"Oxford Bookworms" offer students at all levels the opportunity to extend their reading and appreciation of English. There are six stages, taking students from elementary to advanced level. At the lower stages, many of the texts have been specially written for the series, to provide elementary and lower-intermediate students with an introduction to real reading in English. At the higher stages, most of the books have been adapted from works originally published for native speakers. The language controls used in "Oxford Bookworms" are based on a syllabus specially created for the series by Tricia Hedge. This takes account of the more traditional approaches to grading and recent research into the nature of reading difficulty. The approximate vocabulary count for each stage is: Stage 1 - 400 words; Stage 2 - 700 words; Stage 3 - 1000 words; Stage 4 - 1400 words; Stage 5 - 1800 words; Stage 6 - 2500 words. All stages have exercises for classroom or private use, plus a supporting glossary to help students with vocabulary. Illustrations are used, especially at the lower stages, to help comprehension.
A lush, cautionary tale of a life of vileness and deception or a loving portrait of the aesthetic impulse run rampant? Why not both? After Basil Hallward paints a beautiful, young man's portrait, his subject's frivolous wish that the picture change and he remain the same comes true. Dorian Gray's picture grows aged and corrupt while he continues to appear fresh and innocent. After he kills a young woman, "as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife," Dorian Gray is surprised to find no difference in his vision or surroundings. "The roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds sing just as happily in my garden."
As Hallward tries to make sense of his creation, his epigram-happy friend Lord Henry Wotton encourages Dorian in his sensual quest with any number of Wildean paradoxes, including the delightful "When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy." But despite its many languorous pleasures, The Picture of Dorian Gray is an imperfect work. Compared to the two (voyeuristic) older men, Dorian is a bore, and his search for ever new sensations far less fun than the novel's drawing-room discussions. Even more oddly, the moral message of the novel contradicts many of Wilde's supposed aims, not least "no artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style." Nonetheless, the glamour boy gets his just deserts. And Wilde, defending Dorian Gray, had it both ways: "All excess, as well as all renunciation, brings its own punishment."