Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde
audiobook: 8.75 hours
narrated by Don Hagan


*** About the Book ***

The Picture of Dorian GrayLord Henry's focus in life is to entertain himself and he finds entertainment in molding the personality of Dorian Gray.  Dorian is young and very handsome, and Lord Henry teaches him that beauty is vitally important and that those who lose their beauty lose their power as well.

In a fit of passion Dorian wishes that he could always stay as good looking as the painting of himself done by his dear friend Basil.  Somehow, this actually comes to pass: Dorian stays always the same and the portrait begins to change.  It doesn't actually age though.  Instead is becomes the physical manifestation of the sins Dorian commits ...


*** Why I Listened To It  ***

This book was on my TBR list because it is on the 1,001 Books You Must Read list, and that means it counts for the 1% Well Read Challenge.  It is also one of the two books for this year's Dueling Monsters read-a-long.

Plus I wanted to read it because Dorian Gray is in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - a movie which I truly love.


*** My Thoughts ***

Dorian in "The League ..."
It's funny how tv and movies can influence your impression of a book.  Did you know that Dorian Gray is supposed to be blond and have curls?! I totally could not picture him that way.  Instead I kept seeing him as he was portrayed in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But that isn't really relevant to my review, so ... moving on.

I can't really discuss this book without some MINOR spoilers.  I don't think anything I say will ruin the book in any way for a new reader but if you really don't want to know ANYTHING about it than you better not keep reading this section - suffice it to say that I have mixed feeling about this book.

Ok, so - there were parts of this book that I liked and parts that I didn't like.  Let's start with the likes:
  • the writing is gorgeous - it was a pure pleasure to listen to (most of) it
  • the story is intriguing - how WOULD you behave if your looks gave you power over those around you?
  • the characters are very believable - I could understand their motivations and actions, and it all made sense based on what I knew about each character
Then there were parts that I didn't like:
  • the (long) section on Dorian's interests and collections - I think the point that he is vain and interested in beautiful things could have been made in a lot less space
  • some things were too coincidental - I'm thinking specifically of Dorian running into Sybil's brother ... really?!
  • there was lots of innuendo and very little fact - the author hints us that Dorian has done some very horrible things but we only see a very few of those
  • I didn't quite get how Dorian went from being somewhat vain and self-centered to being completely horrid - he doesn't come across as being as bad as the author seems to want him to (not that murder isn't bad!)
I really have mixed feelings about this book.  I can't say I really enjoyed it but I didn't actually dislike it either.  The beautiful writing makes up for a lot, but still ... I'm not a huge fan.




*** Dueling Monsters? ***


I have already read and reviewed The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde so I can say with certainty that, on the basis of which monster is creepier, I'm giving the title to Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, hands down.  Dorian isn't exactly pleasant, and he commits some horrible acts, but I blame part of who he is on Lord Henry.  Dorian doesn't set out to be evil - it all starts with simple vanity.

Actually, I find Lord Henry creepier than Dorian. He decides early in the book that his new project is to see how much he can mold and influence Dorian, and he does it for his own amusement.  Lord Henry cares nothing for the consequences of his actions - THAT is a crime that I have a hard time forgiving.

I'll get into this more when I do my Dueling Monsters recap on 10/31 so be sure to check back then! Actually, just check out the chatter in the comments between Amanda and I - we hash out our conflicting feeling about Lord Henry in great detail.


*** Your Thoughts ***

Amanda @ The Zen Leaf mentioned that she couldn't get past the first scene of the new Dorian Gray movie.  Has anyone else seen it?  How does it compare to the book?

If you've read this one, let me know what you think of it!

18 comments:

Trish said...

Thanks for reviewing this book! It's been on my tbr shelf but, hmm, I think now I might just move it further down.

Kerry said...

I've always meant to read this and just... haven't yet. Not sure why. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Amanda said...

Oddly, because I read this book way before ever seeing an adaptation of Dorian, I have a hard time with all the modern adaptations of him with dark hair! It was even dark in the graphic novel version and I kept wondering WHY when he was supposed to be all blond and curly. :D

The collection section is difficult, but before my book club met to discuss this book in 2007 I did some research into why it was there and I came to understand both the length and tediousness of that section. I still dont' like to read it, but understanding it helps.

Also, I don't blame Lord Henry at all for how Dorian came out. I see Lord Henry as a casual philosopher - he likes to hear himself talk, and he thinks outloud. What he says is not his opinions, despite what other people make of them. Instead, it's just a random collection of thoughts that he doesn't even remember when he's done talking. Dorian hit on a passing fancy about youth and beauty, a reminiscence of sorts, and Dorian took Lord Henry's words as absolute truth instead of that passing fancy. Lord Henry himself is surprised to find that Dorian's carefree gaity and refusal to stick to the rules (which you notice Henry himself continues to stick to despite what he says) allows him to stay so young and beautiful. It was something he thought of in a moment of whimsy, and it actually came true. No one is more surprised than Henry.

I would love to sit down and discuss this book!! :D

Avid Reader said...

It's been a decade since I read this one, but I loved it. Without writing any spoilers I would say the plot is what did it for me. That and my love of Wilde.

Heather J. said...

Trish - Don't just take my word for it - check out the reviews that are posted in the recap on 10/31 for sure. There are a lot of people who really liked this book!

Kerry - It's definitely worth reading, even though I didn't love it.

Amanda - I'm going to reply to your comment separately b/c I have to much to say. :) Give me a few minutes and I'll have it posted below.

Avid Reader - This is my first Wilde and I'm not in love ... maybe I need to give him another shot?

Heather J. said...

Amanda – Ooh, how I’d LOVE to discuss this in person with you! But this will just have to do … Ok, so, I don’t blame Lord Henry completely but I do think he has some responsibility. I actually really liked him at first, for all the reasons you mention – Basil insists that Henry is more moral than he pretends to be, and I really did believe that … at first. Later I came to think that he really IS immoral, but just not in as obvious a way as Dorian. My opinion of Henry was solidified in Chapter 4. This is where he realizes that he has (and can continue to) influenced Dorian’s development. It becomes like a pet project, this examination of humanity – “the one thing worth investigating” – and he takes pleasure from it. But it is really this quote that made me dislike him: “What matter what the cost was? One could never pay too high a price for any sensation.” Because it is not himself paying the price, but others. And when he realizes how much he enjoys watching Dorian develop he says, “It was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end,” because it is, for Lord Henry, all about what he himself gets out of it – the “sensation” that he wants to experience. Am I making my point clearly, or is this not making any sense?

Erin said...

I just read that collections section today! My goodness, I almost fell asleep about ten times. I finally decided to skim.

I haven't finished Dorian Gray, and though I have Jekyll & Hyde on my iPod, I haven't gotten to that either. It'll be a bit of a scramble for me to finish before the end of the month, but I intend to try!

Heather J. said...

Erin - That collections section is downright TEDIOUS. I think you'll be able to zip through Jekyll/Hyde in just a few hours - the audio is quite short - so definitely try to get to it before the end of the month. I really enjoyed that one!

softdrink said...

I don't remember the collections section...I think I've already blocked it from memory.

And as for Lord Henry, like you, I do hold him partially responsible. Amanda mentioned she sees him as a casual philosopher who likes to think outloud. I think it was obvious how much Dorian looked up to Henry...he had to know that he was influencing him!

Heather J. said...

softdrink - Ha! If only it were so easy to block it from MY memory! And I'm glad to see that I'm not alone in my opinion of Lord Henry.

Trish said...

LOL--I saw the first comment and though, "wait, did I already comment here?" Different avatar. ;)

I can't believe Jill doesn't remember that horribly long section. Maybe she skimmed. It was trecherous and it's actually the only thing I remember about this book. I've started J&H so I'm still hoping to make my assessment Thursday or Friday!! It's been so fun hearing everyone's thoughts on these two?? guys.

Heather J. said...

Trish - Yeah, Jill MUST have skimmed ... either that or she just skipped an entire chapter! Maybe her pages were all stuck together? LOL I hope you like J&H - I thought it was much better than this one. And thanks for participating!

Laura said...

I read this a few months ago, for some of the reasons that you mentioned. I was surprised how many of Wilde's more famous and wittier lines were in this novel.

I read the novel along with a graphic novel adaptation, which helped me enjoy both a lot more. http://www.amazon.com/Picture-Dorian-Gray-Illustrated-Classics/dp/1411415930

Heather J. said...

Laura - I've heard great things about the graphic version - I may have to check it out as some point. I know Kiddo wants to read it!

Amanda said...

Hi Heather! I just saw your response comment (forgot to subscribe). I can't say that I agree totally, because I don't think Lord Henry realized anyone was suffering. You mention the quote about sensation (a quote which I believe is just his babbling again) but he doesn't realize there that other people ARE paying the price. He's not privvy to what's going on in Dorian's world, so all he sees is a young man living for the pleasures of life without hurting anyway and keeping himself young in the process. He's got to think that wow, maybe he's onto something here, it's too bad he didn't follow these thoughts when he was young too! I think in some ways Dorian is influencing Henry more than the other way around!

I do think, as Jill said, Henry knew how much he was influencing Dorian, but I think he also thought it was a good thing, because appearances showed that listening to Henry's advice kept Dorian young, fresh, and beautiful. No one knew what was really going on, so I can't hold Henry directly responsible for his actions. Does that make more sense?

Heather J. said...

Amanda - Good point about Lord Henry not realizing Dorian is suffering, but I'm still not letting him off the hook. I really do think that he took great pleasure out of manipulating people. Whether or not he saw that the other person was suffering, he still should have given some thought to the consequences of his actions - he never does that. And even if he is just babbling on and on, not realizing that people are acting on his words, there are repercussions! And he doesn't care what those are - in fact, he doesn't even consider them. That obliviousness reeks of self-centerednes, a trait that bothers me in real life. Being so focused on your own opinions and disregarding those of others angers me to no end. This is, in part, why Lord Henry really rubbed me the wrong way.

And I have to say - I'm really enjoying discussing this with you! Thanks for coming back to comment!

Amanda said...

I do agree, it's somewhat manipulative. I feel like Lord Henry feels like - if people are naive enough to be manipulated by his wafflings, then they deserve the consequences, and will become smarter for it. No, that's not admirable, in fact I think it's his worst trait, but I still don't fault him for Dorian's behavior, because at one point he comes to believe he's doing Dorian a favor - he's being manipulated in return by the younger. I liked the irony in that.

I guess it doesn't help that I'm the sort of personality who likes to experiment with words and thoughts too. It's not meant to be manipulative, but sometimes it influences people and I'm honestly surprised whenever it happens ('you took me seriously??'). I saw a lot of myself in Henry, which is probably why I understood his character so well and really liked him. I felt like I could banter back and forth with him all day and never have to worry about manipulating him or getting manipulated in return.

I'm so glad I came back to comment! Glad you mentioned the discussion on your other post! :)

Heather J. said...

Amanda - This is just one of those areas where we're going to have to agree to disagree. :) I'm so glad you participated in Dueling Monsters this year - I've had such fun discussing the books with you (and with everyone else too)!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin