Monday, May 30, 2011

A Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

A picture of the cover of the July, 1890 editi...Image via WikipediaMay 23

Oscar Wilde has for some years been a favourite of mine. Truly, he had a knack for making prose into poetry; for pouring the very soul of a muse into his work. For a long time, I have been looking aloft at his sole novel, wondering and worrying me that it might fail to dazzle me in the way that his short fiction has. However, this stalemate has come to an end: I have begun reading those leaves. Wilde's A Picture of Dorian Gray can be found freely at

I do not think of myself as homophobic. But, the sight of seeing to men hold hands or kiss is something I do my best to avoid. Hence, dipping into the first chapters of the book, it took some effort to will myself past the romantic descriptions of Dorian Gray. I do know that Oscar Wilde was a homosexual, but a man's sexuality should not have any import on his work or an estimation of him. Though, in the end, I am all too happy to see two lovely ladies do the same things as two men might. Politically, however, I am sincere in support for those who choose to be lovers of men.

I endured through those initial chapters, and I might find some more to wade through. However, at the time of this writing, Dorian Gray has gotten himself into worshipful adoration. Typically, now that I'm older and something of a sceptic, romantic novels turn me off.

May 26

I've gotten into the much more interesting part of the tale. It no longer looks like a stupid sort-of gay novel.

Dorian Gray fell in love, fell out of love, and the object of his desire kills herself. Initially, he feels remorse. His friend, Lord Henry, talks him out of his grief. Not even 24 hours after she has died, Gray is murdering his own heart by trying to forget her. The consequence of all this is that the portrait of Dorian Gray has been altered.

Initially, Gray had made the wish that it would be the portrait which acquired the lines of aging rather than himself. This wish seems to be granted: either in reality or as a figment of his imagination -- no one has yet confirmed it other than Gray himself, who might rather be going mad. That is to say, his portrait has gained a cruel smile after dealing cruelly with the young actress.

At this point, I am unsure if he is imagining things or if this is real. Either way, he seems to be on the road to madness.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945 film)Image via WikipediaMay 28

Chapter XI "Dorian Gray had been poisoned by a book." I can't help but wonder at this idea. I think it might be said that some books might have the power of changing a man. If there was a book that really does pervert a man, as so many Puritans would have us believe, then does that make censurship OK? As a magnificent writer, I wonder what his feelings were on the topic. Perhaps later on he'll revisit this idea.

"Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man's face. It cannot be concealed. People talk sometimes of secret vices. There are no such things. If a wretched man has a vice, it shows itself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids, the moulding of his hands even." He seems to believe that the lines and ugliness that makes up a person is a result of sin. I suppose the argument might go that the older one gets, the more sins one may commit, and consequently, the more lines and effects on appearance might result.

May 30

Madness seems to have engulfed him entirely. He finally brings himself to show the painting he has hidden to Basil Hallward, the very painter who made it. However, in so doing, he discovers that he hates Basil for making it, and blames him for the terrible person he has become.

May 31

It is late. Really, it still feels like Monday still. But I cannot put this book down. There is this gentle change that has stolen over Dorian. No longer is he intellectually pushed around by Lord Henry Harry. He has grown weary of the evil life that he has led. He is trying to become good. Somewhere, it is certain, within the bosom of that goodness, I am certain he will find his end.

"...wicked people were always very old and very ugly," said a girl to Dorian when he confesses to her his true soul. Was this Oscar Wilde's message? That good and evil, or evil at any rate, can wear any face at all? Beautiful or ugly, his sins never wrote their messages on his face.

Ultimately, he finds that he cannot abandon his sins. He can no longer fool himself into thinking he can find
any kind of forgiveness. Cursing the painting, he stabs at it. But what he really ends up stabbing is himself through the heart. The image of Dorian Gray, however, is restored to 'all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty.'

What a remarkable work of literature this novel of Wilde's was. It is so provocative, so masterfully written, original, and everything that I dared not hope for when I began reading this book. I cannot help but recommend this brilliant piece of literature. It is simply unbelievable. 
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Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Magic Skin, Honoré de Balzac

Bust of Honoré de Balzac, cimetière du Père-La...Image via WikipediaAfter reading my latest Tarzan book, I thought I'd go into another one. However, as I got into it, I found it wanting. That is to say, the nearly empty calories of a Tarzan book are great after a substantial read, a rest or respite after a heavier book, it is quite delightful: like a bit of dessert.

Thus, I wandered throughout my now substantial collection of some 135 books on my Kindle before coming to rest on a Honoré de Balzac's book, The Magic Skin. Wikipedia's article on Balzac says, "He is renowned for his multi-faceted characters, which are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human." Burroughs' characters are often roughly two dimensional: the antagonists are so shallow that it can actually be a bit difficult to digest. Balzac and Burroughs are definitely diametrically opposite to each other.

We are first acquainted with the protagonist as he enters a gambling hall. In fact, in the version on my Kindle writes 'gambling hell,' which seems like it might be a typo. In any case, the man goes in with a single golden coin. When he deposits it on the roulette table, on black, it is almost as if he is saying, 'heads I live, tails I die.' When it lands on 'tails, I die,' he makes his way out of the casino.

He makes a conscious decision to wait until the anonymity of night before he casts his life away in the Louvre. Coincidentally, as he looks for something to distract his attention, he finds an antique shop with all manner of historical interest and wealth, art and weapon, so many noted piece-by-piece. Until at last he comes to a piece he cannot see, whereupon curiosity sends the guide to his master.

The master reveals a skin that allegedly grants its owner a series of wishes. Unbelieving, our protagonist rattles off a dozen wishes before the proprietor cuts him off. He promises that these wishes shall all come true, including his wish to die. It is an ominous beginning. One must wonder if the protagonist would have been better off dead, floating anonymously down the Louvre than to follow this new path which we're about to explore.

After an interesting set-up, Balzac takes us to the story that led Raphael to the decision of trying to end his life. He becomes obsessed with winning the affection of a woman who thinks very little of him. Though not rich, he does everything he can to conceal this fact. His utter failure results in his wanting death.

However, now with the magic skin in his possession, his wishes for wealth and recognition quickly come true. Everything he wanted comes to him. Every wish he makes shrinks the skin. As such, he believes in the power of the skin. He tries to shelter himself from the world, but is ultimately dragged back out into it when the new girl he loves, Pauline, comes back into his life. They love each other truly, but his fear of the side-effect of the skin once it has diminished entirely destroys their relationship.

One very interesting passage that I ran into that was very interesting was when he brought the magical skin to a scientist. His words, a criticism of science, was quite interesting. He said that too often scientists rely on the words and vocabulary invented by men as a substitute for knowledge and power.

Regardless of the degree or type of scientist, there is nothing that Raphael can do to stretch out the magical skin. His fate, he ultimately realizes, is sealed. But before he does that, he makes an effort at healing himself in a health spa. Ironically, the same people who would have rejected him for his poverty, in this case, reject him for his wealth. One becomes so brash as to duel with him. Raphael fills his gun with the musket ball first, and the powder second. Despite this, and the fact that he does not aim the gun, his wish is granted to him and his opponent is shot through the heart.

This book was really great. Balzac is a true master of literature. I highly recommend this book.
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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fifty-One Tales, Baron Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett Dunsany

Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron Dunsany (1878-1957)Image via Wikipedia Baron Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett Dunsany is quite the mouthful. However, each of the tales in the novella sized collection of very short fiction, "Fifty-One Tales," can be found at

The first story, "The Assignation," despite being about a page in length, really woke me up to the potential of this author. He makes a very short story applying anthropomorphism to the aspect of Fame. A poet who spends his life seeking fame, as he enters the final phase of his life, declares that Fame had forever remained elusive to him. She replies, "I will meet you in the graveyard at the back of the Workhouse in a hundred years." How cruel she is, yet how accurate a statement for the select few poets and artists she does visit well after life has expired.

The second story, "Charon," continues this encouragement. Extremely simple, a page really, where a man brought to the shore of Hades declares that he's the last passenger. Of course, that would mean that everyone is dead.

"The Hen" is an interesting narrative about the mixed perspective of reality between a hen who is always stuck in the same geography and swallows who fly south for winter. The hen refuses to believe the stories that they tell.

I'm not going to go through each of them. Just a few of the best that I ran into.

One such is a retelling of the common tale, "The Tortoise and the Hare." What's interesting about it is the punch line. That is to say, the race happens just as we remember in the customary tale. However, there is the second part. The tortoise and his followers all compliment him on his victory. But then there is a forest fire. They discuss who ought to warn the other animals about the impending danger. Since the tortoise is the fastest, it is said, he is sent. Then it is said that very few animals survived the fire. Of course, the implication is that when the need arose, the animal that was truly faster ought to have been the one to warn the others.

The next story that I really enjoyed is called "A Moral Little Tale." This is about a hard core Puritan who fought against those who danced, or laughed, or did any sort of merry making. Thus, when he dies, he expects to be greeted by God or Jesus. Rather, he is met by the Devil himself who then thanks him for all that he has done.

There are several other interesting tales throughout this short book of short stories. It is quite unique and ingenious. However, one should have full powers of concentration on these tales. It is quite easy to miss something that might be fundamental to the comprehension of the whole tale. Even so, several stories had me scratching my head, even after several rereads. In those cases, I'm not sure if I missed something, or if I'm looking for something that doesn't exist. In any case, I highly recommend these tales.
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