Published by: Collins Classics
Price: 150 INR
“Heavy with the mephitic odours of moral and spiritual putrefaction.”
– Daily Chronicle
– St James Gazette
Reviewing an author like Oscar Wilde can make you feel pretty small. Anecdotes and essays about him will tell you that this would have brought him some amount of satisfaction.
There is always a certain degree of reluctance that arises before one commits to a classic, this stemming mostly from the belief that its content has been enforced upon you through years of reading other literature; that is from within the works of those who use these classics as the fundamentals. The reluctant believe that the content will hence come through as cliché, overbearing and abstruse in an unpleasant fashion. This sentiment, they perhaps parallel to watching Nanook of the North, nodding along and saying they understand why it was once popular.
A lot many people approach classics with the weariness of sitting around an archaic church. There are complaints about how the language is ineffectual in modern writing or too cumbersome to actually read. There are some who consider it an amateur’s stepping stone to serious reading, (ask any fool and even he’ll know all the classics, they’ll say). Then there are the others- the ones afraid to admit they haven’t read a famous classic. This is usually accompanied by –‘oh I read it when I was a child but I don’t remember much of it now’ or ‘I read it once and I was just about to pick it up again’.
I knew a guy who wouldn’t read a particular classic simply because the name was too household. “Everyone knows Charles Dickens,” he would say and then supplement it with, “and everyone knows what he’s all about”.
Reading Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ will perhaps help dispel a lot of these notions and take you off guard. Though set in the London’s 1800’s, it deals with the ever-present sentiments of self-deception, beauty and perception, about how Dorian Grey wishes to preserve his youth and zest for life. Added to this, are also measures of homoerotic representation and a hilarious take on the upper class society of London (resulting in the above mentioned reviews at the time of release). The novel starts with painter Basil Halward talking about the innocence and beauty of his model Dorian Gray to Lord Henry Wotton. It then transfixes on the influence of Lord Henry Wotton upon Dorian Gray and his realizations that follow, about the fast fleeing nature of his own beauty. The manner in which these fairly simple and common place elements are dealt with will deliver the promises of any great story.
Spending time on the modern day relevance of this book brings to mind something a book reviewer at The Guardian once wrote:
“I was struck by the similarities. For example, the obsession with self-image which leads to Dorian’s wish in the first place can easily be associated with 2014 and how teenagers of today measure their attractiveness in the number of Facebook ‘likes’ on profile pictures.”
Lord Henry Wotton puts this rightly when he says
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
Throughout the novel, there exists a brilliant repertoire of dialogues delivered by characters created out of a solid combination of purpose and improvisation. Lord Henry Wotton or Harry, as mentioned before, is considered one of the greatest cynics in literature; he is a phenomenon that will grow on you. I remember betting once that there wasn’t a single page in the book without a notion of cynicism. While this may be an exaggeration, probability is certainly on my side. The type of cynicism in the book, however, is entertaining, comical and thoroughly enjoyable; quite different from wearing eye make-up and singing songs about the futility of life.
If still you feel unsure about trying this book, consider the fact that Collins Classics will fetch you the paperback for INR 122.
Salman Rushdie or David Wallace will cost you a bit above five hundred.
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