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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

PBS Great American Reads Top 100 Pick (featured title in episode titled "Villains and Monsters", aired October 2nd, 2018)

I read this famed novel years ago, but between binging the television show "Penny Dreadful" -- a mash-up of classic gothic novels including The Picture of Dorian Gray, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Varney the Vampire – and revisiting it via the PBS program, The Picture of Dorian Gray fell back on my reading radar. Then, our fiction book club expressed interest in reading a Great American Reads book, and before long we were reading this for our August meeting.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is one of those novels where most everyone knows the gist: a man named Dorian Gray is in possession of a portrait of himself that ages and putrefies with every day that ages him and with every sin that corrupts his soul. In short, the person is an immortal, youthful man without fault while his portrait is a painted manifestation of his soul. This is the main premise of the story; however, the plot expands from the initial creation of the painting through to the death of Dorian Gray. The plot is considerable fluid; rather than centering the novel completely on the internal character development of Dorian Gray, Wilde balances the characters with the happenings surrounding them. There is murder, mystery, suicide, affairs, dinner parties, clubs, and all sorts of dramatic events that weave into the leading man.

I think sometimes books that are commonly prescribed for students or that bear big names like Oscar Wilde or someone similarly "classic" can be intimidating for those looking for a "for fun" read. The Picture of Dorian Gray, I think, fits both categories. Yes, it is written with a deeper prose, sports all the tell-tale signs of classic literature, and it can easily handle a full study of the text. It also is really funny. Dorian Gray has an excellent sense of humor that one wouldn't necessarily expect, especially considering he is the most corrupt character – in the most tragic sense possible – in the entire novel.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is an odd array of themes, but the thickness, the humor, the gothic-ness, and everything else all melds together into a wonderful book that is worth the read, no matter the context.

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