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Fable Reading Guide: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde
In an effort to be an intellectual girl who enjoys cups of black coffee and understands 19th-century novels, I created The Chamber of Classic Books Bookclub. It is a safe place for people to collectively read, wallow and despair without embarrassment about books we maybe don’t always understand the first read-through. This month, our club will switch to The Picture of Dorian Gray, a quintessential classic for dark academia enthusiasts. Before diving into Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, let’s discuss everything you need to know. oscar wilde 1

Who wrote The Picture of Dorian Gray?

Oscar Wilde was an Irish novelist, playwright, and poet most famous for his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. After graduating from Trinity College in Dublin and attending Magdalen College at Oxford Univerity, Wilde immersed himself in London literary circles. Despite his obvious talent, he was criticized for his admiration for the Aestheticism movement, a belief that art exists only for art and beauty. Additionally, Wilde was taunted for his flamboyant personality, even being the inspiration for the “fleshy poet” Bunthorne in the opera Patience. This would escalate when in 1892, Sir John Sholto Douglas accused him of sodomy. Outraged by this public defamation, Wilde sued Douglas for libel. Unfortunately, Douglas’s claim of Wilde soliciting twelve boys in two years to commit homosexual acts was further supported by chambermaid witnesses of men entering Wide’s bed chamber. The Crown put out a warrant for his arrest, and ignoring advice from friends to escape to France, Wilde remained in London and was imprisoned for two years. The judge stated the following: 

“It is the worst case I have ever tried. I shall pass the severest sentence that the law allows. In my judgment it is totally inadequate for such a case as this. The sentence of the Court is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years.”

What is the story behind Dorian Gray? 

The Picture of Dorian Gray follows the young and beautiful aesthete, Dorian Gray, as he spirals towards complete moral corruption and debauchery. His character begins innocent but turns to the dark side after figuring out he can remain immortal. At the same time, the self-portrait he painted decays and rots, and Gray exploits this supernatural power until his character is void of humanity. In his only novel, Wilde expertly combines Gothic horror, aestheticism, and French fiction to create a story of decadence and seduction as Dorian Gray uncovers the cost of eternal life. Picture of dorian gray

What did Dorian Gray do that was so bad?

After the publication of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde was immediately met with harsh criticism. Newspapers and journals labeled his work as “effeminate,” “leprous,” and the perverse depiction of obscene sensuality. The Scots Observer stated that Wilde’s novel was suitable, “‘for none but outlawed noblemen and perverted telegraph boys.’” This resulted in six chapters being removed from the book and a preface written by Wilde himself, stating, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.” original podg19th-century homophobia and strict conservatism restricted people from understanding The Picture of Dorian Gray is a warning about indulging in vices. It does not romanticize sexual transgressions or applaud Gray’s gluttonous desire for youth and fame. It warns against aestheticism, revealing the danger of wanting too much beauty.   

Quotes from The Picture of Dorian Gray


“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“To define is to limit.”Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

 “Some things are more precious because they don't last long.”Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

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