“The Picture of Dorian Gray”

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

As a classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray is summarized and analyzed in many places, and I have nothing to add.* However, as the new semester starts and seniors at both schools are beginning projects, I think this quick classic is a great choice for either the novel required before research at Chaffey High or, at Colony High, as one of the two works of British literature to be read and later analyzed. 

My oldest son once told me that he thought half of all witty quotes posted anywhere were by Oscar Wilde—and that if you saw a quote and had to guess who said it, naming Wilde would mean you’d be right half the time. Should you read The Picture of Dorian Gray, you’ll know why he said this. Although the character Lord Henry Wotton is a sort of Satan personified and gets Dorian started on his life of evil and debauchery, a lot of what he says contains wry witticisms that you’ll enjoy. Even when he is perfectly awful, I couldn’t help but laugh about his observations of women and romance. Whether you sympathize with Basil Hallward or with Sibyl Vane, you’ll have to agree that in love, everybody plays the fool. (Sorry if you have already been that fool who’s had your heart broken. If you aren’t, steel yourself—it’s around the corner.)

As a novel to analyze, the many quotable lines will give you a lot of citations in your paper. As a jumping off point for historical research, the novel outlines many practices of the late 19th century—the division between classes, the things people did as work and recreation. It also minutely details Dorian’s interests, which alter frequently. You may have a hard time with the lists of things he likes to do—his study of perfumes, tapestries, art, music, etc.–as modern novels don’t do this (and modern readers seem to have no patience for it). Still, I’ll make a prediction: when mainstream reading goes multimedia, Dorian Gray will be very popular. Imagine as these places and objects are listed that you will click on the words and have images of them. Perhaps in a bit more distant future, perhaps you’ll even smell all the perfumes that are mentioned. Very cool.

Try this one.

*Our own resources for summaries and criticism include Dorian Gray. All students can use the city library’s online database The Literature Resource Center, but you’ll need to give your library card number to view it. Chaffey students can use ProQuest Learning Literature (You need the passwords—ask us if you don’t know them.)

Anyone can use the free online guide from Shmoop.

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About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
This entry was posted in Classic Fiction, Historical Fiction/Historical Element, Horror/Mystery/Suspense. Bookmark the permalink.

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