August 4, 2011 § 10 Comments
‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is verily Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece – a book that deals with so many things, and in such subtle yet intricate detail and with such a force, that one is left wondering about the integrity of one’s opinion after having read the entire novel. Dealing with things in ever-double shades, of both a subjective and objective viewpoint, and through both art and faith, Wilde’s work has a jostling affect on the reader. He constructs a typical modern man’s life which is based upon a mode of existence vested entirely in subjective experiences and divorced of anything otherwise. A hedonism that is both very dark yet very attractive, very pleasant and enticing – a religion of faithlessness (Read about true materialism, a religion in itself) that removes all limits, save those of one’s mortality, and even they are pushed the farthest with the fictitious character of Dorian Gray whose exuberant youth never withers. It gives form to the speculation many of us have had regarding the infinity of pleasure we could have, given certain circumstances. And when Oscar procures all those circumstances, driven by the whim of the handsomest Gray, we realize that even then the morbid meaninglessness of life seemed to look through.
What adds the tinge of deliciousness to the pages are Lord Henry’s dialogues, him being undoubtedly one of the wittiest characters I have read of and who utters most of the sentences which are then to become eternal ‘golden quotes’ of Wilde, to be quoted and re-quoted in fiction magazines and essays. Being a hedonist who wouldn’t accept even the very brand, Henry is a befitting example of one who consumes himself entirely in pleasure, even when restrained and somewhat refined. He refuses to belong to any faction, of any nature whatsoever, and lives life at the whim – ‘living in the moment’ to quote the popular cliché. To quote a dialogue ‘The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.’ Drenched thoroughly in the eloquence that was atypical of his contemporaries, Oscar’s words leave one steeped in deep thought, not due to some profound, philosophical rendering but because of a witty, everyday remark about a mundane thing in the most extraordinary fashion. Nonetheless, I can safely call this that one piece of fiction which contains the seeds for the strongest revolt against civilization and the hypocrisies it has worn now for ages. Dialogues such as ‘Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious: both are disappointed’ and ‘Young men want to faithful but are not; old men want to be faithless and cannot’ are just a fleeting preface to the actual blasphemies uttered against the society, none of them quite untrue, and in a manner most provoking.
Wilde quite beautifully depicts the dullness of the persistence, even of the most exquisite pleasures, and through that, provides the best argument against hedonism itself – but he seems more inclined to give the ruling in the hedonist’s favor, conceding with the proper sentence that life would be but worthless without such joys, such wonders, such passionate undertakings and sinful indulgences as had been committed by Dorian Gray. In a way, he expounds both the argument and the counter-argument side-by-side until each is consumed by the other and their product, Gray, is consumed by their contest. Even sin and virtue seem enshrouded deep with, more important to humans, social motives which sway them to either, as required by the norms of the social order. And to discern through the psychology of any action is to try and unveil the masks which is the most difficult of the tasks, even for the beholder of those masks. Eventually, this paradox is what tears Dorian’s heart apart, leaving him doubtful as to the presence of the slightest grain of nobleness in himself which he had formerly assumed thus.
In all, this novel has all the elements of fantasy, creativity, meaningfulness (though towards the theme of meaninglessness), passion and intelligent rendering, both of plot and characters, and a profound theme, if any one of the many of them, recurring throughout, could be pinned for the verdict – a gem of a piece of writing for an intelligent reader and a charming delight still for the less bestowed ones.