"The Picture of Dorian Gray" is a lush, cautionary tale of a life of vileness and deception or a loving portrait of the aesthetic impulse run rampant? 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. This sophisticated but crude novel is the story of man's eternal desire for perennial youth, of our vanity and frivolity, of the dangers of messing with the laws of life. The herof of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" is a fine-looking socialité with a high ego and superficial thinking. Allured by his depraved friend Henry Wotton, perhaps the best character of the book, Gray jumps into a life of utter perversion and sin. But, every time he sins, the portrait gets older, while Gray stays young and healthy. His life turns into a maelstrom of sex, lies, murder and crime. Some day he will want to cancel the deal and be normal again. But Fate has other plans in "The Picture of Dorian Gray."
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."