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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) by Oscar Wilde

Book Review
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
 by Oscar Wilde

  It is unclear how I missed The Picture of Dorian Gray during my sweep through the late 19th century.  It's a particularly unchallenging portion of the canon, biding time between the peak of the 19th century realist saga and the upset caused by the emergence of literary modernism.  Unlike many of the representative works of that period, The Picture of Dorian Gray is not a dour, five hundred page morality tale about life for farmer workers in the English countryside.  It's not, formally speaking, a modernist work, but Wilde's ideas about the nature of notoriety and morality foreshadow the invention of mass-median drive celebrity culture of the 20th century.  Wilde was writing before movies and television, but I would hardly be the the first writer to observe the parallel between the character of Dorian Gray and a modern-day Kardashian or Warhol Factory Superstar.

 Like many genre-surpassing science fiction authors, it is the strength of the idea, rather than the strength of his prose that likely led to the inclusion of The Picture of Dorian Gray as Wilde's sole representative work on the 1001 Books list.  This sole representative also likely reflects that Wilde himself was more of a celebrity than a literary giant.   Certainly, his reliance on epigrams is at time ingenious and also maddening. The depiction of Gray's descent into decadence is an almost inexplicable set of chapters about tapestries and objects d arte that reads like something written in the 18th century- as far away from literary modernism as is possible.

  Wilde's sin absorbing portrait has its contemporary analogue in the photo editing app people have on their smart phones, or the waste bins at the offices of Beverly Hills area plastic surgeons.

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