Oddly enough, this isn’t the first time I’ve read the Picture of Dorian Gray, nor do I suspect that it will be the last. I still remember the first time I read this book: I was in junior high, I had such a love of the classics (despite all of my classmates’ protestations that it was ‘weird’) and I would quite literally inhale anything literary. Of course, the first copy of Dorian Gray that I read was a greatly abridged version, but it no less decreased my fascination with the characters of Dorian Gray, Sibyl Vane and Basil Hallward. I remember that all of these vivid characters – they practically jumped off the page and right into my imagination – and I remember absolutely adoring the way the novel was written and how strange and creepy Dorian Gray’s character was. I loved the vapidity and the shallowness that Dorian Gray encompassed, the innocence that Sibyl Vane was and the shock value that was elicited by Dorian Gray’s death, which was something I had forgotten over the years. Rereading this book as an English major has definitely changed the way I view the book, especially in regards to the finer details that I’d missed as a pre-teen. Prior to beginning my rereading of the novel, I had certain preconceived notions that it was going to be an easy read, particularly because I’d read an abridged version of Dorian Gray as a pre-teen. As I began to make my way through the novel once again, I found that the language had greatly changed from what I had remembered it to be, something I did not expect, and that the so called language change made it much more difficult to read and then I slowly realised that the version I’d read in junior high was abridged. As a child that adored to read and would inhale literally anything in terms of literature, my parents consistently gifted me with Classics, particularly a series called the Great Illustrated Classics that adapted storylines by authors from the Victorian period onwards. One of these books that I’d received in junior was the Picture of Dorian Gray and while planning out this blog post, I’d initially wanted to include an excerpt from both the abridged and unabridged versions of the book, but while I was hunting through my many, many books, I couldn’t find the GIC copy of Dorian Gray. Instead, I discovered two different versions of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and while Montgomery’s novel is not within the time period we’re discussing in class, I want to include the first paragraph, or so, of each novel just so you can see how heavily abridged the GIC books are.
Mrs. Rachel Lynde was a busybody who lived in Avonlea, a town on beautiful Prince Edward Island off Canada’s Atlantic coast. Now Avonlea occupied a little peninsula that was jutted out, with water on both sides. It was impossible for any traveler on the hill road to pass in and out of town without Mrs. Rachel noticing. And notice she did! (Great Illustrated Classics.)
Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum. (Unabridged).
While both of these excerpts have the same general sense of what begins Anne of Green Gables, they are both fundamentally very different, which is the same thing that occurs with the abridged version of the Picture of Dorian Gray. Because of the massive difference between these two novels, before I started rereading Dorian Gray I had very specific expectations for the book. I distinctly remember the Great Illustrated Classics version straying very specifically away from any indication of sexuality at all, besides the obvious heterosexual relationships. After finishing the novel (this next portion may contain spoilers for those of you that have not finished this book), I texted my best friend after Campbell’s visit to Dorian Gray asking her if Gray was gay, to which she responded “Yeeeeeeeeeeeees.” In hindsight, I feel as if I shouldn’t have been so surprised in regards to Dorian’s sexuality, but because I had no inclination of homosexuality in the Great Illustrated Classics version, I didn’t expect this revelation, not that there’s anything wrong with it. I feel as if I had romanticised Dorian Gray, twisted the novel into something that it wasn’t, but despite the differences of the novel and the Great Illustrated Classics version, I absolutely loved it. I have always been a fan of the macabre and the dark and the dark themes that are present within Dorian Gray’s text had me completely wrapped around their little fingers. As I’ve said in class, the concept of happy endings and endings wrapped up and tied neatly with a bow have become some of my least favourite and, despite the fact that Dorian Gray ends up with him killing himself (albeit accidentally), I found myself satisfied with the ending because it isn’t a happy ending. None of the endings that any of the characters succumb to are happy: Dorian Gray commits (unintentional) suicide, Sibyl Vane commits suicide, Basil Hallward is murdered by Dorian, and James Vane is shot by Dorian Gray.