The Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde, 1890-91
150-175 pp. (varies by publisher)
Wotton introduces Dorian to Hedonism—a belief in pleasure and sensation as the prime meaning of life. "Live! Live now," he urges Dorian. Beauty is transient: the day will come when you will be "dreadful, hideous, and uncouth."
Dorian, under Lord Henry's sway, is distraught when he sees his youth and beauty peering out at him from the finished portrait—so distraught that he makes a Faustian bargain:
How sad it is!... This picture shall remain young.... If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that— for that...I would give my soul for that!
And so for the next 20-some years, he does: Dorian exchanges his soul for lasting youth and beauty. It's quite a story!—drawing in readers and armchair philosophers. Somewhat preachy at the beginning, even silly and dated, but keep reading—there's a nice payoff. And Wilde's nuggets? Not to be missed:
See our Reading Guide for The Picture of Dorian Gray.
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