Q. Please highlight one of your favorite books and why you would consider it “literary.”
A. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Because it’s quite awesome.
Ok, not exactly an ‘A’ worthy answer. Let’s get into details.
I started this blog a few months ago to get through the 100 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, which was (surprise, surprise!) comprised mostly of literature. Motivation? People kept telling me I wasn’t allowed to judge books that I hadn’t read. Pfft.
In any case, this blog follows my spectacular(?) reading journey, so I figured The Blue Bookcase’s Literary Book Hop was the perfect chance to share one of my favourite books with you.
I am talking about, of course, Oscar Wilde’s fabulous The Picture of Dorian Gray (published in 1890).
Long-time readers (and I adore you all!) are probably unsurprised at this not-so-startling revelation; I have exhibited a certain penchant for hedonistic characters before.
The plot recounts the life of Dorian Gray (duh), a man obsessed with youth and beauty. By an undefined twist of fate, his “soul” is transferred to a magnificent portrait of himself. Gray is blessed with good looks and youth forever, whereas his effigy bears the signs of his evil deeds and aging body.
If you’re confused, it pays to know that Victorians believed in physical appearance as a representation of the sort of person you are – they used to make moulds of criminals’ faces after their death so that scientists could figure out commonalities, and, therefore, apprehend future wrongdoers.
I did a giant literary criticism essay on The Picture of Dorian Gray, but before I can tell you why the book is so “literary”, we have to figure out what literature is. Ready, kiddos?
Literature, to me, is something that resonates with a lot of people, and continues its resonating well past the year of publication. Meaning a) the book’s written beautifully; and b) it has substance, because, whatever the work’s about, it touches something deep within you.
Phew, I sound like I’ve inhaled a little too much incense.
Ostentatiously a satire in gothic form, I adored The Picture of Dorian Gray because it was filled with this brilliantly witty social commentary. Seriously – 99% of the book is quotable. Aesthetic merit? A big tick.
Now, Dorian Gray was bi-sexual in a time when having a little gay sex was enough to earn you a jail sentence (just ask Oscar Wilde). Moreover, Gray’s other hobbies included hanging out in opium dens, being self-centred, and playing with people’s feelings. Gasp! Ok, yeah, he ended up killing people, but whatever.
Basically: The Picture of Dorian Gray is an exploration of morality and identity. Is doing drugs enough to tarnish your soul? Wanting to stay beautiful forever? What about acting on your homosexual feelings? Having threesomes? Deciding to repent because it feels nice to “do the right thing” rather than from any desire to be good?
Apparently so. Enough for a homosexual man to punish himself for not conforming with society’s worldview. Has much changed since then?
Now some people say that the novel is “immoral” and “depraved” and blah blah blah; but they can stick to their little widdle safe books like Anne of Green Gables and Austen oh-so-scandalous society gossip.
Because, like Dorian Gray and his portrait, the book works as a confronting representation of a reader’s ideals – do you like what you see?