Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

The, incredibly literate and rather fabulous, Picture of Dorian Gray

Literary Blog Hop

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.

Anyway.

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72. Dracula – the most villainous villain that ever committed villainy

Before even opening the book, I figured that Bram Stoker’s Dracula had quite a few things going for it:

  • The subject matter is vampires, something that seems to have fascinated us humans for centuries
  • The presence of vampires corresponds with the presence of all sorts of sexual tension
  • The book was comprised entirely of diaries and letters, so the supposed element of reality can scare the masses
  • The vampires did not sparkle in the sun. They slept during the day. In a coffin. Kind of like the vampires in every scary vampire legend.

Where, then, did this 1897 novel go so wrong?

The answer, it seems, lies in the Harry Potter series. Clearly, the character of Professor Binns, Hogwarts’ History of Magic teacher, was based on Bram Stoker. Like the author, Binns managed to make the most bloodthirsty of tales (featuring both magical creatures and wars) put his students to sleep in class. He did this by droning on about useless details.

In fact, I can already imagine Edgar Allan Poe’s smug face as he closes Dracula and immediately sets on re-reading his own story about repressed sexuality: The Fall of the House of Usher. In direct contrast to Poe, who is legendary for ensuring that every single detail in his stories is important to the ending, Stoker’s modus operandi is including plenty of details just for the hell of it. For example, pasted in Mina’s journal was a newspaper clipping about some wild storm that went on for, no joke, half a chapter! Pages of nothing but “oh the wind was very windy, and there was some ship, and fishing people said that they wouldn’t sail until the storm had past.” Then when we finally get to the crux of the article, i.e. that there was no one on board but a very dead captain tied to his steering wheel by a rosary, I was in too much of a stupor to even raise an eyebrow.

Stoker also liked including long speeches by characters when, say, a single sentence would have sufficed. These speeches were how characters competed amongst themselves to be The Most Noble Character In the Book. I kept waiting for Dracula to bite off their heads or something, but no such luck (actually, Stoker insisted on writing the most anticlimactic death scene of a villain in the history of publishing).

The very respectable Bram Stoker

My copious amounts of research (reading The Introduction) has unearthed the (little?) known fact that the idea of Dracula came to Stoker in a dream, as jotted down on some fragment of paper:

“Young man goes out, sees girls one tries to kiss him not on lips but throat. Old Count interferes – rage & fury diabolical – this man belongs to me I want him.”

Sounds like a pretty intense dream, huh?

Unfortunately, I think Stoker left out all the interesting bits and instead wrote a totally bland story that tentatively hints at – then decidedly shies away from – anything frightening or “base”. The only tension, in fact, is the one that can be inferred after doing some (proper) research on Stoker – his original version of the character of Dracula, his questions over his own masculinity and sexuality, the way he attempted to hide his acquaintance with the scandalous Oscar Wilde, and his own fear of a dominating and prejudiced employer (one Henry Irving). Had Stoker tried a little less hard (for himself, if not for the general public) to fit into the narrow box of Victorian respectability, then I might have read a very different book. One in which the reader was actually scared of the vampire and his graphic crimes.

But then again, the long, painstakingly polite monologues, combined with the far too meticulous diaries/letters would have cancelled out even the most nefarious of Dracula’s evil deeds.