Dorian Gray is a young man of impossible physical beauty whose portrait -- painted by the artist Basil Hallward -- becomes connected on an occult level with the workings of his soul. Drawn into a corrupt and sensual life by the dissolute Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian remains young and beautiful, while the painting ages in his stead, ultimately becoming a monstrosity.
Interwoven throughout is the author's brilliant commentary on beauty, art, love, and always, stunning wit.
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."