I’m not a fan of audiobooks, but I needed to listen to one for the 2017 Reading Challenge. (I just wanted to get that statement out of the way.)
I’ve discovered a terrific web site named LibriVox. It’s a collection of dramatic readings of public domain books, free for listening or downloading. The books are read by volunteers. It’s sort of an audio version of Project Gutenberg.
I chose the 1891 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, for the book I would listen to. It’s divided into 20 chapters, each ranging from 15 to 50 minutes in length. The total reading is 9 hours and 30 minutes long. I listened to it at work (not all in one sitting, of course).
I don’t know what made me think of Oscar Wilde, but it was the first name that popped into my mind when I started searching LibriVox.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, on LibriVox, is read by Bob Neufeld.
Lord Henry Wotton sees an unfinished painting by his friend, Basil Hallwood. The subject of this full-length painting is an incredibly beautiful man. At first, Basil refuses to tell Lord Henry the name of the painting’s subject – for fear it would diminish the painting (since, after all, “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”) – but eventually reveals that the man’s name is Dorian Gray.
Lord Henry requests to be present at the final sitting, and Dorian Gray agrees. While the painting is finished, Lord Henry talks of his philosophy of “New Hedonism” – that life should be filled with pleasure, and all pleasure comes from beauty. Dorian Gray finds a lot of truth in this, and he and Lord Henry become instant friends.
Dorian Gray is very pleased with his beautiful new portrait. As Lord Henry continues talking about his hedonistic view, Dorian Gray becomes saddened that, as time goes by, his own beauty will fade away while the painting will remain as beautiful as ever. He remarks, casually, that he wishes it could be the other way around.
Dorian Gray falls in love with the sight of a beautiful young actress, named Sybil Vane, in a squalid lower class theater. After several backstage visits, they become engaged to be married.
The engagement goes horribly wrong, and Dorian Gray rebukes Sybil Vane in an especially callous manner. He goes home and discovers that the portrait Basil Hallwood painted had somehow changed. His portrait, once beautiful, now looks more cruel, and more evil. He remembers the wish he had made, back in Basil’s studio. But, surely, a wish can’t actually come true, can it?
Lord Henry gives Dorian Gray a sensual French novel. The book fascinates Dorian. He locks the portrait away in a unused room, and Dorian Gray, inspired by the novel, decides to live a life of New Hedonism, and let the picture take on the physical changes that sin brings. Eighteen years pass as Dorian Gray dabbles in Catholic rituals, exotic music, incense, jewels, and tapestries. He visits “questionable houses”. Rumors circulate about his habits, and many who have associated with him have their reputations ruined by the association. Suicides are alleged to be linked to Dorian’s foul reputation. And yet, Dorian Gray looks as pure and lovely as he ever did.
Dorian Gray’s new life leads to murder, blackmail, and another suicide. Overcome with guilt, Dorian Gray visits an opium den, where his past catches up with him.
Guilt and the haunting of his past lead Dorian Gray to turn to a life of goodness. He tries to confess to his friend Lord Henry. But is it too late for Dorian Gray to repent? Will his repentance erase the sins from the portrait?
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of listening to The Picture of Dorian Gray.
The story is full of Oscar Wilde’s wonderfully circular witticisms. (“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” and “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” and “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” and so on.) The story seemed excessively long and verbose at times – an hour-long hansom ride through London seemed to go on for an hour – but I suspect that that is simply the style of the time.
Bob Neufeld’s enunciated British accent was perfect for the reading of Wilde’s words. He added just enough emotion to the characters’ voices to make it enjoyable without being overly dramatic.
I was going to explain why I’m not fond of audiobooks, but listening to this reading of The Picture of Dorian Gray has made me forget why that is.
- An audiobook