After acquainting myself with the vibrant story of Wilde through the high esteem with which others anointed him, I finally picked up one of his novels through a decidedly one-sided exchange with a Hanoi book-monger. To loosen myself of Last Legion (Manifredi) was joyful, Under the Eagle (scarrow) hardly heartfelt but adding into the equation Hunger (Hamsun) proved a step almost too far to throw into the barter…
However, in hindsight, such is the value of Dorian Gray that I can comfortably conclude that I over-extended myself for good reason.
The penmanship is elegant and superb throughout – this on the whole – engaging narrative, with serious, intriguing rendering of the descent towards doom of Dorian contrasted brilliantly by the amazing consistency of Lord Henry’s upbeat cynicism, who only once in the novel seems anywhere near approaching uncouth when his machete wit and silver tongue is matched briefly by his own cousin, a woman. (Gender mentioned not out of chauvinism but out of contrast to the character of Henry found within the ink).
Lord Henry was for me a more vital character than the lead himself (Dorian). Remaining puppeteer extraordinaire long after Gray has seemingly reached a lengthy plateau before the crash, upon which the Lord’s output remains strong and interesting from a philosophical stance.
It was a brave, controversial book composed during a period in which puritanical ideas were championed and held up as lofty aspirations if not obligations of all writers, especially the gentry classes. To delve so deep into the base and immoral, in several sharp ways, was courting exactly the response the book received and the hardships involved in its publication.
Despite the high quality and questioning nature of the prose, I found myself skipping passages in the chapters which describe in repetitive detail the efforts spent adding layers of knowledge to the lead’s mind and endeavours to his existence, yet my sagging spirits found grateful wind in their sails with the return to the pages of dialogue. Chiefly Lord Henry;s words…
Engrossing, too often, to be weighed down by its troughs, Dorian Gray is a toothsome read.
Dorian Gray is my dearest friend,” he said. “He has a simple and a beautiful nature. Your aunt was quite right in what she said of him. Don’t spoil him. Don’t try to influence him. Your influence would be bad. The world is wide, and has many marvellous people in it. Don’t take away from me the one person who gives to my art whatever charm it possesses: my life as an artist depends on him. Mind, Harry, I trust you.” He spoke very slowly, and the words seemed wrung out of him almost against his will.
“What nonsense you talk!” said Lord Henry, smiling, and taking Hallward by the arm, he almost led him into the house.