SPOILER: This is part of my Currently Reading series, where I write my thoughts on books while reading them. These posts contain spoilers for the chapters mentioned in the title, so continue reading at your own discretion.
Finally, a good Victorian novel to cleanse the palette from Jane Austen. I have definitely read Dorian Gray before, but I have no memories of actually reading it with book in hand.
Time for a quick synopsis of these first few chapters. The novel opens in Basil’s home/studio, where he is in the company of his friend, Lord Henry. Their conversation is centred around Basil’s newest acquaintance and muse, Dorian Gray. Basil seems to be in love with Dorian, and he cannot stop talking about his beauty and charm. Henry is intrigued, and has the chance to see for himself as Dorian joins them. Henry becomes fascinated as well, and talks to Dorian while the latter is posing for Basil.
Dorian is quite influences by how Lord Henry talks about beauty, intellect, life, and ageing. When Basil finishes the portrait, which turns out to be his magnum opus, Dorian has an angry nervous breakdown at the thought that, while he will age and lose his beauty, the picture will still be as beautiful and young, and it will mock him. He wishes that it was the other way around: that the picture would age and he would remain young.
Henry and Dorian leave Basil to finish his work, and spend a lot of time together over the next month. At this point point, Dorian goes to see Henry to tell him that he is in love with an actress who plays Juliet at a theatre. That same night, he sends Henry a telegram telling him that he is engaged to her. Her name is Sibyl Vane. The next day, they go to Basil’s to tell him the news, and they all go to the theatre to see her. Basil is opposed to this upcoming marriage, and feels he is losing Dorian, and that their relationship will never be the same.
First of all, the opening scene. Wilde’s description of the atmosphere is unlike anything I’ve read before. I can feel the warmth of the studio, the breeze coming from the open balcony, the smell of flowers and trees.
Second of all, the language. Wilde is a poet at heart, and an extremely gifted and witty at that. The language is entrancing, both the descriptions and the dialogue. One way I would describe the novel is “a collection of great quotes, with a narrative around them.” I usually don’t write on books, but for this one I’m making an exception, as I am always reading it with pen in hand, ready to underline the best quotes. After the first few, I realized I was only underlining Henry’s quotes. Which brings me to the third point
The characters. Oscar Wilde himself said about them:
Basil is what I think I am; Lord Henry what the world thinks of me; Dorian what I would like to be.
I think there are a lot of people today who see Oscar Wilde as a quote vending machine, although I’m not sure he was referring to that. I found that I identify with Lord Henry quite a lot, as some of his responses are exactly the sort of thing I would say. I’m not sure I like this resemblance.
I look forward to seeing what happens with Sibyl.