The wish comes true, and Dorian soon finds that none of his wicked actions have visible consequences. Realizing that he will appear fresh and unspoiled no matter what kind of life he lives, Dorian becomes increasingly corrupt, unchecked by public opinion. Only the portrait grows degenerate and ugly, a powerful symbol of Dorian's internal ruin.
Wilde's dreamlike exploration of life without limits scandalized its late-Victorian audience and has haunted readers' imaginations for more than a hundred years.
(P)2008 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
St. Louis, Missouri
There are books you like. There are books you enjoy. There are books you admire. And then there are books that go off in your head like a bomb. Or, rather, fireworks. Bombs can only destroy. Fireworks illuminate. And I haven’t felt this illuminated by a book since I listened to Michal York reading Brave New World—a work that pales in comparison.
Like many people, I used to docket Oscar Wilde as a mere maker of glittering, memorable aphorisms and observations. And, indeed, his conversational flourishes can tickle us with their humorous dexterity:
“My dear fellow, she tried to found a salon, and only succeeded in opening a restaurant”.
Or titillate us with their utter cynicism:
"Young people, nowadays, imagine that money is everything."
"Yes," murmured Lord Henry, settling his button-hole in his coat; "and when they grow older they know it.”
Or simply stop us in our tracks with a subtle distinction that has never occurred to us before:
"I didn't say I liked it, Harry. I said it fascinated me. There is a great difference."
"Ah, you have discovered that?" murmured Lord Henry.
We laugh at Wilde’s humor, admire his penetration or relish his audacity—and we take a moment to try to commit what we have just read to memory. But Lord Henry Wotton coins so many aphorisms that, early on, I began to tire of them—the excess of brilliance and scandal, the detonation of so many conversational hand grenades in my ears, made me wonder if Wilde were nothing more than what he seemed in his photographs: a gifted dandy, the petted aesthete who lived on the surface of life, a committed spectator, much like his creation, Lord Henry.
And when, in the book’s preface, Wilde asserts that, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all” I assumed he was setting forth a principle that would inform the book I was about to hear. That I was entering a world where Art was never good or evil but just well- or ill-wrought—a world were, as Lord Henry says, only ugliness is a sin. Like many other readers before me, I assumed wrong.
The more I listened the more Wilde’s assertion in his preface perplexed me. From the evidence of the story it is absurd: one of the major influences that corrupts Dorian Grey (and this story is all about the power of influences) is a book, lent to him by (who else?) Lord Henry. As the story unfolds it becomes abundantly clear that, for all Lord Henry’s wicked witticisms, the real sin is the studied avoidance of ugliness.
In fact, it was the sheer weight of Lord Henry’s endless aphorisms and sophisticated cynicism, at first so charming, that gives us the first indication that our trio of friends (Lord Henry, Basil Hallwood and Dorian) have the wrong end of the stick. Though amusing, Lord Henry’s dicta are unworkable; though others refer to it as a, “philosophy” it fails to hang together in any coherent way. As the book progresses, Basil Hallward and even by Dorian himself tire of the endless, empty effusions; they grate on their nerves as much as they grated on mine. (What an artist Wilde is—to create in the reader the same visceral frisson of annoyance his characters are feeling.) Predictably, Lord Henry, like so many destructive thinkers before and after him, dresses up his point of view as courageous: “The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly--that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays.” The real danger, of course, is that he is half-right. We really are here to realize our true nature. But that realization can only be achieved by serving others, not by primping and pampering ourselves. So when Dorian adopts Lord Henry’s empty tenants (“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul”) the consequence of trying to live out his unworkable ideas is a life that is unlivable.
Yes, Wilde was a flamboyant aesthete, a bad boy who made his reputation saying what we all think but never dare to say—and saying it far better than we would ever be able to. But he also died a Catholic convert, received into the faith he had felt drawn to since his undergraduate days. Yes, some books are neither moral nor immoral. But The Picture of Dorian Grey is not one of them.
I’m not going to spoil your chance to experience the arc of this story firsthand. It is a masterly performance throughout, both by the writer and the reader—Simon Vance was the perfect choice, from the timbre of his voice to his ability to read Wilde’s words as familiarly as if he had written them himself. He reinforces the power of the work he is reading. And there is power here—enough to change your life; or at least make you take a good long look at it. A book about a portrait that reflect the moral corruption of it's subject becomes a mirror for us.
And, now that it’s all over, I think I may have a line on the reason Wilde wrote what he did in his preface. After its publication he spilled much ink defending his book from those who thought it was immoral. But rather than reiterate the audacious ideas in his preface this self-declared aesthete, who had often borne the banner of art-for-art’s-sake in the public square, offered instead something very different:
“Yes; there is a terrible moral in Dorian Grey—a moral which the prurient will not be able to find in it, but which will be revealed to all whose minds are healthy. Is this an artistic error? I fear it is. It is the only error in the book.”
While writing Dorian Grey, Wilde confessed, “I felt that, from an aesthetic point of view, it would be difficult to keep the moral in its proper secondary place; and now I do not feel quite sure that I have been able to do so. I think the moral too apparent.”
In his preface Wilde could very easily have been playing a part—at one point in the novel Dorian observes that we are never more at our ease than when playing a part. But there is another possibility. Fearing that his moral was too apparent and that his art had been compromised, he may have been simply trying to throw his readers off the scent.
He needn’t have worried. There is great art and great truth in this book, which will be evident, as Wilde said, to healthy minds. In fact, he blended art and truth so well that perhaps this book might even heal unhealthy ones. As he once observed, “Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future.”
What an exhilarating book! The characters are rich and the writing is brilliantly witty and beautiful. Oscar Wilde's exploration of the depths of human depravity is genius. There are so many timelessly provocative themes running through this work - the fleetingness of youth, the superficiality of beauty, the power of the ego, the insidious danger of vanity, the importance of accountability and conscience. Lord Henry's aphorisms are as astute as they are irreverent. Be careful what you wish for!
I must first admit to have enjoyed Wilde since high school, many years ago. His wit and sarcastic view of people is refreshing. It is amazing how differently his work seems after three decades. Be prepared to have this book haunt you for a while.
Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.
There is no other word that truly describes Oscar Wilde. In this, one of his very best, there is the hallmark of his genius, his wit, his insatiable urge to shock and to flirt with danger. In De Profundis, his farewell apologia in exile, he wrote of how he "entertained at dinner the evil things of life ... [because] ... the danger was half the excitement." This sums up this title, too. In it, Lord Henry Wotton is Wilde's alter ego and one can't help but speculate if the physical attractions of Dorian Gray were drawn from the real life canvas of Lord Alfred Douglas, whom was to be Wilde's undoing.
I listened to the narrative and followed along in my Folio copy, interspersing passages with the transcript from Wilde's famous defamation trial. Sir Edward Carson's classic cross examination about this very book and whether Wilde adhered to the view that "there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. It is well written or badly written", is so much clearer with the book in hand. The fact that Wilde could hold at bay such a prodigious legal assault by strength of his intellect in the face of its obvious innuendo is amazing in itself.
The story, so Gothic yet so simple and clever, is as ageless as Gray's features.
I loved Simon Vance's performance, too. There were times when it reminded me of his dialogue in the Audible Edition of Dracula between Jonathan Harker and the Count. Other times, it was Wilde speaking to Lord Alfred. The intonation is perfect and the timing impeccable.
I loved re-visiting this classic. Top marks!
I love books and animals.I enjoy all sorts of genres, anything from history to supernatural.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a timeless classic. Being written in 1891 I thought it was going to be dry and uninteresting but its suprisingly good with fasinating characters, situations, and an olde world charm that I found very pleasing.
The narrator was superb and kept the story paced well and felt the emotions.
What more can be said about Oscar Wilde's novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray"? Fascinating, mysterious, gripping, and witty. Simon Vance's narration captures every nuance of the language, story, and dialogue.
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
I think that many comedians are one of two types. One type tells a joke that has you laughing at the end of a story or punch line. The other type has you constantly laughing after almost every sentence. While the Picture of Dorian Gray is not a particularly humorous book one of the characters, Lord Henry, is a master of the one-liner. Almost everything out of his mouth is a hilarious one-liner fraught with cynical humor. But again, while TPoDG is perhaps not meant to be funny it general, it is one of this books attributes, an attribute that I did not always consider a virtue. Eventually, Lord Henry’s cynicism wore thin.
Having received enough reviews overtime about the storyline makes a retelling this century old classic unnecessary. I will say that I enjoyed this particular reading by another master, Simon Vance. Mr Vance brings Dorian and Harry (Lord Henry) completely to life. The brilliant wit, sarcasm and writing is wonderfully narrated. So here are some of Harry’s more memorable one-liners and hopefully, a real flavor for this classic:
“You will always be fond of me. I represent to you all the sins you never had the courage to commit.”
“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.”
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
“To define is to limit.”
“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.”
“I hate vulgar realism in literature. The man who would call a spade a spade should be compelled to use one.”
“Women, as some witty Frenchman once put it, inspire us with the desire to do masterpieces and always prevent us from carrying them out.”
“Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know.”
“My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.”
“I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.”
“Life is a question of nerves, and fibers, and slowly built-up cells in which thought hides itself and passion has its dreams. You may fancy yourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance tone of color in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume that you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it, a line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again, a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play... I tell you, that it is on things like these that our lives depend. ”
I'd definitely recommend this book and this particular rendition.
Smoke me a kipper; I'll be back for breakfast.
I couldn't put this book down once I got past the initial preening of Dorian. I love that it is so representative of the period but also has the mysterious quality of a "Twilight Zone" situation. Great musings on how our soul is affected by what we read and who we keep as company. I think this is a must read for those who like British lit.
This is my first Wilde novel and I will certainly look for others. The writing is excellent if at times (expectedly) florid. There are quite long sections that do sound exactly like the Monty Python sketch referenced in the headline. There are also sections which clearly show Wilde was keen that we all know how widely read he was. Certainly not going to become my favourite style of writing but interesting and stays just this side of annoying.
With all that said the story moves at a a reasonable pace and keeps the interest. The narration is clear and has enough characterisation to help to seperate the characters without being intrusive. Worth the read.
The book is very good, if a challenging listen at times. I anticipated the twists & turns of the story, but I didn't care because I was enjoying the gothicness of it all. Simon Vance does an excellent read.
"A perfect introduction to audiobooks"
Audiobooks have come a long way from the cassette versions I borrowed from the public libraries some thirty years ago though the core remains the narrator's ability to draw the listener in. The obvious limitations of a solo performance are offset by the ingenuity in creating distinct personalities without slipping into parody or heavy bombast (listeners of Warhammer audiobooks will attest to this).
So it was a treat to try a book on the spur of the moment and for the satisfaction it provided it was certainly a fine example of what to expect. The book itself holds as well as it ever has and Vance is a fine narrator. At some junctures you do realise the lack of a female voice lends itself near enough to comedy in an attempt to avoid outright falsetto but listening to the tale made me realise there's far more to art of narration than I realised. So not only a fine few hours listening but a good way to assess future purchases. Well worth the listen, I look forward to hearing from Mr Vance in the near future.
"Recommended and well read"
The Picture of Dorian Gray, narrated by Simon Vince
Add this to your great novel collection, along with Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, The Invisible Man, Frankenstein, and Jekyll and Hyde. Simon Vance is, for me, the best dramatic audio performer for horror fiction. This will be a constant replay, along with the most complete vampire collection ever published. Very enjoyable and highly recommended.
My first experience of Oscar Wilde. Thrilling story, perfectly narrated. Quite poignant given the author's later experiences and early death.
"Strange but enjoyable"
One of those classic books where the title is very familiar to me but the plot wasn't familiar at all. It was extremely well narrated but I do think some of the genius of the book is lost by hearing it in audiobook form, it's too easy to get distracted. I think I'll go back and listen to Lord Henry's great hedonistic speeches again to appreciate them fully.
It reminded me of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, in that I didn't have any real sympathy for the main character but perversely enjoyed watching the story unfold anyway.
I'm amazed it was written in the Victoria era (1890), I thought the themes in the book only became popular in the 1920s.
Oh my word how I love Oscar Wilde! There is very little I don't love about his writing and this particular one is my favourite. Humerus, beautifully written, sad and really makes you consider your own mortality and vanity. Classic story and excellent narration
This was excellent in all .
A wonderful story read with great sensitivity . The narrator brought every character and scene to life.
"Excellent reading of a classic story"
One of the classics I had always intended to read again. It ranks in the top half of my library favourites ,but that library is extensive, so to put it in the top twenty of my 'classics' selection would be accurate.
no one moment stands out but the story draws one in very convincingly.
The narration brings to life a number of elements in the story very well and would recommend this version to other listeners.
It would have been a possible read in one sitting although I listened to it over three or four days as I like to contemplate the developments and assess my understanding of the story .
"A picture, terrifies more than a thousand words?"
The tumultuous journey of a soul? The majestic progress of darkness? No escape, not in London high society, nor in Dickensian quarters. Audible listeners: you?re in for a treat. To Simon Vance?s narration, two words: OUTSTANDING! BRAVO!
"Brilliant story, brilliantly read"
Wilde's hauntingly wonderful tale of tragic vanity is so expertly narrated by Vance that I was stopped in my tracks on more than one occasion. Highly recommend.
"Fine story but a tad overlong"
Not by Oscar Wilde, but narrated by Simon Vance, yes.
It seemed overlong, as there isn't that much of a story here to be honest!
His narration is always excellent. You always know when it's a character talking and when he's reading the text, and his subtle differences in performance always make the various characters distinguishable.
Not really. I'm glad I've listened to it (another one ticked off the bucket list!) but wouldn't listen again.
The slight plot would seem better suited to a short story.
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