I always knew I didn’t like ebooks. But common sense had to prevail, and so, like many of my friends, I caved under societal pressure to start reading books on my electronic devices.
Surprising even myself, I quickly read a handful of books. I was getting accustomed to the idea of pulling out my phone while waiting for the bus, while on the bus, and during boring conversations. And it was with that enthusiasm that I downloaded The Picture of Dorian Gray, the classic Wilde tale about a wild young man.
Two years later, having opened and closed it many times at bus stops and on sleepless nights in bed, I’d read seven chapters.
Forcing to refrain an eye roll when I mentioned I’d never read the book before, my good-natured friend offered to lend me her copy. It’ll help imagine our exchange if you know she’s English and a teacher.
Within 24 hours, I finished the book. I swear, ebooks are not for me.
Even though I’ve now moved on to reading my next book, Dorian Gray remains fresh in mind. When I was still reading it on my laptop, as a break one day, I looked up reviews for the book on Goodreads.
A tirade on Lord Henry showered upon me. People described him as pure evil for poisoning young Gray’s mind and heart. Dorian admits it himself suggesting the book Henry had given him had led him downhill. Sure, Henry is manipulative. But you could also argue that as the older man, he only took on a more protective role of Dorian, behaving much like an older brother or father would do . And he played that role well, too, scorning at Basil for professing his affection for Gray.
To me, though, Henry is a representation of our society. There’s nothing vile about Henry—he’s only a disarmingly accurate illustration of the many characters we encounter in everyday life.
This phenomenon stayed with me as I read through the book. The further I ventured, the more I liked him. He is toxic company in every sense, but at the same time, he’s also the overzealous relative who never misses a family dinner. He’s the type of friend we’d keep close even though we know they’re more harmful than helpful.
Henry is charming. Remember: Dorian is never bullied. Every idea and impression Henry instils in Dorian is the younger man’s asking. Not once do we see Henry apply force or forgery to get Dorian to do his bidding. Henry is a complex and well-rounded character, just as the ones we see in our lives. Is he detestable? Absolutely. But to call him evil is to limit his impact in the story. It reduces him to a mere two dimensional element.
Henry doesn’t just deserve readers’ hatred. He also deserves adoration, for he inspires in us, a deep-rooted desire to avoid people of his like.
As readers, we often blindly support the hero of a story, even though, as in this case, the hero is a weak-kneed and self-serving young man. This novel and Henry is a reminder to us that there’s more to people than what meets the eye. I mean, this guy’s a genius:
“When a woman marries again, it is because she detested her first husband. When a man marries again, it is because he adored his first wife. Women try their luck; men risk theirs.”