I have a minor (that’s a lie, major) problem with rereading certain books. I have some practically memorized yet I keep going back time and time again. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one such book.
I know Oscar Wilde was really a playwright, but I have never actually read his plays. I have seen the movie versions of some, that is close enough right? His playwright-ness aside, this book is in my opinion his best work.
Exploring the deepest human desires and fears? Check. Intrigue and double lives? Check. Full of homoeroticism? Check! Wait, what? Be kind, rewind, and explain that last one.
The more I reread the book, the more blatant it becomes. In the works of a man who was prosecuted for “immoral behavior”, which at the time included being gay or participating in homosexual acts, I am stunned at how prevalent it is in his writing. In a very public manner he was flaunting the morals and sensibilities of the time. I am not sure if that made him brave or stupid. Funny how often those two are connected, isn’t it? Either way, his scandalous behavior does not detract from his literary genius. At least, not today.
Oscar Wilde paints a vivid picture of a man falling into ruin, ruin of his own making. Of how our sins, hidden though they may be on the surface, poison our minds and even drive us mad. He uses excess to show how excessive Dorian really was. Which seems impossible but he is perfectly countered by the excess, of Lord Henry, a hedonist in his own right. It is a genius trick, one I could never fully understand even if I read the book a thousand more times.
We watch a once perfectly good man spiral to the pit of sin, through acts at first small but increasing in scale and degradation. See how beauty is a double edged sword. For even those who love him for his appearance start to fear and loathe him for it. How men fear him for is unnatural youth, the very youth he sold his soul for. He is literary proof, that you die by the sword you live by.
To me this is the very pinnacle of horror, to see what should be good twisted and misshapen till it inspires terror.
Love and be careful what you wish for,