While waiting to begin his final sitting for artist Basil Hallward’s portrait of him, the beautiful, young Dorian Gray has a conversation that changes the course of his life. Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wotton fills Dorian’s head with the idea that youth, beauty, and pleasure are all that matter in the world. He urges Dorian to indulge in all of life’s sensual joys before age takes its toll and his good looks fade.
When Dorian sees Basil’s stunning finished picture, he is transfixed by its reflection of his own beauty. He is also troubled by the knowledge that the image in the painting will remain forever youthful and handsome while he himself grows older and less desirable. He wishes aloud that the roles were reversed, saying that he would give his soul, if only the painting would suffer the ravages of time and he were to remain forever young. As the old adage goes: Be careful what you wish for.
Is Oscar Wilde’s only published novel a paean to hedonism? A cautionary tale? Something else altogether? In his preface, Wilde warns readers not to search for meaning in the story. “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book,” he says. “Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the most assuredly and elegantly written books of all time. That is all.