This is a long, long book, and the first in a series, though I understand that they mostly stand alone so you don't really have to read them in order. It centers around three women: one married, one single, and one widowed, and for each of them, the central question is the same - do I go with Mr. Dull and Dependable or do I go with Mr. Good Looks Who Will Spend All My Money and Ruin Me?
It might have been a more exciting book if Trollope was a more radical author, but I'm not spoiling too much to say that Trollope was actually a very conservative author. Everyone ultimately Does the Right Thing in a very Victorian way, but not before flirting with impropriety enough to raise the question asked by the title: Can You Forgive Her?
Besides jilted suitors and gentleman wastrels, there is a bit of Parliamentary politics in this book which I believe assumes greater importance in the future volumes.
Anthony Trollope had the gift of narrative and character development, so if your only exposure to Victorian social drama is Charles Dickens, then give Trollope a try. That said, I would probably start with The Way We Live Now, which I thought was a better book with a more engaging story.
Simon Vance is one of my favorite audiobook readers, and he delivers great Victorian performances equally well with his readings of James Bond novels.
Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray tends to be classified as "horror" because the underlying premise is indeed one of supernatural horror: a dissolute young man is blessed/cursed with eternal youth, thanks to a portrait painted by an artist friend of his which reflects all the sins and depravities of his debauched life. As Dorian Gray stays young and beautiful, his portrait becomes more and more ghastly, until the karmic climax.
Nonetheless, if you actually read the novel, the "horror" aspects, particularly the supernatural parts, are understated. Dorian Gray, who begins as a rather callow but not evil youth, falls under the cynical influence of Lord Henry Wotton, a professional member of the do-nothing aristocratic class. When the painter Basil Hallward captures Dorian's Adonis-like perfection on canvas, Dorian is overcome with the tragedy of his own face growing old and wrinkled while the painting will always capture him as he was, young and perfect. He wishes it could be the reverse, and gets his wish.
Unlike in the movie versions, there is no magical Egyptian cat-god or explicit deal with the Devil that makes this happen — for Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray's selling of his soul was entirely metaphorical. He was apparently satirizing the Aesthetic Movement (though he was himself one of its more prominent representatives) which can best be summarized as "Art for Art's Sake." It was associated with decadence and disregard for social and moral judgments; Dorian Gray was a literal manifestation of the Aesthetic ideal: he sold his soul for Art (or rather, a piece of art).
Dorian becomes increasingly heartless after his cruel treatment of Sylvia Vane, whom he loved for her art but then jilted when she let him down artistically. After a brief attempt at redemption, he becomes one of the most notorious men in London, though notably, the precise nature of his many evil deeds is never described, leaving it all up to the reader's lascivious imagination. He ruins lives and destroys everyone close to him, yet still manages to keep a few close friends like Lord Henry and Basil.
(I definitely picked up some homoerotic vibes between Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil, which is interesting since apparently Wilde had to cut out some of the more overt homoeroticism when it went from serialization in a magazine to publication as a novel.)
So, read as a horror novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray is kind of lightweight — it's definitely not "scary" — and as a satire/criticism of the Aesthetic Movement, it is not terribly subtle. However, Oscar Wilde was most famous for his bon mots, and reading Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil exchange wry witticisms is the real pleasure of the novel, even if none of them talk like actual people having real conversations. This book could be mined for quotable lines on every page, and as a story of a man falling headfirst into Faustian temptation, it definitely has its literary moments. It is not perfect (it's awfully convenient how often Dorian escapes judgment by someone else's timely death, and the prose is a bit turgidly Victorian), but it's a solid 4 star book. Definitely worth reading for the one-liners and for absorbing a very readable literary classic.
This was a fantastic melodrama, worthy of being compared with any other Victorian novel, with a large cast of characters, a dozen subplots, and a biting, satirical wit that Trollope applied to what he saw as the greed and lack of class evident in London in his day. Other reviewers have commented on how Augustus Melmotte is entirely believable as a 19th century Bernie Madoff, and his ponzi scheme house of cards has been seen over and over again on Wall Street. But if The Way We Live Now were just a book about greedy high society types being taken in by a con man, it wouldn't have as much to recommend it. What makes this book great are the characters, from Melmotte himself to the many other players large and small, all of whom do wind up being interconnected in some way, though not all tie into the central storyline.
Of course a great deal of the book is taken up by marital intrigue -- that is to say, pretty much everyone is trying to get married. Some are trying to marry for love, some for financial security, some start seeking one and wind up choosing the other, but there are so many couples and would-be couples in this book, you almost need a dance card. They're each and every one of them different, with their own vividly described motives. Some are dastardly, some are grasping, some are naive and sweet, some are vulnerable, some are just weak. A few are even noble. But it's all a grand drama, and Trollope, paid by the word like most authors in his day, gets to indulge the reader in chapters full of resolution for each individual character in a way that modern novels, which favor tightness and paring away of unnecessary subplots and secondary characters, don't allow. It's a big, wordy book but if you like dramas, every bit of it is entertaining.
Timothy West really livened up the reading with perfect dry English wit to bring out Trollope's satirical tone. One of the best narrators I've heard on Audible.com; every character, even the women, was distinct.