Saturday, 4 January 2020

The Picture of Dorian Gray


I'm illustrating this with a still from the 2009 version of Dorian Gray, which was really well done. Ben Barns was a convincing Dorian, though I think my favourite portrayal, the one that just really seemed cast to match, was Reeve Carney in Penny Dreadful. Speaking of which, I would never have realised without IMDB that Harry Treadaway (Victor Frankenstein) was in the last season of The Crown as Roddy Llewellyn. Rather a transformation. 

I do find it interesting that when you Google Image Dorian Gray, most images are dark-haired, whereas he's supposedly blond in the book? They also tend to do that with Christine from Phantom of the Opera and Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials. It's interesting.

It's a story I was familiar with but hadn't completed. I started reading a few years back but got sidetracked, so decided to finish up on Audible. There's several versions. I had the one narrated by Simon Vance and thought he did a really good job.

Dorian Gray, a handsome and narcissistic young man, lives thoughtlessly for his own pleasure - an attitude encouraged by the company he keeps. One day, after having his portrait painted, Dorian makes a frivolous Faustian wish: that he should always remain as young and beautiful as he is in that painting, while the portrait grows old in his stead.

The wish comes true, and Dorian soon finds that none of his wicked actions have visible consequences. Realizing that he will appear fresh and unspoiled no matter what kind of life he lives, Dorian becomes increasingly corrupt, unchecked by public opinion. Only the portrait grows degenerate and ugly, a powerful symbol of Dorian's internal ruin.

Wilde's dreamlike exploration of life without limits scandalized its late-Victorian audience and has haunted readers' imaginations for more than a hundred years.


It was completely by accident that this book was next in my TBR pile after How to Stop Time, yet somehow extremely apt. 

I found How to Stop Time more believable, simply because Haig placed such emphasis on the problem of continuing to look young whilst everyone around you is visibly ageing. Apart from a few friendly comments on how good Dorian is looking, this seems to have been neatly sidestepped when in reality it would have been pretty startling, especially for the times. 

But it's still a great concept. 

I recently read Hemingway for the first time because I'd heard so much about his straightforward style. What I really like about Wilde is that he crams his prose with adjectives, but they really sound good. They're elegant. Two very contrasting styles, but they both work.

How exquisite they were! As one read them, one seemed to be floating down the green water-ways of the pink and pearl city, lying in a black gondola with silver prow and trailing curtains. The  mere  lines looked to him like those straight lines of turquoise-blue that follow one as one pushes out to the Lido. The sudden flashes of color reminded him of the gleam of the opal-and-iris-throated birds that flutter round the tall honey-combed Campanile, or stalk, with such stately grace, through the dim arcades. 

*

For there would be a real pleasure in watching [the picture]. He would be able to follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul. And when winter came upon it, he would still be standing where spring trembles on the verge of summer. When the blood crept from its face, and left behind a pallid mask of chalk with leaden eyes, he would keep the glamour of boyhood. Not one  blossom of his loveliness would ever fade. Not one pulse of his life would ever weaken. Like the gods of the Greeks, he would be strong, and fleet, and joyous.

Honestly, the language is really beautiful.

I took so many notes, but they'd take a long time to transcribe here. Most of it was of poetic language and just some really sharp social observations. Wilde was a seriously honed mind. 

Glad I finished it, and glad it followed Haig's book. A study in ageing - or not.

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