Dorian and I? We Had a Fantastic Afternoon…

This afternoon, I sat down and watched the adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Colin Firth and Rebecca Hall. And I’ve never enjoyed a film adaptation of a novel so much in my life. Usually, I tend to rebel against them; I find them slightly abhorrent, and feel as though they potentially corrupt the value of the text itself. And whilst the novel shows some differences, the theme and concept remains completely the same. The essence of the text has been preserved; possibly the mark of some of the very best adaptations.

The adaptation very accurately and rather shockingly portrays the idea of the soul being revealed in a painting, a visual medium; the graphic image of the maggots quite literally eating away at the portrayal of the soul is a repulsive image. As humans, we reject the idea of decay, because we seek to survive and preserve. The brutality of Dorian Gray’s character as a result of impulse as portrayed in the film also represents the concept of excess, an almost epidemic problem in Wilde’s own lifetime. The sexual excesses in which Dorian indulges represents not necessarily the corruption of an entire era, but the effect these excesses have on Dorian. The effect on his psyche is spectacular; his aversion to the idea of multiple partner experiences soon changes to an insatiable appetite for every sexual indulgence possible; from the sadomasochistic, to the bi-sexual.

Dorian's first visit to the Opium Den. (1)

Decadence appeals to my frugal sense of the self because it is a luxury I lack both as a student, and as a person who works, and who realises the value of money. To be allowed a window into this world of unimaginable excess is therefore highly appealing, and Wilde as an author created small moments of complete, unrestrained indulgence for a reader, with an almost unrivalled level of skill. As a Victorian, he escaped from the restrained morality dictated by Christianity and entered a hitherto unexplored arena, notably examining the right of man to engage in homosexual activity without legal condemnation. Wilde’s trial was less focussed on condemning him for a clearly defined breach of legality; instead, the trial sought to persecute a lifestyle, instead of one element of a person’s possible activities.

The adaptation not only focussed on the destruction of Dorian’s soul, sacrificed on the altar of beauty, but also the influence of Lord Henry, the narcissistic uncle figure who first introduces the young man to the carnal and chemical pleasures of the world has to offer, most strikingly in the first visit to the opium den. The Lord himself dreams of a lifestyle of profound excess, however never quite has the courage to complete the dream; perhaps he has a conscience that is unrealised, and perhaps he cannot fathom exposing his soul to such complete tyranny; for those who harbour superstitions within themselves, it is simply an impossible notion to risk eternal damnation to such a degree as Dorian does. Dorian however lacks one of the fundamental elements of existence, in that he has no boundaries; no real influence telling him where he ought to draw the line, and to this end, he sacrifices his soul on the altar of beauty and physical pleasure.

I would recommend watching the film alongside reading the novel; it certainly brings to light some of the more subtle ideas of the novel and emphasises the value of aesthetic beauty in relation to the soul. Not only is the novel spectacularly on form, the lighting and scene cuts add a great deal of atmosphere to proceedings. I hope you enjoy it!




Staring into “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

As you may have become aware, as you have looked through my growing number of blog posts, I am just a little bit in love with Oscar Wilde. And the decadence, eloquence, and rather philosophical writings of his have been long fascinating my mind, however, today, I have nearly finished his only completed novel; The Picture of Dorian Gray. Moving on through the novel, you begin to observe the complete destruction of a man through the ultimate kind of all-consuming vanity. He is essentially being made the central element of the universe, and subsequently, if his beauty, that which inspired this masterpiece, was to begin to deteriorate, then the universe around him would begin to deteriorate also.

(1) Oscar Wilde: My Literary Hero

This vanity is portrayed from a completely singular view-point, which potentially adds to the overwhelming decadence of the novel; Dorian Gray is literally the whole world, to both himself and Basil Hallward, something that is an intoxicating responsibility and power simultaneously. This obsession with the self shows how delicate the psychological perception of the self is, and how truly brilliant Wilde is as a writer, with the ability to write in such a completely beautiful fashion.

My favourite element of the novel however is the subversive portrayal of influence of Lord Henry; he fundamentally feeds Dorian Gray these twisted, backwards perceptions of life that reinforce the concerns he has for the world in relation to himself. This is because he himself seems to be more affected by realism than Dorian Gray and Basil Hallward are, perhaps because he is more exposed to London high society as prescribed by the time; the complexities of the social politics described in the novel are familiar to most of us, especially considering the festive season we’re entering. The balance one has to strike between social factions, work demands, and family duty all serve to create potentially a very stressful holiday period.

The lack of innocence however that Lord Henry represents however is the beginning of Dorian Gray’s demise; it is this that leads to his want to experiment with every kind of vice available to him, including endless intoxication and debauchery. Fundamentally however, this abuse of the satanic finery of life does not show on the man physically; his initial wish, that his portrait would grow old as opposed to himself, is fulfilled. This desire haunts him, and eventually, he is forced to greet his own reflection, himself as he was painted by Basil Hallward. The sheer fact that he killed the painter of the portrait symbolises rather aptly his desperation, and the complete disregard he had for his soul, or indeed for willpower and self-control as an entity in itself.

This rather beautiful novel of Oscar Wilde’s is a testament to the extravagant excellence of the late Victorian period of decadence; Wilde himself reflected decadence and in many ways, perhaps could see some of himself in both Basil Hallward and Dorian Gray, both being complex characters of aesthetic value, with little regard for the depth behind the necessary aesthetic value of life, and of possessions. The linguistic quality of the text reflects the richness of the plot itself and indeed the decadence of the late Victorian period as a whole. Wilde himself was critical of the conservative nature of the Victorian period, and led a life that defied many of the social boundaries set at the time.

Oh, Oscar Wilde. Thank goodness you were so naughty.