Thursday, May 10, 2007

April: The Picture of Dorian Gray

"My dear boy, the people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination. Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect -- simply a confession of failure. Faithfulness! I must analyze it some day. The passion for property is in it. There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up."

Meet Lord Henry, a hedonistic and most powerful influence over the young Dorian Gray. Lord Henry's world view undoubtedly dominates this work by Oscar Wilde (Wilde's only novel). It is Lord Henry's influential esteem of beauty and pursuit of the senses that instills a sudden fear in Dorian Gray of losing his own remarkable youth and beauty. This fear causes Dorian to cry out his desire that the portrait painted of him carry the mark of age and sin, not his own body and face. Dorian receives his wish but quite unsatisfactorily. Dorian's existence is dark and brings him no fulfilment, regardless of the youth and beauty he retains. As he watches the portrait change before his eyes (his sins decidedly marking the face in the portrait), Dorian realizes that his wish has not protected his soul from being hideous. In fact, the fulfillment of his wish has led to his gradual and wretched demise.

As interesting as it was following Dorian Gray's wretched development, I was far more consumed by Lord Henry's world view. The novel is full of notions such as the one quoted above. And while Lord Henry's notions are corrupt, they still carry an underlying reality that is difficult (and actually undesirable) to dismiss. In the quote above, I kept rereading the last sentence, "There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up." How true that seems. Through Lord Henry's hedonistic perspective, those dark aspects of character are revealed and serve as wonderful points of departure for the examination/philosophizing of human nature. And in that fact lies Wilde's greatest triumph with this work.

8 comments:

Richard said...

Oscar Wilde did wonderful turns of phrase. I love that quote too. I had even considered posting it a few weeks back (I can't remember what turned me from it).

I also observe that people often act out of spite, denying others something they no longer want or need. It is to me irrational (mind you, my hoarding of books my be considered irrational by some). Sadly, I fear I am one of Lord Henry's shallow people.

b said...

richard...well said. wilde indeed has wonderful "turns of phrase." it is very interesting how spite works, isn't it? i too find that notion of hoarding (primarily for the sake of not allowing others to enjoy) incredibly irrational and yet i see it all around me.

i think we all have irrational behaviors, however.

as far as being one of lord henry's shallow people...consider the source! :) yet, i don't think lord henry is entirely off the mark on that account either. i see people that remain in relationships or have a difficult time leaving a relationship primarily for the reason that they cannot bear to imagine their significant other with anyone else.

but true fidelity is an incredible virtue.

Richard said...

Off topic, but related to an earlier post (ok, much earlier).

How is the magazine start up coming along?

b said...

richard...thanks for asking about the magazine. well, the magazine was indefinitely put aside for several reasons. believe me, it is always this nagging thing for me too, as i often worry that it is only because i can be a great starter but not an effective closer. :(

one of the largest elements under consideration is the basic editorial thrust...essentially asking ourselves what we are really "about." i've also been more focused on other projects/things, including family.

i hope to report back within the next six months with more tangible progress/success!

carra said...

It seems like Ihaven't been here for ever the template has changed and you are quoting one of my favourite phrases from one of my favourite books. Glad to be back once again and I can see one thing... You are still the same you...

Richard said...

I can empathize with the starting, but not finishing bit.

In my case, I recognize that what I love is the process of discovery (I can spend a long time pursing an answer to a question), but I see no point in finishing what becomes a mechanical process.

As for the editorial direction. Hmmm ... any thoughts on just letting it decide itself. I know that to succeed you are supposed to be focussed and targeted, but I think that sometimes it is better to just do something and then adjust as necessary (I do this with most things, except my professional life - maybe it will change one day).

Another good trick is to set a deadline, this coming Monday. It doesn't work for me, because I perceive deadlines as arbitrary and of no significance.

b said...

carra...so glad to have you back! your repeated mention of this book is what led me to read it and i really enjoyed it. so, thank you! yes, still the same me. :)

richard...i think i am very much the same. i love that initial feeling of discovery but i certainly reach a point in which i am ready to discover the next thing. your advice is sound and something i have really been trying to accept and embrace...starting the magazine and letting it do its thing, so to speak, instead of agonizing over it and never putting it out there. i have such a block about doing that but know that i should take the route you suggest. still interested in writing for us? :)

yeah, deadlines are not my strong suit. even when i don't procrastinate, i hold very little regard for deadlines. however, despite this...i think i should sit down and accept whatever vagueness exists with the editorial and set a date. and do it.

thanks for asking about this. i am in a pretty good headspace these days and your comment motivates me!

Richard said...

I still have interest, depending on what it is.