The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture Of Dorian Gray - A rather dark and sinister book that has lots of nuances. Find out why Oscar Wilde was heavily criticised for his writings in this book and what happened as a result....

When this was first published in 1890, it caused an absolute uproar - the themes of debauchery, , opium and hedonism were contributing factors to this outrage.

Wilde was forced to change over 500 pages and add a preface to the publication. What a shame that we can't read that original version!

It is always good to read such a controversial novel for a book club and decide whether these days, the book is still just as outrageous!

The Plot / Story

Dorian Gray is a particularly good looking English gent and we are first introduced to him having his portrait painted by Basil Hallwood. Basil's friend, Lord Henry, is also present and the three of them banter about life and in particular beauty.

Basil is really pleased with his painting, as he feels it captures Dorian perfectly, and it is clear that he is infatuated by Dorian Gray. Dorian wishes that he could stay young and beautiful forever, and that his picture could age instead of him.

Basil worries that Lord Henry will become a terrible influence on the young and impressionable Dorian.  All Lord Henry cares about is enjoying the pleasures of life - he leads a very hedonistic lifestyle.

Sure enough, Lord Henry starts to corrupt Dorian into leading a pleasure filled life as Dorian goes in search of beauty.

Dorian meets Sibyl in a back street theatre performing Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Before long he asks her to marry him. He invites Sir Henry and Basil to one of her performances. Sibyl says that she intends to give up the theatre to be with Dorian. But this isn't what Dorian wants - he finds her beauty in her acting. He shuns her and leaves the theatre.

When he looks at the picture of himself (The Picture of Dorian Gray) he sees that the mouth has changed to a smirk. His wish has indeed come true.

Dorian wants to make amends with Sibyl, but Sir Henry informs him that she has committed suicide by poisoning herself. He doesn't seem too remorseful, thinking that he only really needs his stunning good looks and youth to get on in life anyway.

What follows is a life of hedonism, of opium and girls and more.  Lord Henry is to some extent to blame, giving Dorian a copy of a french book as a sort of route map to hedonism.

Basil finally comes to question him on some of his rather dubious behaviour and Dorian reveals hidden away, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Basil is horrified and Dorian stabs him to death. He has to blackmail a local chemist to help get rid of the body.

Years pass, but Dorian stays as young as ever. Sibyl's brother (James) bangs into Dorian and wants to kill him, but Dorian manages to talk his way out of death by saying he is much too young to be Sibyl's lover of 18 years ago.

Suddenly Dorian is scared, wondering when James will show up again. James is accidently killed in a hunting accident and he finally feels safe again.

He wants to start again though and be good from now on. So, he goes to destroy the only evidence of his crimes - the picture of Dorian Gray. With the knife he used to kill Basil, he stabs the painting.

The servants here a terrible cry and find their master, Dorian Gray, an old man, stabbed to death, lying next to a painting of a  young and beautiful Dorian Gray.



The book shows that with beauty, most things are possible (along with some money of course) Dorian seems to be able to enjoy a fruitful life with his dashing good looks and youthfulness.

Lord Henry's philosophy would suggest that beauty and pleasure are the most important things in life - a life of hedonism is to be relished and enjoyed.

But Wilde shows us that the consequences are not always so beautiful. Wilde suggests that it should not be "beauty" above all else.


Dorian is an innocent young man before he meets Sir Henry, who is able to corrupt and influence his thoughts and values. Had he not met Sir Henry, it is possible that Dorian's life could have been quite different.

Basil could have been a better influence on Dorian, but his personality was no match for Sir Henry.

The Arts

Wilde shows us the arts in many formats in the novel - pictures, theatres and through Dorian himself. There was much debate at the time as to whether the arts were a way of educating the world or whether they should be just "enjoyed" Wilde seems to suggest in this book that art should just be enjoyed. But the sinister events of the book suggests that this may not be totally accurate.


The acts that Dorian commits are evil, especially given the lack of remorse he seems to show early on in the book (the demise of Sibyl and the murder of Basil). He does finally want to change, but perhaps only for selfish reasons - so he can sleep well at night, without the fear of someone hunting him down, rather than remorse for the deeds he has done.

Book Club Questions

For a full list of book club questions on The Picture Of Dorian Gray go to

Picture of Dorian Gray Questions


The Picture Of Dorian Gray, evoked some good discussion about some rather deep and meaningful topics around Beauty and Art.

Our book club enjoyed the writing, and we thought the characters were well developed and interesting.

The book contains many quotes about pleasure and beauty, usually through Sir Henry. Most of these could be discussed and debated as to whether your group agrees.Overall we gave this book 7.5/10.

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