Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde (author), Steven Crossley (narrator)

Recorded Books, 1997 (original publication June 1890)

Dorian Gray is a young man with everything--looks, wealth, charm, position in Victorian society. He charms the artist Basil Hallward, who paints his portrait and accidentally introduce him to another friend, Lord Henry Wotten.

Hallward is a very good artist.

Wotton is a very bad influence.

Basil recognizes that Lord Henry says shocking, outrageous things, but doesn't take them seriously and assumes Lord Henry can't possibly believe them himself. But Dorian Gray is barely twenty, He's quite easily led to the point of saying he would give his soul if the portrait instead of him could bear the signs of his sins and his aging, and he remain eternally youthful.

What follows is the playing out of that wish.

Basil Hallward is a good man, but also a Victorian gentleman, reluctant to believe negative gossip about his friend, and reluctant to tell another gentleman how to live his life. Lord Henry, on the other hand, is always at hand to whisper poison in Dorian's ear, deriding conventional morality, and extolling the idea that the only morality is a person's own pleasure, defined in the most selfish ways possible. Wilde portrays this with subtlety and effectiveness. He also portrays the social mores of his time and society, without necessarily endorsing them. I don't have Wilde's subtlety and skill; I can't really convey how well he's done this. Social roles are what they are, and everyone around Dorian takes it for granted that this is natural law. Men are superior to women; the upper classes are superior to the lower classes. But while everyone in the book takes that for granted, they don't all act the same way in response to it.

Lord Henry, though Wilde never said it, seems to me to represent a minion of Satan. This is never heavy-handed. It's a word here and a phrase there; little touches building up to a powerful impression. Grant the premise of what happens with the portrait, and Dorian Gray's corruption is no melodrama; it's a realistic psychological portrait.

Highly recommended.

I bought this audiobook.