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The Picture of Dorian Gray

How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June…. If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!

St. Patrick’s Day seems like an appropriate day to finish reading Oscar Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. On a whim, I took it off the shelf for the first time in over thirty years after my son mentioned that he’d like to watch the 1945 film adaptation. When I first read the nove in the 1980s, a time when I was deeply fascinated by Oscar Wilde himself, I don’t think I had the perceptive ability to appreciate the depth of his genius as a writer. The Picture of Dorian Gray is beautifully and powerfully written by a writer who was clearly at the height of his powers, but with the stench of moral decay pervading the pages, it is hardly surprising that it so offended the faux sensibilities of Victorian society, for as Lord Henry Wooton proclaims as the story reaches its climax, “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” The Picture of Dorian Gray certainly holds up a mirror to Victoria hypocrisy. When Oscar Wilde was publically crucified, it was for society’s sins, not his own.

Upon rereading The Picture of Dorian Gray, what strikes me most deeply is that beyond the famously witty epigrams and philosophizing which run through its pages are dramatic passages of such descriptive power that you are left wondering what Wilde might have been capable of producing in his later years had he lived long enough to tire of feeding on the shallow adulation of his wit, and instead developed and matured as a dramatic writer. Alas, after writing The Ballad of Reading Gaol shortly after his release from prison on May 19, 1897, Wilde refused to write anything new, declaring, “I can write, but have lost the joy of writing.”


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