Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I'm one of those people who sometimes miss the obvious—you know, because you don't think it through or connect the dots? This happened to me recently when I decided to read The Picture of Dorian Gray. I was bored somewhere and decided to look for free books on my Android and had never read Gray so I downloaded it. I have a few, rather unrelated, things to say about my experience thus far.

Digital Reading
First of all, this is my first experience reading a digital book and I have to say I like it. It's not cumbersome, it's not hard to read, I don't feel sad that I'm not holding a book. The only annoying aspect I've encountered is the short width of my phone's screen—an annoyance that isn't present in eReaders, since most of them are much wider than my phone screen. I will be getting more books to read digitally, there's no doubt about that!

Oscar Wilde
I am absolutely in love with "The Importance of Being Earnest,"* which is by Oscar Wilde. If you've never read it (or seen it, as it is a play), you MUST. His wit and playfulness with the English language is amazing and the seriousness with which he approaches absurdity is delightful.

As I was reading Gray, I kept making connections with the style of writing between it and Earnest; imagine my surprise (and slight shame) when I finally connected the dots that they're by the same author! So, of course, I was excited that a) I had been able to identify the similarities between the two (even if I didn't realize why right away) and that b) I was reading another masterpiece by Wilde.

Quick Wit & Masterful Punch Lines
Before punch lines were called punch lines, Wilde was delivering them like crazy. As much as the story of Gray flows from one chapter to the next, I can't help but notice the punch line-esque quality in so much of his writing.

And I love it.

As a writer of sorts, I am always amazed at the absolute mastery some people have over language, people who obviously put a lot of work in and take a lot of pride in what they write. It is indeed something to aspire to.

I am not going to link to details about The Picture of Dorian Gray. Instead, I'm going to challenge you to read it—even if it is just the free Google book version on your smartphone. :)

I will, however, tease your interest by listing a few quotes from The Picture of Dorian Gray.

"I am so sorry, Harry," he cried, "but really it is entirely your fault. That book you sent me so fascinated me that I forgot how the time was going."
"Yes: I thought you would like it," replied his host, rising from his chair.
"I didn't say I liked it, Harry. I said it fascinated me. There is a great difference."
"Ah, you have discovered that?" murmured Lord Henry.
(Speaking of Sibyl Vane, an actress who committed suicide because of heartbreak): "No, she will never come to life. She has played her last part. But...the girl never really lived, and so she has never really died. To you at least she was always a dream, a phantom that flitted through Shakespeare's plays and left them the lovelier for its presence...The moment she touched actual life, she married it, and it marred her, and so she passed away. Mourn for Ophelia, if you like. Put ashes on your head because Cordelia was strangled. Cry out against Heaven because the daughter of Brabantio died. But don't waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She was less real than they are.
 "Yes," he continued, "that is one of the greatest secrets of life. Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping commonsense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one's mistakes."
 "How dreadful!" cried Lord Henry. "I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect."

*Wikipedia's entry for "The Importance of Being Earnest" is entertaining. If you're interested in reading the full text, you can do so at, or you can listen to the whole play at LibriVox (which is what I did—it's pretty good!). If you want the short version, SparkNotes will oblige, or if you want a mobile version, Google Books will.

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