Monday, September 7, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray

"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.

Ah, I love the word "debauchery." Such a delicious word.

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."


  1. This was a really good book, albeit twisted as hell. I have a huge love for Angela Lansbury so I should check out the movie!

  2. The movie is so wonderful. George Sanders is yummy, I can't help it.

  3. And some beautiful quotes on the book:

    "The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history." On the subversive scale for the era, that one's pretty high too, since it was a man saying that to Dorian. He was an artist, if I recall, so I think that's why it was "forgiven" by the public. In other interesting trivia, that quote is used in the (super awesome!) Velvet Goldmine.

    I'm curious to see what the new flick with Ben Barnes and Colin Firth will be like.

  4. I love me some Colin Firth! Wilde got in some trouble over the book. I watched the commentary on the DVD, and they seemed to think that most of the homosexual undertones were completely missed by the studio and the audience. What innocent times.