In response to a recent review on The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, a reader requested I return to the Halloween theme and look at The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. “In the Halloween theme, you should totally add The Portrait of Dorian Gray. That book totally creeped me out!” she said. So here we go!
Oscar Wilde on his own can be a strange and sometime creepy man. Possessing a very successful calling to the theater Wilde is best known for his comedic plays, particularly The Importance of Being Earnest, and his flamboyant and what at the time was considered reckless lifestyle. Living wildly and publicly, Wilde came under scrutiny for his less than discreet homosexuality, which at the time was illegal, and landed himself in jail. His public humiliation was the beginning of Wilde’s darker poetry and ultimate decline.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, published first 1890, the version that readers are familiar with today was finalized and published as a novel in 1891. It is the only novel Wilde wrote.
Dorian Gray is the story of a narcissist who manages to cheat death and aging through the magic of a wish placed upon a commissioned self-portrait, which now takes on the age and sins of its subject. Gray spends the next 18-years living a deplorable life full of debauchery and self-indulgence, all the while the portrait gets older and uglier with every hedonistic act.
Wilde describes the characters of his novel as versions of himself “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry is what the world thinks [of] me: Dorian is what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.”* The mere fact that Wilde wishes to identify with such a character speaks to his inner desires and strange nature, particularly considering that the character is ultimately an ugly, evil person and he knows it. But this same character is what draws readers over and over again to this story. This idea of reckless abandon and a consequence free life is an idea that everyone entertains. We all wish to stay young, healthy, virile and live without remorse. We connect with Dorian Gray even on the most basic level, and what draws us in is ultimately what makes this story so frightening, as it allows us to see who we would become. Only in the end do we truly grasp the consequences of his actions and only then do we see how terrifying he, and we, have become.
If you are looking for a mind twister this Halloween look no further than The Picture of Dorian Gray. You may be afraid of yourself in the end.