Audio In Dorian Gray

November 19, 2019 § 4 Comments

“Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, vivid and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of a viol or a lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?” (Wilde, 75). 

Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde was like being thrust under a constant waterfall of media. Wilde takes the reader through vivid descriptions of everything from Basil Hallward’s exquisite paintings, to Sybil Vane’s mesmerizing theater, to Lord Henry’s captivating speech which Dorian reacts to in the quote above. Art has a special power to captivate and enthrall in Picture, regardless of what shape or form it takes. Music, painting, speech, theater, and even physical beauty all are represented as vital components of the artistic world. While The Picture of Dorian Gray usually brings to mind Basil’s painting and the portrait as the central artistic movement, I wanted to explore these other formats of art and how they relate to modern media. Specifically, as an avid consumer of media (a common trait in our generation), the age of the internet has changed the ways that we interact with art, and the forms it takes.  

I chose the above quote because it made me first consider this idea of changing forms of modern media specifically related to the spoken word. Audiobooks first came into the public conscious as early as 1932 on vinyl mostly to assist the blind, but it wasn’t until 1994 that the term “audiobook” was firmly established in the public mind (1). Today with the ubiquitous nature of cell phones, millions of people have access to massive libraries at the touch of a button. In 2016, more audiobooks were sold than hardcover books. In a similar rise to fame, the podcast went from a relatively niche pastime to a global rise to fame in the past two decades (I mean, who hasn’t listened to Serial at this point?). An article from BBC points again to rising cell phone use and their more informal style to explain the podcast’s modern popularity (2).

Audio formats have made consuming media easier than ever before, and in them I understand the sentiment that Dorian becomes so excited about: “Was there anything so real as words?” When I see critiques from older generations over cell phone usage – the classic, ‘why don’t you just read a book?’ comes to mind – I feel an urge to mention how much our consumption of words has changed in recent history. Just as a single speech changes Dorian’s entire worldview, the media we consume today has the power to do the same, regardless of format. Audio storytelling has existed since the beginning of human history from oral traditions to radio dramas, thus the electronic transformation of the format is a well-needed step in a natural direction.

The first time I read The Picture of Dorian Gray, I was entirely focused on the power of visual art. It was all about the painting – was it truly supernatural? Can a portrait capture the essence of an individual? But the second time around, I truly became aware of how much persuasive speech played a role in both the plot and development of characters in the novel. Speech is truly “clear, vivid, and cruel,” even more direct than words on a page, interwoven with another layer of personality that comes with the speaker’s tone and inflections. I feel this idea recaptured in modern forms when a crime thriller has me on the edge of my seat, unable to focus on anything else than the voice inside my headphones, or when a candid interview reminds me that there are actual people behind the stories that I’m hearing. So to anyone who has ever thought that podcasts or audiobooks are inferior to the ‘real thing’ on hard paper, I can assure you that the “subtle magic” of speech has not disappeared with the advent of technology, only changed and grown as we explore and grow continually more comfortable with audio formats.

-Maddie Nystrom


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§ 4 Responses to Audio In Dorian Gray

  • louthaink says:

    You make a lot of really good points about the power of words and our tendency to judge newer forms of absorbing information. I used to have a very similar attitude towards new words. I had it in my head that older words were somehow better or more real than the words or slang that a lot of people use in everyday conversation. It would really bother me when people would use words that I didn’t consider real. But within the past couple of years I’ve had an epiphany. The whole point of language (and everything really) is that it is constantly evolving. Language is a reflection of society, and it should expand to include new words whenever needed. The dictionary is not some set canon that cannot be altered; words are (and should be) added all the time. The only thing that is needed to make a word real is for people to use it. (This is a side note, but the word for new words/phrases that are in the process of becoming more mainstream is neologism).


  • heaven says:

    I definitely agree with your point that the power of words and speech has not disappeared with the advancement of technology, but I only begun to think like this within recent years. When I was younger I loved reading books and when the kindle became popular I didn’t want one because I felt like it lost the magic of turning pages and looking at words printed on paper. My opinion changed when I stopped having time to read physical books in high school and decided to take a chance with digital books and my life and opinion changed forever. Now I appreciate all forms of books, language and communication because I realized that they are all special and purposeful in their own way!


  • sobi147 says:

    I think a lot of times people forget the power words have whether it is to educate us, inspire us, make us feel connected, or entertain us. Audio books and podcasts are a brilliant and powerful form of this communication. I also loved your connection to the Portrait of Dorian Gray and how it relates not only to visual art but to speech. Oscar Wilde does rely on the power of the spoken word or in this case written word to characterize his characters and create this paradoxical dialogue and narrative. It will definitely be interesting to see how the spoken word is used with the advent of newer forms of media in the future!


  • karlwithak1 says:

    An interesting elucidation of your point is the 1945 film adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. You can literally hear and see what was first only written. Interestingly though, that movie falls flat. I believe it is because the actors fail to say their lines in the way we originally read the book. I don’t know about you, but the witty aphorisms sprinkled across this work I read with a layer of airy grandioseness whereas the characters merely spoke with every day inflections. It is interesting that the very sounds of the words themselves play such a vital role in art.


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