"The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful."
Let me first recommend the Oscar Wilde book, published in 1891, Wilde's only novel. The story goes like this: The young and beautiful lad, Dorian Gray, has his portrait painted at the height of his youthful beauty by his friend, Basil. Basil's hedonistic buddy, Lord Henry, suggests to Dorian that he should live at full throttle, experiencing everything there is to experience. One only ever regrets the things one has not done. Dorian wishes that he could remain forever as physically beautiful as he is at that moment, and that his portrait would instead show the wears of time, age and experience. In fact, Dorian declares that he would give his soul to have this one wish granted. And, so, his wish is indeed fulfilled, and Dorian goes on to lead a life of wild debauchery without physically changing, while his portrait grows twisted and hideous. However, even after sacrificing his soul, Dorian still maintains at least a shred of a conscience. While he has become a piece of art himself, art for art's sake is simply not enough to base a life on.
Anyway, the book is a great little read, because Wilde is such a witty and wonderful writer. If you're not up for the book, may I recommend the movie? It was released in 1945, and it has held up really well. The true joy of the movie is George Sanders as Lord Henry. I have such a crush on George Sanders. He's so English and urbane and this role was ideal for him. Also, keep an eye out for the devastatingly young Angela Lansbury as Sibyl Vane, and the impossibly lovely Donna Reed who wears this great little fur shrug thing. It's filmed beautifully, and it's full of fabulous little surprises.
Then, there is the portrait itself in the movie. It becomes a kind of additional character. We're never given the details of most of Dorian's transgressions, but, man, they must have been doozies judging by the state of the portrait by the close of the film. The portrait in the film was painted by magic realist artist Ivan Albright, and I can't imagine what audiences in 1945 made of it. It still causes gasps today. Here is one example of his unusual style of painting. You can see more of Albright's work at the Art Institute of Chicago.
So, Dorian Gray. . . part gothic horror, part failed romance, part period film. . . all good.
"There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realise his conception of the beautiful."