The, incredibly literate and rather fabulous, Picture of Dorian Gray

Literary Blog Hop

Q. Please highlight one of your favorite books and why you would consider it “literary.”

A. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Because it’s quite awesome.


Ok, not exactly an ‘A’ worthy answer. Let’s get into details.

I started this blog a few months ago to get through the 100 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, which was (surprise, surprise!) comprised mostly of literature. Motivation? People kept telling me I wasn’t allowed to judge books that I hadn’t read. Pfft.

In any case, this blog follows my spectacular(?) reading journey, so I figured The Blue Bookcase’s Literary Book Hop was the perfect chance to share one of my favourite books with you.

I am talking about, of course, Oscar Wilde’s fabulous The Picture of Dorian Gray (published in 1890).

Long-time readers (and I adore you all!) are probably unsurprised at this not-so-startling revelation; I have exhibited a certain penchant for hedonistic characters before.

The plot recounts the life of Dorian Gray (duh), a man obsessed with youth and beauty. By an undefined twist of fate, his “soul” is transferred to a magnificent portrait of himself. Gray is blessed with good looks and youth forever, whereas his effigy bears the signs of his evil deeds and aging body.

If you’re confused, it pays to know that Victorians believed in physical appearance as a representation of the sort of person you are – they used to make moulds of criminals’ faces after their death so that scientists could figure out commonalities, and, therefore, apprehend future wrongdoers.


I did a giant literary criticism essay on The Picture of Dorian Gray, but before I can tell you why the book is so “literary”, we have to figure out what literature is. Ready, kiddos?

Literature, to me, is something that resonates with a lot of people, and continues its resonating well past the year of publication. Meaning a) the book’s written beautifully; and b) it has substance, because, whatever the work’s about, it touches something deep within you.

Phew, I sound like I’ve inhaled a little too much incense.

Oscar Wilde

Ostentatiously a satire in gothic form, I adored The Picture of Dorian Gray because it was filled with this brilliantly witty social commentary. Seriously – 99% of the book is quotable. Aesthetic merit? A big tick.

Now, Dorian Gray was bi-sexual in a time when having a little gay sex was enough to earn you a jail sentence (just ask Oscar Wilde). Moreover, Gray’s other hobbies included hanging out in opium dens, being self-centred, and playing with people’s feelings. Gasp! Ok, yeah, he ended up killing people, but whatever.

Basically: The Picture of Dorian Gray is an exploration of morality and identity. Is doing drugs enough to tarnish your soul? Wanting to stay beautiful forever? What about acting on your homosexual feelings? Having threesomes? Deciding to repent because it feels nice to “do the right thing” rather than from any desire to be good?

Apparently so. Enough for a homosexual man to punish himself for not conforming with society’s worldview. Has much changed since then?

The disappointing 2009 movie adaption

Now some people say that the novel is “immoral” and “depraved” and blah blah blah; but they can stick to their little widdle safe books like Anne of Green Gables and Austen oh-so-scandalous society gossip.

Because, like Dorian Gray and his portrait, the book works as a confronting representation of a reader’s ideals – do you like what you see?


28 responses to “The, incredibly literate and rather fabulous, Picture of Dorian Gray

  1. Ooooh! I just bought some Wilde! The Picture of Dorian Gray isn’t in this anthology, but it’s on my list. Sounds really weird, but intriguing. :-D

    • Haha, good timing then! I think this book is pretty characteristic of Wilde’s usual style – witty banter, quotable quotes and laugh-out-loud humour. You should definitely give it a go (once you get through your anthology lol).

  2. I just read this and loved it (and will be reviewing it soon)! It seems so ridiculous that people should call it depraved – it’s about a depraved character but that doesn’t make the book itself depraved. Judgement is passed and justice done. It’s satisfying and insightful – what’s not to love?!

    • They used this book as proof in his trial, called it immoral etc. It was very insightful, and I wish that Wilde wrote more than one novel.

      I’ll keep my eye out for your review!

  3. Wilde has been on my ‘to read’ list for a long time. I’ll be starting with The Picture of Dorian Gray!

  4. That is one really scary looking book cover! It seems like all the really interesting characters know how to sin in a big way….This was a very entertaining introduction to a book that I’ve always meant to read!

    • I chose the book cover because all the other book covers were rather unattractive. So I decided if I was going to have to use an ugly book cover, it was going to be really ugly! Thanks for the comment, you should definitely give the book a go!

  5. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve inhaled too much incense too! I love this choice. Will anyone ever agree on what “substance” is?

    • I remember the whole class arguing with my literary criticism teacher about whether Harry Potter was literature. For us (probably because we grew up with it), it was; it resonated. For her, it was a re-packaged collection of archetypes and myths. But the writing was excellent, and something about it gave me hope, you know? Besides all that, it explores intolerance, so, for me at least, Harry Potter is literature.

      You’re right, it’s hard to decide what has substance, or, rather, which form of substance is more important than others.

  6. Hehe. Love it! I’m not sure why I haven’t read this book yet … I feel like I should. It’s fairly short, isn’t it?

  7. Lovely. Happy to have stumbled across your incredibly literate and rather fabulous blog. New follower.

    Stop by my blog some time. I’m rather tame, personally loving and adoring Anne of Green Gables and Janie Austen, but please don’t hold that against me.

    • I quite liked Anne of Green Gables, I actually reviewed it recently for The Blue Bookcase. I guess I was just doing some compare and contrast, so I promise I’m not going to hold anything against you! Thanks for the follow!

  8. Really like your definition of literarture and love your succinct explanation of this classic! I still haven’t read this one… will get to it one day…

  9. I’m visiting from the Hop — Dorian Gray sounds like a must-read. I think I saw the movie as a child and the story is fascinating, but I never read it. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • I think the book is hard to turn into a movie, because then you lose the magic of the narration and focus only on the story. If you loved the movie (I’m guessing it’s that black and white one, yes?) then definitely run to your nearest bookstore/library to get your hands on the book. Thanks for visiting!

  10. I loved Dorian Gray and I could quote in my love comment practically 99% of your splendid review. Your definition of good literature fits my own – a book must resonate. Oskar Wilde was a trully brilliant person and writer with plenty of witty sayings quoted worthwide. He was, like Dorian, a scandalous but also very interesting man. I liked the most the fact that he dared to challenge the big fat lie, so widespread and popular even nowadays, that a pretty face and beautiful body means that their owner, be it a man or a woman, is also moral, good, intelligent, witty, brave, etc, etc.

    • Wow, thank you!

      Indeed, they’ve done studies which prove that attractive people are more likely to have a better job/get away with mistakes etc etc. It seems us humans are still dazzled by a pretty face. What I found interesting about Dorian was that that he was created by Lord Henry to be what he is throughout the book. He is a work of art himself. Anyway, when I did my essay, a part of it was on the art vs life dichotomy, though I didn’t mention it in the post because it was a little off-topic. Still, it’s fascinating how we view attractive people as works of art.

      Thanks for the comment!

  11. I, too, thoroughly enjoyed this book when I read it years ago. Oscar Wilde’s wit is enormous, and often so clever, one can’t really be sure what’s being slighted until a few pages (or days) later. He wrote with such skill on vanity, and social norms, in this book. I quite agree with you on all the points of your review. Thanks for visiting me, it’s nice to meet you!

    • I need to get a good book, because literally every page is highlighted/underlined/has notes in the margin (though I don’t normally treat books like that, I just needed to for my assignment). He was that clever. So now I’m hunting myself down a new copy, hopefully with a pretty cover. So far I haven’t been successful. Sigh.

      It was nice meeting you too!

  12. I think you really deserve an award – your reviews are so honest that they resonate too.

    • Wow – thank you! You make me blush…

      I think its a reaction against having to write all those essays at school and say how good a book was even though I hated it. Besides, book bloggers (mostly) don’t get paid – or, at least, I certainly don’t – so I write because I love it; because it entertains me and (hopefully) my readers. Why not be honest?

  13. Thumbs up for Dorian Grey. A fellow American friend introduced me to the writings of Wilde. I haven’t looked back since. Excellent review as always. You summed it up perfectly.

    • Thanks! There’s so much more I wanted to say, but space limitations (sigh). My mum introduced me to the book, she just said it was a gothic horror tale I might like & I was gripped by the idea of being forever young. Then I actually read the book (for my assignment, so I couldn’t relax into it) & it was so much more than that. Awesome book by an awesome author!

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