My first encounter with Wilde was the powerful ballad he wrote about his experiences at Reading goal, only a couple of years before his death. His haunting rhythm and style matched the ironic flamboyance that peppered his life. The darkness that was imbibed in the nursery rhyme-like poem left goosebumps on many a reader's skin. One could well expect the same from the only novel that the author penned. Wilde's portrayal of Dorian Gray is a work of brilliance - ironic and psychologically profound.
The book was used in court as evidence against Wilde, leading to his conviction - hard labour in jail, for two years - that ultimately leading to his degenerative demise. To think that Wilde was jailed for a 'crime' such as homosexuality only a hundred years ago is an irony in itself. And perhaps that is enough reason for readers of today to want to discover what lies within it's pages to deem it capable of such damage during the Victorian era.
Dorian Gray, the aristocrat, could as well be the heroine of the book. The way Wilde describes his 'beauty' is natural and convincing. One doesn't feel any discrepancy in the vocabulary typically used to describe women being applied for the male character. His mental degeneration is a study in the psychological workings of a mind that accustoms itself to criminal cruelty.
Lord Henry Wotton, the nobleman, is the more crucial character who changes the Crux of the story. His influence on Dorian is convincing enough for even readers to be pulled into the void of societal, social and behavioral realities. However, Lord Henry is also offers the lesson to be gleaned, if one may, that excessive hedonism leaves no room for morality.
Basil Hallward, the artist, is supposedly an embodiment of Wilde himself, by the author's own admission. He brings out the innocence of the good-at-heart, the innate god-fearing virtue and morality, that suffers for it's very existence.
Sibyl Vane, the talented actress who suffers a tragic end, showcases the stupidity of blind love.
The story is unconventional, especially during the time it was published in.
The attraction that a hapless painter Basil feels for his muse Gray leaves us feeling sorry for his predicament. His ruthless end leaves us with no sympathy for the protagonist.
The most striking aspect of the story is the supernatural element of art juxtaposed with reality. The surrealism in Dorian Gray's discovery of a secret - his portrait mirrors a reflection of his soul - adds a thrilling sense of foreboding for the inevitable.
It is interesting to note the gradual fall from grace is voiced by the other characters, sometimes minor ones. More interesting is the way Gray justifies his actions to subdue his voice of reason and conscience.
The end is a fitting one, a perfect embodiment of the real merging with the surreal.
I rate the book 4.3 out of 5. Plus points are for sheer innovative plot and mind-blowing insights in the dialogues, that are food for endless mulling discussion. Minus points are for the long-drawn descriptions that run to pages, marring the pace of the story.
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Happy reading, readers!