When I first read The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was in the ninth grade. At that time, this book mesmerized me. The whole book is so filled with pithy sayings and so full of quotable material that I loved it. It became my favourite book. After re-reading it, I still love it, but I see it differently. I don’t know if I can call it my favourite book anymore.
I wasn’t mesmerized by it this time around and I really saw things that bothered me. One of the most upsetting things to me was how easily influenced Dorian was by Lord Henry. In fact, he was almost completely responsible for Dorian’s descent into evil. He was the seed of immorality that spread through Dorian, and for some reason, it really irked me. I’d always seen how corrupted Dorian became, but I focused more intensely on the cause of it during this reading. It was actually quite disappointing to me how pliant Dorian was to Lord Henry. He seemed to absorb everything and barely had a personality of his own. When his personality finally did emerge, he was so unlikable. I guess my biggest problem with this book is that once I wanted to believe the best about Dorian Gray, and now I see him as weak, easily influenced, and hopeless. Maybe that says more about how I’ve changed than the book itself. I was also less aware of the homo-eroticism in this novel than during the first reading, so perhaps I’m more mature and more cynical.
Another thing that infuriated me were the vague references to Dorian’s sordid dealings. I can’t remember being frustrated by them as a teenager, but this time I really wished there was more detail given. I mean, my imagination filled in the blanks, but it was still a little irritating that Wilde couldn’t just go there and spell it out for his audience. Maybe I’m more curious now too.
Wilde is one of the best writers I have ever come across, I can’t deny that. However, the more I think about it, I realize this isn’t my favourite book. I felt no empathy for the characters, I felt no sadness or moral outrage. I was just a spectator. When I re-read a book, I usually see things differently in a positive light, but I didn’t with Dorian Gray. This doesn’t mean I’m not going to read more of Wilde’s works. I enjoy reading his writing immensely, and I don’t discourage anyone from reading Dorian Gray either. You’ll either love it or hate it, but I don’t think it’ll ever be on my To-Read pile again.