A Classic Couple: The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Goldfinch

Weeks ago I made a Top Ten Tuesday post listing pairs of classics and contemporary books. After several people commented with further questions about these pairs, I decided to go through them individually in this weekly feature called A Classic Couple. Today I’ll be sharing similarities between dark, intense, captivating novels: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (2013). 

Atmosphere || Dark. Intense. Ethereal. The atmosphere of these books is similar to that of a twisted fairy tale. Though the writing is beautiful and the characters are witty, there’s nevertheless a looming sensation that something bad is lurking just around the corner.

Art || It’s no surprise from the covers, titles, and synopses of these novels that art is a common thread that runs between them. Both protagonists become obsessed with paintings: Dorian Gray with Basil’s portrait of himself and Theo Decker with a stolen painting that reminds him of his dead mother. These paintings reveal important aspects of the protagonists’ personalities (physically for Dorian and emotionally for Theo).

“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?”  {from The Goldfinch}

The above quote comes from The Goldfinch, though it could easy fit in with Wilde’s musings on art in beauty in Dorian Gray. As these characters become obsessed with material objects, wealth, and beauty, they become unhappier, self-absorbed, and distanced from reality. Though their obsessions begin simply out of vanity and grief, they gradually become twisted and more complex.

Ambiguity || Dorian and Theo certainly don’t make it easy to wholeheartedly root for them. Between their bad decisions, foolish mistakes, and horrible treatment of others it seems as though they’re begging to be disliked. However, there’s something about these characters that makes it hard to completely discount them. Perhaps it’s because we recognize bits of ourselves in them: our vanity, pride, grief, confusion, and desire. Dorian and Theo may be flawed, but that’s what makes them human.

(Did I purposely use alliteration in these similarities? Maybe.)

What are your thoughts on these books? Are there any other books that seem similar to either of these? Let me know in the comment section below!

Yours,

HOLY

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6 thoughts on “A Classic Couple: The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Goldfinch

  1. so many people love “the goldfinch” but i have to say, that i am not interested in it. i don’t know what it is. it just doesn’t speak to me! 😦 as for “the picture of dorian grey” – that one is on my classics list 🙂
    thanks for the comparison! 🙂

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  2. I picked up The Goldfinch recently and I couldn’t remember why the voice in the back of my head was telling me to… now I think I know! I’m pretty sure I saw this pairing in your master list a while ago and remembered it, because I LOVE Dorian. 🙂 Now I’m more excited to read it.

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