Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "The Portrait of Mr. W.H."

I recently acquired an edition of the complete works of Oscar Wilde, and I've read most of it. I used not to think too highly of Mr. Wilde. But no one can read De Profundis and "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" without being affected.

I also recently happened to watch two filmed versions of "Dorian Gray." Both of them suffered from clunky dialog and slow pacing - but the 1976 version with Sir John Gielgud at least has plenty of homoeroticism. The other one I saw was the 1945 film, which has its moments but some of those moments were added heterosexual interest. Also, although it's a black-and-white film, the sinister portrait appears in color, with psychedelic bubbles on it. (I haven't seen the recent version with Colin Firth yet.)

Despite its flaws, I think it was while I was watching the BBC version that I realized there's a connection between the story of Dorian Gray and Wilde's semi-fictional essay about Mr. W.H., the man to whom Shakespeare's sonnets were dedicated. Wilde (or his characters) argue that the lovely young man of the sonnets was a boy actor in Shakespeare's company.

Dorian Gray's life of evil begins when he becomes infatuated with a Shakespearean actress and then abruptly falls out of love with her. I believe that Wilde portrays her sympathetically, and yet the fact remains that she is an interloper. It's not for her that the parts of Juliet, Portia, or Ophelia were written. After reading "The Portrait of Mr. W.H." I start to ask myself if Dorian fell in love with the idea of a boy in girl's clothes (not the other way round.)

Anyway, the point is: read some Oscar Wilde. It will make you sad.

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