Oscar Wilde‘s The Picture of Dorian Gray was one of those books that I heard about a lot, kept encountering references to it, but never managed to read it. Up till now. It’s true though that I only read the first version from 1890, which contained only 13 chapters as opposed to the one from next year with 20. But I think I got the gist of it. It is, obviously, about the price we pay for vanity. It is also amorality tale about hedonism. It is an implicit homoerotic novel. It is the externalization of sin and internalization of beauty.
As usual with classics I don’t feel that I could add much to the discourse about the book that has been studied and explained by thousands of scholars. One thing disturbed me though. The Jewish manager was described in such unfriendly manner, that I started to wonder whether Wilde was anti-semitic. I did little search on the web and found Christopher S. Nassaar‘s article on the topic. He suggests:
“Is Wilde indulging in an uncharacteristic outburst of anti-Semitism, or is there a deeper reason for his surprisingly hostile and racially prejudiced portrayal of the Jewish manager? The answer, I think, lies in the nature of Wilde’s novel. Without exception, the characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray are meant to represent various art movements in the nineteenth century and before…The oily Jewish entrepreneur is a stock figure in the popular literature of Wilde’s day, and it is almost certain that Wilde meant him to be another representative of Victorian melodrama and to contribute to the unattractive atmosphere surrounding Sibyl. He is clearly her equivalent of Caliban. But one cannot stop here. Wilde pushes the anti-Semitism to the point of parody, prompting the reader to ask further questions. It is my view, which I offer simply as an educated hypothesis, that Isaacs is at least in part Wilde’s response to George Eliot…. Isaacs in my view is a deliberate parodic inversion of Daniel Deronda. … There is no trace of anti-Semitism in any of Wilde’s other works. In his personal life, moreover, Wilde had several Jewish friends “
I tend to believe the professor’s assertions. I had to clear this minor point, so I could fully enjoy the work. Which I did. All internal and external actions were clearly, lavishly and expressively written. It made me want to read more from him.