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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Today's rec honors Oscar Wilde’s 166th birthday, which was October 16th! So what better way to celebrate than by recommending one of my favorite books, The Picture of Dorian Gray?

Full disclaimer: I lost count of how many times I read this book. You could say it… never grows old :D Okay, but jokes aside, this book is just so good, from the premise to the writing, the humor, and statement it made at the time and continues to make.

Still from the 2009 film starring Ben Barnes

Here’s the story: A young, impressionable Dorian wishes to trade his soul for eternal youth and beauty after seeing a portrait of himself courtesy of painter Basil Hallward. His wish granted, Dorian, inspired by opinionated Lord Henry Wotton, begins to live a hedonistic lifestyle with no harm to his beauty, while his portrait becomes more and more damaged. Interesting, right?

My love for this book is so abundant I’m actually stuck trying to put it into words. It’s really one of those works you have to read/consume in order to truly feel its magic, and it’s guaranteed to suck you in. Dorian’s a fascinating guy, clueless and immature in his young age, enough that you feel protective of him in his initial encounters with Lord Henry, who is the catalyst of Dorian’s corruption (but not really; Dorian was a narcissist way before meeting him). What’s fascinating is how Lord Henry influences Dorian, a small push that lands Dorian far deeper than even Henry himself has been. When Dorian doesn’t have to worry about his youth and looks, when he knows he can do whatever the hell he wants with no physical repercussions, he slowly turns into a monster, the proof only visible in his portrait. His body remains fine, but his soul increasingly decays, horrifying even Dorian himself once he sees what has become of his painting.

Without giving too much away, the journey Dorian sets off on is riddled with fascinating conflict, from his love for actress Sybil (who deserved better) to his relationship with the unfortunate artist Basil Hallward. I especially enjoyed how direct, but artful Wilde was in portraying Basil’s attraction to Dorian, this lil' homosexual factor leading the audiences at the time to judge this book and call it controversial. Well, it wasn’t the only thing that made it controversial, but it was clearly something that bothered loads of people, which makes it that much cooler. The uncensored version is even more explicit about it, so try to find that if you want to read the real Picture of Dorian Gray.

Wilde has a special kind of style, focusing on a critique of society and of the times disguised by humor and conflict, that makes this story that much more enjoyable. Although written in the 1800s, it still holds up as a timeless piece, easy to read, wonderful to digest, and worthy of praise. Trust me, you pick it up and you won’t put it down until you finish it.

I don’t want to wax poetics about this and go into deep analysis because this is not the purpose of this entry, so I’ll stop here. I warmly and wholeheartedly recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde’s only novel, a groundbreaking and controversial piece of work that will make you think about humanity and freedom while enjoying the atmosphere and aesthetics of Victorian England.

Happy 166th, Mister Wilde!

As always, thank you for reading, and see you next week!