In 1891 Oscar Wilde wrote his one and only novel, "The Picture of Dorian Gray". It caused quite a stir at the time, and because it first came out serialized in a magazine, there was ample opportunity for the censor's knife to chop away at it. At the time it was considered indecent, but, believe me, it is extremely tame and leaves almost too much to the imagination.
The story is about a young man, strikingly handsome and full of youthful charm and vitality, who has his portrait painted. While sitting for the artist, he got to know a friend of the artist who happened by. After much conversation, the young man was smitten by the idea that youth and beauty were the only thing in life that was important. When he was given the masterpiece, he fervently wished and prayed that he would keep his youthfulness and that the image in the painting would age with time.
He discovers, much to his delight, and then later much to his horror, that this is exactly what is happening. He finds true love and then cruelly rejects his bride to be. It is the beginning of the fall. His moral values deteriorate and he begins to lead a hedonistic life, jumping from one sensual experience to the next and as he does this, the face on his painting takes on a sinister and evil look, while he remains young and handsome.
The drop into moral decay becomes swifter and things come to a head. Without giving away the plot, I can say that things end badly, but the reader could see it coming.
The book is social commentary more than anything. Moral duplicity and self-indulgence are not exclusive to the late 1800's so we today can learn lessons from this novel. We have the choice between spiralling upward or spiralling downward. It is up to us which path we choose in life. In every action and decision, we should be looking forward to future ramifications or outcomes. The consequences are part and parcel of the decisions we make and the actions we take.
Which journey do we take. There is no neutral ground. We do not want to end up like Dorian Gray, a wreck of a man, so aptly portrayed in this book.
3 1/2 stars