One of my brother’s favourite author’s is Oscar Wilde. He is not one of mine – yet (my brother thinks it’s only a matter of time!). I have just started re-reading The Picture of Dorian Grey and have been quite surprised.
While we were overseas we did some of the ‘typical’ touristy things, one which included going to Wilde’s grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. It felt momentous, but that could have been because of the solemn nature of the line of mourners who were filing past. If you look closely at the photo you will notice the many lipstick marks of those who have kissed the tomb in reverence to the writer – extraordinary.
While we were in Dublin we took some time to see the amazingly detailed and slightly disturbing monument to Wilde in Merrion Square.
There is certainly a cult-like following of Wilde and his works, which I have never really understood. However, reading Dorian Gray this time around I am catching glimpse sof why people are so dedicated to, obsessed by, invested in, his work.
From the prologue of the book, written by Wilde, allegedly as a defence against the books critics, comes the following:
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
To reveal art and conceal the artist is art’s aim.
The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression of beautiful things.
The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.
This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.
They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.
That is all.
I cannot say that I agree with all that Wilde is saying, but then it wasn’t my novel been criticized and threatened with censorship. In particularly, I don’t agree with the idea/ideal that ‘those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty’.
In Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (which is one of my favourite books), one of her characters makes the following statement, ‘There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty – unless she is wed to something more meaningful – is always superficial.’ To me this seems like the crux of the issue. Beauty, or anything else, unless it is cleaved to a greater understanding, a greater good, if you will, then it really is beauty for beauty’s sake. And I’m not sure that that is enough. Or is it?