Yes indeed, I finished Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I shall not give away many spoilers Maren, I know you claim to be a slow reader. Instead, I will focus on chapter eleven only.
For the love of Dove Dark Chocolate, chapter eleven made me madder than a wet hen. Let it be public knowledge that I like reading. I do not mind long sentences, like in a George Eliot sort of way. In other words, I want some substance in the long-winded ramblings. In my opinion, the case is exactly the opposite with contemporary American authors. Their sentences are usually marked with brevity but lacking in sophistication. If I wanted a spoon fed plot without any reflection, I would watch television. I want Wilde sentences, the kind that could be embroidered on pillows and expanded into endless pondering discussions. Up to chapter eleven, and after, Wilde delivers exactly those fun filled sentences. However, in chapter eleven, Wilde apparently decides to show off in a different vein.
Chapter 11 bridges the first ten chapters from when Dorian is an adolescent adult to the rest of the book where he becomes a man approaching middle age. We learn through the narration that during all this time, Dorian obsesses with a book that Lord Henry gives him. Dorian is so absorbed into the book because, “One hardly knew at times whether one was reading the spiritual ecstasies of some medieval saint or the morbid confessions of a modern sinner.” Also during this almost twenty-year lapse, Dorian studies and conquers all the fine hedonic allurements culture has to offer. He studies perfumes, music, jewels, dainty Delhi muslins, and gold-thread palmates to name a few.
What I just wrote sums it all up. But here is where Wilde, like Herman Melville, William Faulkner, and other similar authors for some unknown reason become hell bent on boring the reader to pulling out her hair with paragraph after paragraph (page after page in Melville’s case) of technical facts. I am no lazy reader, but I cannot see the point. If it does not add to the plot, help develop the character, setting, or overall atmosphere of the book, what is the purpose?
I know in the late 1980’s and the early 1990’s, it was taught (at least where I went to school) that the author’s life must be removed from the piece of fiction. We should analyze and criticize the story by what the story presents. Its own merit. However, since 2003 forward, professor after professor have incorporated the author’s life when lecturing on the author’s pieces. I asked one professor once and she said during the time I was referring to, there was a “movement” if you will (she liked to called the literary eras “impulses”) that insisted on reviewing the ficition with the author as non-existent. It was the only way they thought the piece could be given a fair analysis. Well obviously, that movement did not keep a pulse for long.
Anyway, I hate to oversimplify it, but it seems like ego to me. Wilde goes into all these excruciating details about what Queen, Duchess, Priest owned what jewel, and how the ornament came to be, and the history of it, etc etc. It screams of knowledge flexing. It really put me off.
Herman Melville does the same thing, but in a lot more exaggerated fashion in Moby Dick. There are actual chapters that can be removed and not affect the book at all. Do I really need to know the width in centimeters of a whaling harpoon and the precise execution utilizing a particular thrusting motion? I think not.
I have not read William Faulkner’s novel, As I lay Dying, but my good friend who I rely on for interesting literary discussions, told me that Faulkner uses the same method when it comes to describing carpentry in As I Lay Dying, a novel centered on “Cash” (Also his methodical thinking of carpentry in the chapter entitled “Cash”), —one of the Bundren children who became a carpenter after he injured a leg. Supposedly, when her male professor was going on about the detailed carpentry, he almost has an orgasm in front of the class while bragging on Faulkner’s ability to depict the craft of a true artisan.
I do not want to conclude that it is a gender difference, but I know of no female author who fills up pages with unnecessary technical knowledge. Jane Austen never seems to feel the need to inundate the reader with how her characters stitch handkerchiefs or meticulously thread needles. Austen was too busy sneaking around trying to write her novels. No time for that petty rubbish,—peacocking.
If you know of a female author that does, please tell me. It will be interesting to see how she details a skill.
By the way, apart from the pages in Chapter 11 that I would rip out, I highly recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray. It is entertaining, the plot is very good, and there is loads to think about.
For the superficial, b-e-w-a-r-e.