Sunday, May 27, 2012

Read to Improve your English - "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was an Irish author, playwright, and poet.  His full name was Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde.  Although he died in 1900, his work is still very enjoyable to today's readers, and his epigrams and wise yet sometimes satirical thoughts are often quoted.

Oscar Wilde often wrote in such a way as to get his readers or audience to question their moral values or their lifestyles; to enter into a little self-reflection.  In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian, a popular and extremely attractive young man, wishes that his painted portrait could bear the burden of his inevitable aging, so that he can stay young forever.  The brilliantly written story of what happens is in the public domain and can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Oscar Wilde prefaced the story with a few paragraphs showing the paradoxes of art, which he finishes and summarizes with one of his most widely-quoted epigrams, "All art is quite useless." An epigram, in this context, refers to a short, satirical saying.  Oscar Wilde penned countless epigrams throughout his work.

Let's look at one of the introductory paragraphs to The Picture of Dorian Gray: in this paragraph, the artist, Basil Hallward, introduces a problem that is very present in nearly everybody's life, and it is this very problem that Wilde explores through the story.

First, we'll focus on vocabulary.  Click on the highlighted words to link to their dictionary definition.

"You don't understand me, Harry," answered the artist.  "Of course I am
not like him.  I know that perfectly well.  Indeed, I should be sorry
to look like him.  You shrug your shoulders?  I am telling you the
truth.  There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual
distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the
faltering steps of kings.  It is better not to be different from one's
fellows.  The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world.
They can sit at their ease and gape at the play.  If they know nothing
of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat.  They
live as we all should live--undisturbed, indifferent, and without
disquiet.  They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive it
from alien hands.  Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as they
are--my art, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray's good looks--we
shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly."


As soon as you go ahead and read this superb novel, you will see that it starts out with a pile of foreshadowing.  That is to say, Wilde hinted early at the upcoming events in the story.  In the paragraph above, Basil states that "We shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly." When you read the story, you'll see that Dorian does indeed suffer terribly, as do Basil and his friend, Harry.  

Another example of foreshadowing, more subtle, is in the very second paragraph of the story, with Harry gazing on a garden: "Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs..." Here, Wilde is hinting that beauty, while appearing sweet, can be a terrible, volatile burden to bear.  This is what Dorian Gray finds out as the story progresses.

Now, whether you are reading The Picture of Dorian Gray for school, or you just love reading fantastic literature, go and read the story.  For more detailed information on this brilliant little novel, don't forget to check out SparkNotes.