Oscar Wilde’s tale of an 18th/19th century Narcissus- Lord Dorian Gray, who comes to London to inherit his grandfather’s estate and whose beauty astounds the society into which he arrives, is both fascinating and phenomenally dull. Young and naive he is soon painted by a famous artist Basil Hayward- a man infatuated with Gray’s beauty and personality. He introduces his young muse to Lord Henry Watton, who remarks upon the fact that the picture will remain every beautiful whilst Dorian will wither and yellow and age. Dorian, capricious from the first, declares that he would sell his soul for it to be the picture, and not he, that ages. It is here that the story begins, for not only is Dorian’s trade of his soul for youth the premise of the whole book, but it is Lord Henry’s philosophies that will shape Dorian into the monster he is to become.
Whilst there is no denying its literary excellence neither the character nor plot are remotely enjoyable. Probably because I find novels with Gothic tendencies a bit frustrating, but mostly because the characters are everything but likeable- Dorian is as self-obsessed as it is possible to be, and this obsession is so complete that even as he attempts to improve, he realizes that his desire for selflessness is, in and of itself, still selfish and simply a search for sensations ‘at once new and delightful’. Accompanied by the sometimes outrageous philosophical musings of Lord Henry, it is a book about beauty, vanity, Hedonism and sin. Without a doubt an exquisite piece of writing, though perhaps not the most pleasant of books or topics.