1. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Book of the Month - March: The Picture of Dorian Gray

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by arron89, Mar 1, 2010.

    The WF.org's book club is back with the gothic horror classic The Picture of Dorian Gray.

    Feel free to ask questions or post your thoughts on the piece, though try to avoid spoilers (although I think most people are familiar with this story by now...).

    Have fun, learn lots!

    (I'm super-busy with uni so may or may not be able to start/lead a discussion this time, so someone else, preferably someone who has read/studied the text, please offer up your insights to start us off :))
     
  2. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks arron for getting us started. To push discussion in a healthy direction I've borrowed these questions to consider from the sparknotes site:

    1. How does the character of Lord Henry affect Dorian?

    2. Discuss the role of homoeroticism in the novel.

    3. “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book,” Wilde says in the Preface. “Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” Does the novel confirm this argument?

    4. Why is the relationship between Basil and Dorian important?

    5. What makes The Picture of Dorian Gray a Gothic novel?

    6. Discuss the role of Sibyl Vane in the novel.

    7. Discuss the parallels between Dorian’s story and the Faust legend. Does Dorian make a pact with the devil?

    8. Why does Dorian decide to destroy the painting at the end of the novel?

    9. Criticism of Dorian Gray usually focuses on its being derivative. Is this fair criticism?
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    This is an interesting question given that Dorian is interested primarily in beauty. For him, beauty is the ultimate end. Also, this idea of beauty seems (at least in the first 50 or so pages of the book) to be purely physical. If I remember correctly, Dorian never mentions hearing beautiful things or smelling beautiful things. Instead, he only mentions how beautiful things look. In other words, it's a shallow way of looking at beauty.

    The other characters seem concerned only with physical beauty. Basil and Lord Henry are both drawn to Dorian because of his physical beauty. So, those two are also victims of physical beauty in a way.

    From what I've read so far, Dorian isn't concerned with morality. Aesthetic beauty is a much higher priority for him than is morality (or anything else for that matter). When applied to art, the quote above by Wilde basically translates into "art for art's sake," which seems to be the creed that Dorian lives by.

    This is also relevant to Dorian's relationship with Sibyl, but I'll add more on that later, when more people have had a chance to read further into the book.
     
  4. Mouser
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    I finished reading this yesterday! Not the normal sort of book I'd read and I only bought it because I love the film. And if I'm honest, I still prefer the film. (I'm talking about the 09 one.) In the book, I don't sympathise with the character of Dorian at all, I wanted him to die. I also didn't like Harry - though he's a complex character, he comes across as an arse.

    Just reading what Thirdwind said above me, doesn't Dorian go through a period when he's obsessed with perfumes/scents?

    I love the story, but the characters didn't do it for me really. I also thought the ending was massively abrupt, like Wilde got bored and couldn't be bothered to write any more. I would've liked to have seen Lord Henry's reaction to Dorian's death.

    Also thought it strange that nobody really wonders why Dorian's not ageing.

    Concerning Gannon's post. "2. Discuss the role of homoeroticism in the novel." I didn't really notice any myself. Was a bit disappointed!
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Perhaps he does. I just don't remember it. It seems to me that Dorian is more concerned with beauty he can see/visualize. The same might even apply to some of the other characters.
     
  6. Mouser
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    I think it's pleasure, more than beauty that he's obsessed with - although it sort of amounts to the same thing. He gets really into tapestries, perfumes, music, gemstones... I can't remember what else but there was a lot! Flowers possibly, I remember something about orchids.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    OK, so I'll go ahead and post my thoughts on this. Like I mentioned before, Dorian is obsessed with physical beauty, and what initially attracts him to Sibyl is her ability to portray beauty on stage. He sees her performing for the first time and immediately falls in love with her (or perhaps it is her ability to portray beautiful characters on stage that attracts him, I don't know). When Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil go to the theater a few nights later, she performs poorly on stage. Ultimately, what causes Dorian to dislike her is that she is unable to "act" beautiful on stage. Quite frankly, I don't like Dorian at all, and I think Wilde does a great job of making Dorian unlikable.
     
  8. Twisted Inversely
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    Twisted Inversely Senior Member

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    I think that's because you're not reading it from the perspective of an 19th century audience. Nowadays topics such as homosexuality, amongst other things, are dealt with far more openly, whereas back then passages that we, who are used to more explicit material, might see as being fairly innocent would be perceived as being quite shocking.
     
  9. Mouser
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    True, but even so, I don't remember reading anything that could have been seen as homosexual, even back then. Maybe someone could job my memory? I know both Basil and Lord Henry see that Dorian is beautiful, but I'm not sure that even back then that would've been seen as homosexual. I could be wrong of course, I'm not quite that old. :D
     
  10. Marcelo
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    In the first two chapters Basil mentions how Dorian has become an obsession to him, the inspiration for his art--in other words, he idolatries Dorian's beauty. Something, I would guess, that could had easily passed as homosexuality a hundred years ago.
     
  11. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Ok, I finished the book last night and thought this to be an interesting question. I don't think Dorian is much like Faust. Faust was doomed the minute he made the pact with the devil. Dorian has a choice to act either moral or immoral. If he had acted moral his entire life, then the degradation of the painting would not have been an issue (at least, I think so). He yielded to his temptations, but he had a choice from the beginning whether to act morally or immorally.

    Anyone else finish the book?
     
  12. Writt
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    Writt Member

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    Cannot believe I just stumbled across this thread, my favourite book! Started reading it again last night so I'll be back once I finish.
     
  13. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    OK, so I'm nearing the finish of my re-reading, so I think time to add my tuppence.

    “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book,” Wilde says in the Preface. “Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” Does the novel confirm this argument?

    Discuss the role of homoeroticism in the novel.

    For me, these two discussion topics are linked. True, within the book there are immoral themes at play - Dorian's behaviour leaves a lot to be desired throughout (particularly chapter 13), as do Lord Henry's coercions and at-times reckless advice. These however were unlikely to tar the book with any notion of it itself being immoral.

    The immorality referred to is, if you'll excuse the pun, a closet one. The "idoltary" that Basil confesses to is IMO fairly thinly veiled homosexual attraction, and the very notion of such passionate study of the male form may not in itself relate to the very same, for art has long valued it, but in context makes for fairly explicit analogy. It would be four years after completing Dorian Gray that Wilde's conviction for "homosexual offences" would happen. In retrospect, a society could well have treated the book as an immoral putting to paper of unholy desire, whether or not it was well written.

    Discuss the parallels between Dorian’s story and the Faust legend. Does Dorian make a pact with the devil?

    I'm not 100% on the Faust legend, though Wilde through Dorian certainly seems to indicate a parallel. In order to create a contract with the devil, there is in all legend a bargain to be struck, so perhaps Dorian didn't have a choice - his becoming im- or amoral a byproduct of a contract struck. Lord Henry certainly seems an at-times wicked influence, perhaps assuming the role of the devil. A role Dorian latterly takes.

    Criticism of Dorian Gray usually focuses on its being derivative. Is this fair criticism?

    I'd say not. The idea of immortality through selling one's soul is not new, but treating through a Victorian veil of Aestheticisim was, and having the painting mirror, chart or mimic Dorian's decline is I think a novel touch. Wilde's wit is almost unparalled, most would agree. His epigrams as voiced by Lord Henry and then Dorian are revelatory, cutting and succintly reductive so the style isn't derivative. Where the book does fall down a touch IMO is in two places. The opening three chapters are quite turgid, weighed down with elaborate clause declentions, asides and quick fire witticisms. This makes for a tough slog of an opening. And chapter 11 which deals with Dorian's fleeting but profound obsessions with all manners of aesthetic objects isn't narrative critical and is again quite stodgy prose so heavily laden with suitably opulent description, anecdote and allusion. But as for whether these elements makes the book derivative, I'd say no.

    Looking forward to the final few chapters now.
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm kind of disappointed that it's almost the end of the month and we've only had a few responses. But I think if we want to keep this book of the month thing going, then we should stick to smaller books, since most of us have work/school or whatever. Is anyone interested for next month?
     
  15. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I'm super swamped with reading for uni, so I'm probably out, unless anyone else is up for some Contemporary Drama? Sarah Kane's Blasted anyone?
     

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