Wilde’s only novel, first published in 1890, is a brilliantly designed puzzle, intended to tease conventional minds with its exploration of the myriad interrelationships between art, life and consequence. From its provocative Preface, challenging the reader to belief in ‘art for art’s sake’, to its sensational conclusion, the story self-consciously experiments with the notion of sin as an element of design. Yet Wilde himself underestimated the consequences of his experiment, and its capacity to outrage the Victorian establishment. Its words returned to haunt him in his court appearances in 1895, and he later recalled the ‘note of doom’ which runs like ‘a purple thread’ through its carefully crafted prose.
I was pleasantly surprised by this book. The writing was excellent and it is clearly a classic. But unlike some classics, this was very easy to read and I finished it in a single sitting.
Even though the prose is so lovely, the story is filled to brim with horrible characters which constantly say things I personally strongly disagree with:
People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought is. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible… When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you.
The people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination. Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect – simply a confession of failure.
And then we haven’t even talked yet about the things that are said about women.
The three main characters in this book, but especially Gray, are selfish, vain and cruel. However, what I missed in the story was proof of this. Yes, the reader is told about two or three of the horrible things he has done. But this is supposed to be only the tip of the iceberg, and all the other things there is only hinted at. Still, there wasn’t a single boring moment in the story.
With its amazing writing and intriguing story, this is one of the better classics I have read so far. I gave it a 3.5* rating, and definitely recommend it.