Very Well Read

Quotations from, and the occasional reflection on, things that I have read.

The Picture of Dorian Gray


The Picture of Dorian Gray is probably my favourite book. I mean, it’s hard to pick a single favourite book, but if I had to pick one, if someone held a gun to my head and forced me to pick a favourite novel, I’m pretty sure “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is what would come slipping from my lips. So when I saw TPoDG in the library the other day, I couldn’t resist re-reading it for the umpteenth time, but this time taking down notes for posting here on Very Well Read.

I’ve been known to make a joke about having a portrait hanging in the attic as the explanation for why I look younger than my age (making that joke far too often for some people’s liking) and I also did provide my ex with a quotation from TPoDG for his Honours English thesis… a thesis that he got 95% on. I’m not saying that he got the 95% because of my apt choice of quotation or anything…

Anyway. Without further adieu, here are the quotations:

  • “There is no. Such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are either well written, or badly written. That is all.” (preface)
  • “The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.” (preface)
    And from the book itself:
  • “…there is only one thing in the world that is worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” (p. 2-3)
  • “But beauty, real beauty ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they don’t think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was a boy of eighteen, and as a natural consequence he always looks absolutely delightful.” (p. 3) – in this passge, Wilde is talking about art. He was an aesthete, believing in art for art’s sake, beauty for beauty’s sake. As he said in the preface, books are not moral or immoral, just well written or poorly written. By having Lord Henry say that thinking causes you to become ugly, he is using it as a metaphor for art – if you try to create art with meaning, it becomes ugly… art should be beautiful in and of itself. Of coures, by imbuing his novel with this type of meaning is quite ironic, as by putting meaning into his work of art, he is making it, in his opinion, not a great work of art. I also like the bit at the end of this passage about the Church being filled with non-thinkers, who just believe what they are told to believe.
  • “…none of us can stand other people having the same faults as ourselves.” (p. 9)
  • “…we all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughly well-informed man – that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-à-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.” (p. 12) – I love this quotation and I’ve used it often in my education work – it fits well with my displeasure with the “memorize a bunch of useless facts and then regurgitate it in an exam” form that education usually takes.
  • “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it.” (p. 19)
  • “The life that was to make his soul would mar his body.” (p. 25).
  • “It is the problem of slavery, and we try to solve it by amusing the slaves.” (p. 40) – this is the quotation of the aforementioned ex’s thesis. It was related, if my memory serves me, to the Matrix – how everyone is a slave and things like television, work, church, etc., etc. keep us under control and unaware of our slavery.
  • “She was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked as if they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest.” (p. 46)
  • “Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.” (p. 47)
  • “As long as a woman can look ten years younger than her own daughter, she is perfectly satisfied.” (p.48)
  • Experience [...] was merely the name men give to their mistakes.” (p. 59)
  • “‘Marriage is hardly a thing one can do now and then, Harry.’

    “Except in America’…” (p. 75)

  • “But, surely, if one lives merely for one’s self, Harry, one pays a terrible price for doing so,’ suggested the painter.

    ‘Yes, we are overcharged for everything nowadays.” (p. 80)

  • Around p. 86-87, there is a description of howDorian turns from completely adoring the actress Sibyl Vane, to completely abhorring her. In this scene, Sibyl is acting the part of Juliet and she’s acting it terribly. She later tries to explain to Dorian that this is because once she had met and fallen in love with Dorian, the idea of pretending to be in love on stage seemed suddenly meaningless to her. Dorian, of course, will have none of it – he just does a complete 180. The whole thing reminded me of how flaky Romeo is (at the start of the play, he’s all in love with Rosaline, then slips to loving Juliet at the drop of the hat). Also, when Dorian tells her that she is no longer being a work of art to him, I found it reminscient of, just pages before, Basil saying that that Dorian is no longer the work of art that he once knew.
  • “It was perfectly true. The portrait had altered.” (p. 98) – this statement is so profound because it really is the turning point in Dorian’s life.

  • “There is luxury in self reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel that no one else has the right to blame us.” (p. 99) – I can think of someone with this attitude.
  • “You come down here to console me. That is charming. You find me consoled, and you are furious!” (p. 114)
  • On pages 138-152, there are some really long, descriptive passages about jewels and music and fabrics that reminded me of American Psycho, where Bret Easton Ellis has page after page of description of clothes and music and skin care regimines. Patrick Bateman is sort of a 1980s version of a dandy, isn’t he?
  • Her capacity for family affection is extraordinary. When her third husband died, her hair turned quite gold from grief.” (p. 186)
  • ‘It is perfectly monstruous,’ he said, ‘the way people go about nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.” (p. 187)
  • Don’t tell me that you have exhausted Life. When a man says that one know that Life has exhausted him.” (p. 188)”In the common world of fact the wicked were not published, nor the good rewarded. Success was given to the strong, failure thrust upon the weak.” (p. 209-210).
  • “And yet if it had been merely an illustion, how terrible it was to think that conscience could raise such fearful phantoms, and given them visible form, and make them move before one! What sort of life would his be, if day and night, shadows of his crime were to peer at him from silent corners, to mock him from secret places, to whisper in his ear as he sat at the feast, to wake him with icy fingers as he lay asleep! As the thought crept through his brain, he grew pale with terror, and the air seemed to him to have become suddenly colder.” (p. 210)

  • “I’m going to alter. I think I have altered.” (p. 220)
  • “Death is the only thing that ever terrifies me… one can survive everything nowadays except that.” (p. 222)
  • “To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable.” (p. 226)
  • “The tragedy of being old is not that one is old, but that one is young.” (p. 226)
  • “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” (p. 228)

    And one last thing. I really didn’t like picture on the copy of this particular edition. Like *really* didn’t like it. The picture of Dorian’s portrait (look at the picture at the start of this posting) just totally freaked me out whenever I looked at it. So much so that I actually put a sticky note over it so that I wouldn’t have to look at it. As seen in this photo:

  • Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Tor, 1999.

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    One thought on “The Picture of Dorian Gray

    1. Dermot on said:

      It’s a great book, and what’s amazing is how timeless it is, it can apply just as well in these days we live in.

      If you’ve ever seen the League of Extraordinary Gentle (comic or film), you’ll see that they use Dorian’s “characteristics” quite cleverly…

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