story of Dorian Grey and his portrait was captivating. The slow death of Dorian’s soul represented in his portrait made for an intriguing tale. But I found the long, dragged out conversations between Dorian and Lord Henry and even Basil  rather preachy. Lord Henry tried to sound intelligent with his fanciful play of words, but after a second of actually thinking about what he just said, I found myself saying, “Um, no that’s not it at all!”. The book also had a very misogynistic undertone. And I found it very hypocritical. In one chapter Lord Henry is condemning women as being so emotional that they are irrational most of the time, and then a couple of chapters later Basil is in hysterics at how much he worships Dorian’s beauty and how no one must find out. Even Dorian is overly dramatic in most of his decisions. He finds no middle ground in the conversations he has with others and I found his constant boredom annoying.

The book as a whole does have a great moral story to it though, about the depravity of man and the effects of sin. And I found it very interesting given the lifestyle Oscar Wilde lived how he portrays sin as damaging to the body and the soul. Sin is a horrible and selfish slave master. Towards the end of his life, Mr. Wilde did ask for a priest. He, like Solomon, experienced all types of worldly pleasure, and at the end of such exhaustion, both were left empty.

I never really understood hedonism until John Piper advocated for it saying that true pleasure is only found in God and as Christians we should seek it. It was difficult for me to understand this because I usually equate pleasure with sexual pleasure. Piper says: “As Christian Hedonists we know that everyone longs for happiness. And we will never tell them to deny or repress that desire. It is never a problem to want to be satisfied. The problem is being satisfied too easily. ” And I would add temporarily. The full article can be found here. Dorian Grey was satisfied, but temporarily. He did enjoy so many things, but none fully satisfied him. In the end of the book he mostly wants to forget, so he seeks out opium houses. He even vows to be “good” to undue the damage caused to his decrepit mind. The book ends when he stabs the picture that mirrors his soul. Later, he is found with the knife in his chest and the picture left unscathed. This scene reminded me of what I Corinthians says:  Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.

Recommendations: I really don’t recommend this book. It was very hard to read, and I found myself disagreeing with so much of the philosophy in the book. Maybe, if you really like books written in the late 1800’s and Victorian gothic novels, you may enjoy this book. Maybe.

To the Christian:  There are a lot of sexual innuendos in this book, but the book isn’t as graphic as it could have been. Obviously that is because it was written during a time when any more details and it would have been banned by civilized society. The word “lover” is used instead of outright illustrative scenes. There is also hinting of homosexual relationships Dorian may have had. Dorian tends to hang around males most of the time, and there is really no moral voice in the book except for Basil (who, to me, has a rather sick attachment to Dorian). Lord Henry I found to be a disgusting character. He is sexist and a manipulator. Although the story is good as a whole, I just couldn’t bear the long conversations between the main characters. I would not let any of my children read this book, even the older ones. Dorian Grey would agree, Lord Henry is poison and I do not want to poison my children with this book.

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