Flamboyant and controversial, Oscar Wilde was a dazzling personality, a master of wit, and a dramatic genius whose sparkling comedies contain some of the most brilliant dialogue ever written for the English stage. Here in one volume are his immensely popular novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray; his last literary work, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” a product of his own prison experience; and four complete plays: Lady Windermere’s Fan, his first dramatic success, An Ideal Husband, which pokes fun at conventional morality, The Importance of Being Earnest, his finest comedy, and Salomé, a portrait of uncontrollable love originally written in French and faithfully translated by Richard Ellmann.
Every selection appears in its entirety–a marvelous collection of outstanding works by the incomparable Oscar Wilde, who’s been aptly called “a lord of language” by Max Beerbohm.
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."