Classic Horror Reviews: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Hannah Myers | Contributing Writer

The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite classic horror books, and making my favourites list is a feat. I am not a fan of horror at all; I hide behind a cushion when something scary comes on the TV. Honestly I am a wimp. I’m not saying that Dorian Gray isn’t scary, but it’s much more psychological than physical horror. The novel uses strong deeply-embedded themes, and it would take a true master to read it without being even a little unsettled.

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The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in 1890, in the July issue of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. It was heavily censored before publication, at least 500 words had been edited out. However, a full version of the story was published in book form in 1891, which featured the famous preface by Oscar Wilde: ‘The Artist is the creator of beautiful things…’ The character of Dorian Gray has continuously grabbed the public’s attention; he features in the 2003 film League of Extraordinary Gentleman, the 2009 Picture of Dorian Gray film adaptation, and the 2014 TV series Penny Dreadful. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy watching the handsome Ben Barnes or gorgeous Reeve Carney play one of the most complex characters of Victorian history.

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Photo credit: Momentum Pictures

People tend to know the plot of Dorian Gray and his living portrait, but here’s a general plot overview. There are three main characters: Dorian Gray, Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton. After painting an amazing portrait of Dorian, Basil becomes obsessed with him because of his gorgeous good looks. Even Lord Henry and Dorian agree that it’s an amazingly handsome picture – as Lord Henry says to Dorian, “You are a wonderful creation.” Dorian makes a wish that he would stop ageing in order to stay beautiful like the portrait, and this is where the story really starts. Dorian quickly takes a liking to Lord Henry’s hedonistic lifestyle and begins to enjoy a life of sex, drugs and quite a lot more sex (although these references are vague due to the era that this was written in). Dorian’s love life is that of a typical playboy bachelor; sleep with anything that has legs. This may even include men, something that the 2009 movie makes very clear. Everyone loves Dorian, and Dorian loves to be loved.

Oscar Wilde said that the three main characters were reflections of himself: ‘Basil Hallward is what I think I am; Lord Henry is what the world thinks me… Dorian is what I would like to be – in other ages, perhaps.’

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Photo credit: Showtime

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a haunting novel about fighting with one’s inner demons. It’s a cautionary tale of how to regard inner beauty rather than something that is only skin deep. I recommend reading the book with an open mind, try to read between the lines. But keep in mind – It is not for the faint-hearted.

Have you read The Picture of Dorian Gray? What did you think? Tweet us @TridentMediaUK #TridentHorrorReviews

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Classic Horror Reviews: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde