I try to read a great work of horror or the Macabre every October. This year I selected Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which, like so many books with a reputation, is much more deep than the elevator pitch most people know about it.
I am always surprised by the books when I read them, and better for it. Frankenstein was much more moving and meaningful, and Dracula much more farcical.
Fortunately, Gray has much more in common with Frankenstein than Dracula. It is not a simple, shallow tale of a vain man retaining his youthful beauty, but of a young man learning about the vanity of youth.
Although Wilde’s portrayal of women is painfully Victorian, this can be viewed in light of the truth he brings to light about the pomposity of the men of that age and privileged place they felt they held, whether that was his intention or not. They treat woman as either super or sub human, but never just human.
For Dorian, he moves from the super to the sub-human view as parable of how many men treat woman from youth to supposed maturity without finding the honesty of woman as fully actualized people.
In the end, this lack of introspection about relationships is what really ages his Portrait into the wretched state it ends up in. The cruelty and degradation reflected in the image comes about as he hurts those around him, but his own face is spared those marks, becoming the symbol of his conscience.
Do our bodies reflect our past transgressions? That may be too simplistic an explanation, but makes for an intriguing premise for Oscar Wilde to play around with.