Wilde sees the world more clearly than any writer of fiction in the last century. It is for that reason that his work is so filled with countless paradoxes and contradictions that challenge the mind and titillate the senses. Wilde lived in an infinitely ironic age, when society had grown so influential as to crowd out the individuals that made it up. Today, we have taken for granted this incongruity and so our writers cannot express the kind of irony that Wilde mastered, despite the fact that we all know that something is amiss.
`The Picture of Dorian Gray' is filled with this irony. The plot shows us the ultimate irony of a man giving up his soul for the beauty of youth--the condition that is exalted in the modern age above all else, intellect, truth, justice, life itself. Interspersed are dialogues and epigrams that persist one hundred years later as some of the finest word handling ever recorded. Even a few samples should compel the potential reader:
"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."
"Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter."
"A man cannot be too careful in his choice for his enemies."
"The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that the caprice lasts a little bit longer."
"Men marry because they are tired, women marry because they are curious. Both are disappointed."
"I love acting, it is so much more real than life."
- "I am on the side of the Trojans, they fought for a woman."
- "They were defeated."
The mastery of wit that Wilde displays must be seen in its context. He was a decadent as much as the characters he portrays are. Ultimately, the disillusion that the decadent faces comes through in the story and the reader is left with a very uneasy feeling upon completing `Dorian Gray.' Is life as absurd as it seems? Is there a solution? Or are we stuck with a life of paradox? Perhaps our current period of decadence will show us an alternative. Until it does, we can enjoy the astounding word play offered here.