The Picture of Dorian Gray

I’ve just finished reading The Picture of Dorian Gray and I have some questions.

First, let me say that the book was far different than I expected. I didn’t know it was by Oscar Wilde, and yet it is very different than the works of his I have read, which are mostly his more popular plays. This was like a really witty Edgar Allen Poe story.
Any way, the first questions I have is about the book that Lord Henry gives Dorian. This book changes Dorian completly. The book is described quite a bit but the name of the book and the author of the book are not given. Is there a real book that Wilde is talking about? Or is the book to be found in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Or is it really just a symbol for Lord Henry and Dorian having hot gay sex?
Much later in the book, after Dorian burns Basil’s clothes Dorian opens a secret drawer in a cabinet and pulls out a 'Chinese box of black and gold-dust lacquer, elaborately wrought, and the sides patterned with curved waves, and the silken cords hung with round crystals and the tasselled implaited metal threads. " Inside is 'green paste, waxy in lustre, the odour curiously heavy adn persistent."

What is that stuff? At first I thought it was opium but he just puts the box away. Later he goes to distant part of town and visits and opium den. That does not make sense if he has his stuff in his own house.

Any ideas?

Don’t know about the stuff in the box, but here’s something about the book:

I don’t have the answers to the questions you are asking, but If you haven’t done so, see the film version with Hurd Hatfield and George Sanders. Angela Landsbury was very good as well.

Like Baker’s link points out, the book that Lord Henry gave to Dorian was probably meant to be Huysman’s A Rebours, a very popular book among the “Decadents” of the fin de siecle. The book describes an eccentric aristocrat who, shunning society, focuses all of his attention on rare, precious objects and on achieving the most aesthetically-charged experiences with those objects (including Gustave Moreau’s Symbolist paintings, a jewel-incrusted tortoise, and a pipe organ that distills fine liquors, each selected to correspond in mood to a particular musical note).

I’m not sure what the green paste is inside the Chinese box–I’ll have to go back and read that passage again. But I can say that Wilde’s detailed and loving description of the box’s features captures the spirit of Huysman’s prose pretty well.

The title of Huysman’s book is translated into English as “Against the Grain” or “Against Nature,” usually, if that helps you find a copy.

I don’t know exactly what the green paste is, either, but absinthe is green (the “green fairy”), and Oscar Wilde’s chums often wore green carnations in their buttonholes. Seems to be a significant color.

I note that Baker’s link addresses the green paste too and says that it is indeed opium, making the argument that the tang that Dorian is after is the sordidness and debasement of the opium den environment. It is also possible that the trip to the den was hallucinatory and brought on by Dorian’s taking the opium at home. (Maybe Wilde had never been to a real opium den and was not sure if he could do a good job on a straight description? Telling it from Dorian’s point of view when he is already high gives him some leeway if he gets the scene slightly wrong? Dorian doesn’t actually stay in the den, so Wilde doesn’t have to tell what that’s like in first person.)

I think the paste was indeed opium: Dorian clearly lusts for it and he is both out of it and manic in the cab.

The book in the rainbow of different colors reminds me of Gatsby’s shirts.

I dont’ think the trip to the den is a hallucination. That is after all where he meets up with Sybal Vale’s brother and he tries to kill Dorian but Dorian talks his way out of it.

I thought it was opium or at least some sort of narcotic. After all it is hidden away pretty well. But then, I have a total lack of first hand expierence with the stuff. For some reason I thought it would be white and more of a liquid, but then again you do smoke the stuff, right?

I assumed the green paste was hashish, but Dorian was in the mood for something stronger, so he set off for the opium den. Although the idea that Dorian had some opium at home, but was longing for the decadent atmosphere of an opium den, so he went there instead of getting wasted at home.

Opium isn’t green, AFAIK. And you do sort of smoke it, but you don’t light it up. You make a little ball of it in a metal pipe, heat it over a candle flame, and inhale the vapors in one long hit. Usually one hit per pipe, and opium smokers used to measure their dose by the pipe. I read an interview with a San Francisco prostitute from around the turn of the century, and she mentioned that she usually smoked about twelve pipes a day (“Licit and Illicit Drugs”, Consumer’s Union, 1970).


Dover Publications republished a translation under the title *Against the Grain * some years back. I read it only because of Dorian Gray and I thought it was one of the dullest books I’d ever read. I can certainly see how Dorian would have found it fascinating.

Yes but have you ever tried opium?

I suppose I might, if I found a book sized lump of it on the dollar table at a Crown Books. :cool: