WARNING and APOLOGY: this post starts with a rather long tangent about literature, art and people. (Sorry! Probably should be two posts, but I’m lazy.) If you don’t really want to read it (but you should there are a few great quotes) skip to after the third block quote. And to get it out-of-the-way, The Picture of Dorian Gray is the January read for my books into movies book group at the local library and conveniently appears on my Mount TBR (extended) list and my Classics Club list!
Now for my tangent, I’ve noticed as I read a wider variety of literature that the authors I’m drawn to have a lot to say about books, reading and writing. I have a lot of respect for authors who are able to reflect on writing, books, and literature within their own books and stories. In his forward to The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde writes the below quote.
“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” (4)
And I can’t help but appreciate how incredibly insightful and powerful this is. Imagine if all the people threatened by books, who’ve burned books, who attempt to ban books, and those who just refuse to read certain books actually understood this. I love this quote so much it’s my new email signature and I’ve added it to the great book quotes on my sidebar (only the third)!
He expounds upon this even further in the actual story,
“As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that. Art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. That is all.” (210)
Maybe it’s my naivete, or my over education, but I like to think hes’ right. If we, as humans, could take a step back and realize that art and literature are there to show us who we are, the good AND the bad; that it’s all perspective and the only way to move past this is to acknowledge and even experience these things and NOT restrict the experiences of others, then we’d all be better for it.
And to close of my rant/ramble section I present you the following, substitute, newspapers, primers, and encyclopaedias with Twitter, Youtube, and Blogs/Gossip sites and you pretty much still have today’s society.
“I am too fond of reading books to care to write them, Mr. Erskine. I should like to write a novel certainly, a novel that would be as lovely as a Persian carpet and as unreal. But there is no literary public in England for anything except newspapers, primers, and encyclopaedias. Of all people in the world the English have the least sense of the beauty of literature.” (43)
Now, for my response to the book, in essence it was great! It really does what he says in the second quote above. It holds a mirror up to the world and says look at yourself, look at what you’ve become and how selfish you’ve become. And I can only imagine what Wilde would think of today’s society and how self-centered and lazy (think technological innovations to make things easier) we are today!
However, and this only serves to further the above statement, I feel that Wilde did a great job of being concise and keeping the story in focus. So many Classics I’ve read have caused me issues because they needed a good editor to chop out a few hundred pages, but this novel was the perfect length. It faced the same issue that most do with having so much action compacted into so many pages, but it felt right.
If there was one thing I struggled with, it was the idea of influence and responsibility, which is interesting. I’m thinking about Mansfield Park and how adamant I am about Fanny Price’s being a product of her situation and how that’s okay because of her ‘goodness.’ And simultaneously I’m thinking about Dorian Gray and the situation created for him via Lord Henry and his ‘badness.’
I’m sure it’s more complex, especially as Price is a female character in the early 1800s written by a female author and Gray is a male character written at the end of the 1800s by an openly homosexual author (loved the innuendos and suggestions even though I’m pretty sure I read the 1891 toned down version). Whereas I believe it is okay that Fanny is a product of her situation, I vehemently believe that Gray took advantage of a situation created around him. I’m still mulling this over and maybe my opinion will change, but I just don’t know.
Recommendation: This is definitely up there on my list of great books from The Classics Club. I should probably revisit it at some point after I’ve mulled it over and I can’t wait to see at least one of the film adaptations to see what they change and leave the same.
Opening Line: “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”
Closing Line: “It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from The Picture of Dorian Gray
“It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” (8)
“Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is far the best ending for one.” (13)
“I make a great difference between people. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies. I have not got one who is a fool. They are all men of some intellectual power, and consequently they all appreciate me. Is that very vain of me? I think it is rather vain.” (13)
“To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies.” “A delightful theory!” she exclaimed. “I must put it into practice.” “A dangerous theory!” came from Sir Thomas’s tight lips. Lady Agatha shook her head, but could not help being amused. Mr. Erskine listened. “Yes,” he continued, “that is one of the great secrets of life. Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” (41)
“Men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.” (47)
“I am not laughing, Dorian; at least I am not laughing at you. But you should not say the greatest romance of your life. You should say the first romance of your life. You will always be loved, and you will always be in love with love. A grande passion is the privilege of people who have nothing to do. That is the one use of the idle classes of a country. Don’t be afraid. There are exquisite things in store for you. This is merely the beginning.” (49)
“When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.” (51)
“I want to make Romeo jealous. I want the dead lovers of the world to hear our laughter and grow sad. I want a breath of our passion to stir their dust into consciousness, to wake their ashes into pain.” (54)
“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” (64)
“There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating– people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing.” (82)
“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.” (93)
“Romance lives by repetition, and repetition converts an appetite into an art. Besides, each time that one loves is the only time one has ever loved. Difference of object does not alter singleness of passion. It merely intensifies it. We can have in life but one great experience at best, and the secret of life is to reproduce that experience as often as possible.” (190)