Monday, December 5, 2011

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray (audio) ~ by Oscar Wilde

dorian gray

Review by Shellie of: The Picture of Dorian Gray (in audio) ~ by Oscar Wilde; read by Simon Vance

A classic gothic tale which has “Faustian themes”. The story can be seen as questioning character and its relationship to youth and beauty within the setting of upper class Victorian London.

About:   Dorian Gray is a wealthy young Englishman who has an angelic handsomeness. His beauty is such that he is believed to possess exceptional character too.  When he becomes a subject for a painting by a local artist everything changes. As the gorgeous Dorian’s painting is finished, the artist realizes it has become the best work of his career – so much so that it contains an essence of himself including a piece of the artist’s soul.

When viewing the final version of himself on canvas, Dorian realizes how extraordinary he is physically – but this has sad consequences too, since Dorian’s vanity becomes warped; particularly when he realizes from one heartless act that the painting reflects his rightfully earned ugly expression:

The quivering, ardent sunlight showed him the lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had been looking into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing. ~ Chapter 7

For Dorian the picture becomes an obsession, an intrigue, a game around how the picture will look as he descends into debauchery and cruelty. He watches the changes with a twisted intrigue and curiosity:

For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able to follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul. ~ Chapter 8

Thoughts:  Listened to in audio, the proper English accented reader does a nice job of rendering a classic story so that it is easy to listen to. With various accents and changes in gender as well as its old fashioned writing this is a perfect book for an “audio read”.

Written over 100 years ago this is Oscar Wilde’s only published novel. It was first printed in a magazine and then published in various other versions over the years with parts removed and replaced, since the book was not without controversy. As a know gay author, his homosexuality is reflected lightly in this novel, as well as his subversive opinions around upper class Victorian life-style. Perhaps he was imparting an important message around beauty, character, and more? I am certain he was. One which is also appropriate for today.

In addition to the historical details and interesting cultural information from Dorian’s world travels, I found that there is a syndrome named after the main character. Although not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), it is called Dorian Gray Syndrome:

A cultural and societal phenomenon characterized by an excessive preoccupation with the individual's own appearance accompanied by difficulties coping with the aging process and with the requirements of maturation. ~ Wikipedia

I liked that little piece of pseudo-medical geeky-ness quite a lot actually, as it says something about human nature along with this horror story and Wilde’s point. 

The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of those novels that can be discussed at length, analyzed and rehashed and then some. I am happy to say it was not a forced read as a young adult in college or high school, otherwise it would have ended up in the pile of books I disliked. The language is of course antiquated and perhaps a bit drawn out by today’s standards. However as an adult I enjoyed it in this specific audio reading. It has an amazing premise and a strong message. I give this classic piece of literature a 3 stars. I liked it.

Unabridged; Blackstone Audio, Inc. 7 hours, 44 minutes; Feb 13, 2008; Awards: Audio Award Nominee - Audio Publishers Association

This book will be included in the Basics Challenge – where I explore speculative fiction; Historical Tour de Genre Reading Challenge;  and the Fill in the Gaps 100 Book Project. Link to our 2011 Challenge List.

For access a free copy in many types of readable forms; including online and e-readers - link to:

Thanks for reading.


David Wagner said...

I made an attempt at reading this novel earlier in the year. At first, I was floored by how incredible the dialog and the sentence-structure were - truly amusing, witty and well-structured. But for some reason, a few chapters in, I just lost all interest... still, very impressive writing, at least in nuggets here and there.

Unknown said...

I am with you David -
It was one that if I had not listened to in audio or had been persistent it just would have ended in the half finished pile.

It has an incredible premise though... yes a nuggets here and there that some high school or college professor can torture students with attempting discourse... lol...

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