Thursday, November 1, 2018

#RIPXIII: Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray

Hubert contemplates having his portrait painted
I last read this in high school. Mr. Wall, junior year for what we would have called English literature, even though Wilde was an Anglo-Irish. I don't recall if we read anything Scottish (other than the Scottish play, which we did read) but we would have called that English, too.

Well, we were in high school. We probably thought it actually meant something that this was 'Oscar Wilde's most famous novel' as it proclaims on the cover of the edition we used. Yes... As the Other Reader wondered, is it even grammatical to use the superlative when there's only one object?

The scribblings in my high school edition tell me that Mr. Wall pushed hard on the psychosexual interpretation of Dorian Gray. That doesn't surprise me, even now. Later in the year, we read Peter Shaffer's Equus, which may be good on stage, but even in high school I recognized Equus as the most unimaginatively unsubtle portrayal of mother-fixation imaginable. Oh, hey, Dr. Freud! And my marginal notes in this suggest that Dorian Gray was interested in Sibyl Vane because his mother married beneath her. Thank you, Mr. Wall, for your (rather expected) opinion.

One of the reasons I reread this now, after years, was Adam's fascinating series of posts at Roof Beam Reader covering five different theoretical approaches to Dorian Gray. And, of course, the psychosexual isn't all wrong. But there are definitely others and Adam gives a great overview.

However, what struck me most was how many of the great Wilde lines come from this. Wilde is famous for cynical, paradoxical, witty epigrams. They float free of context and could appear almost anywhere. I somehow had it in my head that all these came from the plays, but they're spoken by Lord Henry Wotton in Dorian Gray:
"When her third husband died, her hair turned quite gold from grief."
"To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable."
"...for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."
"...and as for believing things, I can believe anything, provided that it is quite unbelievable."
I had also decided to reread this now for Readers Imbibing Peril; it is, at heart, a gothic novel, with murder, disposal of the body, opium-taking, a Romantic view of the past, and above all, a bargain with the devil, the exchange of one's soul for eternal youth and beauty. But a laugh-out-loud gothic novel filled with one-liners? Only Oscar Wilde.

It is now just after midnight my time, so I'm a little late for RIPXIII. I'm blaming it on the Batmans and Luna Lovegoods and Fairy Godmothers that kept coming to my door earlier tonight...

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