The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
It took me ages to come up with a ‘D’. Eventually it came down to Dante or Dorian Gray, and to be honest, I just didn’t feel up to re-reading Inferno again right now. (Lazy? Possibly. Busy? Uhuh. To read pile stacked sky high? Oh yes!)
Did you know that there have been at least eleven movie versions of this book? Certainly my first introduction would have been on the old Saturday night Hammer Horror double bills that my sister and I used to stay up to watch. But whichever version it was, it led me to the novel, just like Masque of the Red Death led me to Poe. (I was such a cheery teenager!)
So, what’s so special about Dorian Gray?
Well, I think he’s kind of unique. There are thousands of vampires and seekers of eternal youth, but I can’t think of anyone else to have their soul painted into a picture. There are lots of stories of people disappearing into paintings, but not – I think – as a proxy for their sins. (This is not an invitation for you to now list every example just to prove me wrong.)
(Actually, go ahead – I’m always up for learning something new 😉 )
But I digress. (I know, no change there).
In many ways Dorian Gray is really quite shallow. It’s the circumstances and the concept that are interesting. He’s easily led, which is what prompts him to get into trouble in the first place. Then the portrait takes his culpability off the hook and so we see how this gives him the excuse to abandon morality.
We don’t really feel him as a character. As a writer there’s a lot to learn from here; we’re told a lot about how debauched he is, but whereas today you’d be expected to show this, I guess the culture of the time (at least, in mainstream literature), didn’t allow for it.
It’s interesting that the movies actually add to the story. All too often a movie has to remove so much detail, but the need to produce this as a script meant having to replace lengthy sections of prose with a bit more active story.
I had to re-read this. A good job I did as it turned out that I’d mis-remembered a lot. Memory had turned him into a depraved monster and he doesn’t actually come through that way on the page, because the parts we see of him is where his conscience is trying to get free.
And that, ultimately, is what redeems him.