The Picture of Dorian Gray

I’ve been binge-watching Showtime’s Penny Dreadful lately. It’s a bad habit, I know. Binge-watching’s bad for you and all that (though I don’t just sit on the couch like a potato while I’m doing it), but I do love gothic tales. Especially when they’re as pretty as this show is. And maybe there are parts that are not true to Victorian England or bits of the script that are overdone, or places where the plot seems to evaporate into thin air, but I really don’t care. I love this show.


Reeve Carney as Dorian Gray, from the Showtime series, Penny Dreadful. I love his portrayal, but am still unsure of the hairstyle.

It prompted me to re-visit the book, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, which I hadn’t read since college. That was probably not the best period of time for me to be reading classics like this, as there was very little that I remembered from the book, aside from the ageless anti-hero, Dorian, and the painting that took the damage of his age and sins and left him looking like a youth of seventeen.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to the story than that, including my favorite (so far) quote from Oscar Wilde, “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”  He did, after all, know a thing or two about being called immoral, given that he was a gay man in the repressed– and yet still obsessively sexual– Victorian era. There are long conversations about culture and beauty, youth and old age, and obviously sections about being haunted by the sins you’ve committed. If it were a longer book or written by someone else, it might have come off as a moralizing heap of dullness, but in Wilde’s hands it is a fascinating read. This is definitely a book to put on my ‘to buy’ list.

Other books involved in Penny Dreadful are Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I re-read last October because it was Halloween and I hadn’t read it for years, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as shades of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the real life penny dreadful, Varney the Vampire. The show also makes reference to seemingly endless amounts of poetry, especially the works of John Keats and John Clare (a scene in the first season re-awakened my interest in Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’). For a show that is built on a foundation of literary works, it references a lot of other literary works. It’s like they just can’t help it. And it’s fantastic.

Season three premiers May 7th, so April may be a month full of gothic novels.


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