Aug 162007

The bookclub discussed Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Reading this was a reminder that one reason I go to bookclub is to be encouraged to read books I otherwise wouldn’t, and to get more out of them than I can on my own.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (Wikipedia review) is the story of a beautiful young man who becomes evil and debauched after he views his portrait and realizes how much he wishes to stay looking young and beautiful. His wish is granted; his outer form stays young and vigorous while the painting shows the effects of his lifestyle; he keeps the painting hidden from the world as long as possible. The book played a role in Oscar Wilde’s trial and probably influenced his being convicted.

I had a hard time getting through the book and skimmed many of the more boring passages. While we were discussing the book, it became obvious that part of the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others did was because I got a version without footnotes or an explanatory introduction. Knowing something of the literary allusions makes a big difference. Those boring passages, for example, were supposedly intended to illustrate the tedium of parts of Dorian Gray’s life. Not that anyone at bookclub read them in detail.

The second edition has a lot of changes from the first edition; new characters, passages designed to tone down the homoeroticism, and we had some fun trying to figure out how the Victorian-era audience would have seen the novel, compared to the way it would be understood today. This is where those footnotes (which the others in bookclub had in their editions) came in handy.

It’s probably an important book to have read, given its historical significance; I doubt that I’ll read it again in the near future but if I did, I’d get another, annotated, version.

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