Criticism, Dorian Gray in Theory, Essay, Literary Criticism, Non-Fiction, Oscar Wilde, Theory

Dorian Gray, In Theory (Part 5)

Last month, I introduced a five-part project exploring Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray, as viewed through various critical lenses. I began in Part 1 with Formalism. This week, I take a very brief look at the novel from a Feminist perspective and conclude with some brief, final thoughts. I have to say, looking back at a favorite novel through a variety of lenses has been a challenging but rewarding task. I actually had quite a lot of fun with it and thought about the novel in new and different ways.

Feminism

A theory which need be applied to The Picture of Dorian Gray, but which seems surprisingly lacking, is the Feminist approach. Perhaps the small amount of feminist criticism written about this novel, or at least the difficulty in finding it, is due to the fact that feminist and queer theories are both relatively “new” schools (in terms of the overall history of theory and criticism), coming about at roughly the same time and, naturally, queer theory took firm hold of Dorian Gray. Be that as it may, it seems to me that much should be said about the lack of female presence in Dorian Gray, and also about the disturbing picture of women presented in the minor character roles which do exist for them.

In her essay, “Chloe Liked Olivia,” Virginia Woolf states that, “all the great women of fiction were . . . not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that” (Leitch 1024). This is absolutely true for Sybil Vane. Not only is she seen simply and briefly through men’s eyes (Oscar Wilde, as the writer, but also Dorian Gray and Lord Henry, as observers) but she also must play a boy on stage. Further, her importance in the story is only to the extent that she causes Dorian’s first slip into wickedness.

Other female characters in the novel include: Lady Agatha, Mrs. Vane, Lady Victoria Wotten, and Lady Brandon, all of whom only exist within the story to further the male roles. As a feminist, I wonder how Virginia Woolf must have read The Picture of Dorian Gray; I believe it is doing a great disservice to feminist theory to leave such a marker text out of the discussion. Though Queer theorists may have seized Dorian Gray –and for good reason– there is still room for discussion on many points of feminist theory, especially taking into consideration the role that Oscar Wilde’s own wife must have played on the portrayal of Sybil Vane. And, further, what does a gay man, married to a woman, have to offer the feminist community?

Concluding Thoughts

The possibilities for examining a text like The Picture of Dorian Gray are endless, but one must stop somewhere, at least for a little while. Any school of criticism can be applied to such an extraordinary text, and thus bring about new questions and new modes of examination. Placing many theories side-by-side, or interlacing them, perhaps, is an even greater way of coming up with new ideas, noticing nuances that were once overlooked.

The point of this series is to consider a single novel from a variety of critical perspectives, and to explore how one might go about that process. It demonstrates how The Picture of Dorian Gray has “changed” over time (or how reception of it has changed), simply by being read again and again. I hope that, after thinking of how different generations have read this one novel, we might remember to think more broadly, even more exotically, about other texts we read in the future. It is important to keep in mind that, just as two people reading one text at the same time will not walk away with the same feeling, the same understanding of it, so too will different generations, different cultures, different religions, different classes, and different genders have even further interpretations of that text. The experiment, indeed, arose from my own re-readings of a number of books, many of which I responded to quite differently with each new reading.

This series, I hope, is just a beginning, a tip to the iceberg of understanding. I hope, personally, to continue to ask questions about my reading(s), to re-examine old ideas, and to revisit texts from a new perspective; and, by doing these, I hope to encourage my own growth as a reader (and writer).

Please visit early segments for my thoughts on Dorian Gray and Formalism; Dorian Gray and Reader-Response; Dorian Gray and Post-Structuralism; and Dorian Gray and Marxism. If you have any ideas about another novel (or short story) that I should try this kind of experiment on, let me know!

Works Cited and Consulted

  • Leitch, Vincent B ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.
  • Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
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Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon (1:6)

RBR Sunday Salon

Volume 1, Issue 6

This week’s Sunday Salon is jam-packed with interesting reads from a variety of topics, including science, literature, writing, and my very own contributions here at Roof Beam Reader. It was a very busy week for me personally and professionally, but somehow I managed to read a lot of fascinating articles that I’d like to share with you all. For my own contributions, please scroll through to the bottom.

I look forward to hearing about what you’ve read/written this week, or what you think about the links I’ve shared. Please feel free to comment below. Happy September!

Blog Posts I Loved

  • Fanda Classiclit:  6 Degree of Separation: From The Origin to…. “I have just finished a wonderful book, of which I still need time to digest: Irving Stone’s The Origin—a historical account on Charles Darwin. As always with great books, it’d take me much time and efforts to review. On the other hand, my head is full of it and I was eager to write something. I have just finished a wonderful book, of which I still need time to digest: Irving Stone’s The Origin—a historical account on Charles Darwin. As always with great books, it’d take me much time and efforts to review. On the other hand, my head is full of it and I was eager to write something.”
  • Bookish Byron: Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton. “Considering this was Gaskell’s debut novel, I think it’s very telling of her ability as a writer. She often, more times than not, goes against the grain. She lived in Manchester, at the heart of the industrial revolution, and saw the negative impacts it had on the lives of the working class.”
  • Nut Free Nerd: A Classic Couple: The Catcher in the Rye and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. “This classic/contemporary duo always reminds me of the start of the school year, which makes this the perfect time to write about them here. I’m sure this pairing has been done many times before, but I still think there are some interesting parallels worth discussing.”

Literary Miscellany

  • Tor: Problematic Classics: Four Questions to Ask When Beloved Books Haven’t Aged Well. “Most of us who love speculative fiction run into this problem at some point. There are classics of the genre that are uncomfortable for various reasons. Some of them are straight-out racist, or unrepentantly misogynistic, or homophobic, or all of the above. How and why and when we come to these realizations can change depending on who we are.”
  • Literary Hub: What Does Immersing Yourself in a Book Really Do? “The act of taking on the perspective and feelings of others is one of the most profound, insufficiently heralded contributions of the deep-reading processes. Proust’s description of “that fertile miracle of communication effected in solitude” depicts an intimate emotional dimension within the reading experience: the capacity to communicate and to feel with another without moving an inch out of our private worlds.”
  • Scary Mommy: 20 LGBTQ Books for Kids from Preschooler to High School. “[Neither you nor your kid needs to be queer to enjoy these books. In fact, it if you are not queer, you should read them. Understand and see us. Then teach kindness and acceptance. LGBTQ books should be part of all kids’ reading materials and educational narrative.”

History & Politics

Culture & Society

  • Literary Hub: Grammar Purity is One Big Ponzi Scheme. “There’s no separating this debate from issues of class, race, geography, and socioeconomic status. The minute someone says x is standard and y is not, they’re making a judgment call about whose English reigns supreme. Just as the winners write the history books, the most powerful group of English language users write the grammar books.”
  • Oxford English Dictionary: A Brief History of Singular “They.” “Since forms may exist in speech long before they’re written down, it’s likely that singular they was common even before the late fourteenth century. That makes an old form even older.”
  • The Atlantic: Why Some Parents Turn Boys’ Names Into Girls’ Names. “She says that some parents “celebrate the idea of naming a baby girl James,” for instance, as an attempt to upset gender expectations by showing that girls can take on traits that are traditionally perceived as masculine. What’s noticeably absent, though, is a boomlet operating in the other direction.”

Science, Tech., & Nature

  • Scientific American: What Lucid Dreams Look Like. “Last month, for the first time in over a year, I had lucid dreams for two nights in a row. A lucid dream, or realizing that you’re dreaming while still inside of the dream, is not an unusual experience: most people will have at least one lucid dream in their lives.”
  • The Atlantic: Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read. “Surely some people can read a book or watch a movie once and retain the plot perfectly. But for many, the experience of consuming culture is like filling up a bathtub, soaking in it, and then watching the water run down the drain.”

Teaching & Writing

Posts from Roof Beam Reader

Currently Reading

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • So Big by Edna Ferber (for #CCSPIN)

Thank you for stopping by and taking part in another SUNDAY SALON. There was much to choose from this week, and I hope I have presented you with a decent selection. Some of these I found interesting and engaging, others troubling and bothersome. I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these or the other things you’ve read this week!


All work found on roofbeamreader.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


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2018 TBR Pile Challenge

September Checkpoint! #TBR2018RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Somehow, while the summer days flew by and the new school year began, and while the cool iced drinks began to give way to the return of all things Pumpkin Spice, another month passed for our challenge, too, which means we now only have 3 months left! How did this happen?

Last month, I challenged all of us to get 200 reviews written and linked-up with the Mister Linky widget below. Guess what? We did it! Currently, we have 212 reviews posted and linked. Congratulations, everyone! CAN WE GO FOR 250 BY OCTOBER 15TH!?

Question of the Month: What is your ideal reading environment/atmosphere? Where & when do you typically read, and how do you get yourself “settled” into it? 

My Progress: 6 of 12 Completed / 5 of 12 Reviewed

I’ve read 6 of my books and am currently reading number 7. I’ve reviewed 5 so far (just need to get my thoughts down on Pudd’nhead Wilson!) Now, you might be thinking, “that sounds awfully familiar to what he posted last month.” Well, yeah, it certainly does!

Things really slowed down with the start of the semester. When I teach literature courses, I tend to re-read the books I’m teaching along with my students, which takes up some of my own personal reading time. (Most of it, to be honest.) It was great to re-read Pride and Prejudice last week, for example, but it meant I only read about 20 pages of my current challenge book! 

My completed reads:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated! At the end of the challenge, all entries will go into one big raffle for the $50 book prize! 

MINI-CHALLENGE #4

It is time for our last mini-challenge of the year! The winner for this one will be announced on October 15th and he/she will receive a book of choice ($20USD or less) from The Book Depository. Then, we wrap-up in December and all entries through December 15th go into the raffle for the BIG final prize. 

This month, I would like to challenge you all to visit one another’s blogs and recommend a book based on something the other participant has read! In other words, check out the Mister Linky list of reviews to see what people have read/reviewed, see what comes to mind when you read some of the titles, and then visit a couple/few of those posts to comment with your other reading suggestions. Please come back here to leave the links to your comments. Make sense? Have fun! (and good luck!)

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS 

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The Folio Society

Folio Friday: The Thomas Hardy Collection

This week, I’m excited to share with you all another new selection from the September catalog of The Folio Society. As many of you know, I’m a devoted fan of The Folio Society editions of classic literature, and the three I received so generously from the publisher have done nothing but encourage my adoration. This week, I want to highlight their new THOMAS HARDY COLLECTION.

I’m drawn in by the incredible cover art and the interior illustrations that The Folio Society are known for, and one  thing I truly appreciate about their editions is the thought and design they put into their sturdy slipcovers. The fact that TFS thinks not just the artwork for the book, but also its display case, is a major collecting consideration. I was fortunate enough to get a copy of JUDE THE OBSCURE, but I cannot wait to get my hands on the entire collection, considering how much I adored The Mayor of Casterbridge and Far From the Madding Crowd. Here are the details:

The Thomas Hardy Collection:

Far From the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jude the Obscure

Illustrated with wood engravings by Peter Reddick

‘Hardy saw the passion in the lives of ordinary country people: shepherds, milkmaids, village musicians, and expressed it with great power and empathy’ – Telegraph

The text for the Folio Society’s Thomas Hardy collection of four of his greatest Wessex novels is drawn from that of the authoritative Wessex Edition of 1912, with a few minor corrections subsequently requested by the author. Each includes Hardy’s original preface and a map of Wessex, the county that he created and where he set these novels, is featured on the end papers.

Each book contains over 30 wood engravings by Peter Reddick, who has recreated Hardy’s rural vision in his work. Reddick’s corn-dolly motifs appear on the cloth binding and the slipcase, which is made from Fragrance of Grass paper, created using an ancient Chinese paper-making method that results in a unique appearance and texture.

Hardy’s Wessex novels are among the finest examples of naturalism, a kind of realism influenced by scientific observation. His extensive  research– keeping newspaper clippings and ‘facts’ notebooks – is what makes the idyllic Wessex county with its evocative descriptions of landscapes, wildlife and local tradespeople so believable.

Hardy offers no prescription for carefree rural living in these books. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the stunning settings offset the misery that Tess endures simply to get by. While in Jude the Obscure, despite his best efforts Jude cannot rise above his humble beginnings. Those who do manage to rise above their station still suffer from the sins of the past in The Mayor of Casterbridge, and in Far from the Madding Crowd Bathsheba’s multiple suitors only aggravate the challenge of domestic harmony.

About the Publisher: For 70 years, The Folio Society has been publishing beautiful illustrated editions of the world’s greatest books. It believes that the literary content of a book should be matched by its physical form. With specially researched images or newly commissioned illustrations, many of its editions are further enhanced with introductions written by leading figures in their fields: novelists, journalists, academics, scientists and artists. Exceptional in content and craftsmanship, and maintaining the very highest standards of fine book production,Folio Society editions last for generations.

Book copy and all images are courtesy of The Folio Society. Feel free to review the September Collection, it is brilliant! Please come back next Friday, when I feature the new Folio edition of Evelyn Waugh’s BRIDESHEAD REVISITED.

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Criticism, Dorian Gray in Theory, Essay, Literary Criticism, Non-Fiction, Oscar Wilde, Theory

Dorian Gray, In Theory (Part 4)

Last month, I introduced a five-part project exploring Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece, The Picture of Dorian Gray, as viewed through various critical lenses. I began in Part 1 with Formalism. This week, I take a very brief look at the novel from a Marxist perspective. This is the shortest of the series by far because, quite frankly, I have not spent much time with any formal study of Marxism, save reading a few Terry Eagleton books.

Marxism

Another interesting approach of theory, and one that has been taken by critics during their examination of The Picture of Dorian Gray is the study of a text as a historical product, or as a cultural producer. Raymond Williams argues that literature is “a specific historical product, carrying class values” (Leitch 1565). He goes on to claim that, “literary forms and genres are determined by the social roles they play” (1566). So, what does this mean for Dorian Gray?

As Baker puts it, “Wilde’s chief concern was always with art, the artist, the critic, or the effect of art and criticism on society at large” (350). Thus, it stands to reason that Oscar Wilde set out, in Dorian Gray to have the text act as a cultural producer. He is not simply mirroring his own personality, but offering a suggestion, a warning, to society; beware the wrath of vanity, of imitation, and of idolatry. Baker solidifies this idea, that Dorian Gray is alerting the people, en masse, by stating, “Wilde believed that the progress of society was dependent upon the progress of the individual” (351).

Another case for a Marxist reading of Dorian Gray is an idea posited in “the Dialectics of Dandyism.” Glick presents further discussion on the idea of real versus appearance (as in Dorian and his picture) when she writes, “Marx makes it clear that while the distinction between what appears to be and what really is functions as a smoke screen for capital, the split between appearance and essence is not imaginary” (133). She goes on to explain that appearances are necessary to conceal inner relations, and that these “secrets” are present in The Picture of Dorian Gray as made example by the passage, “I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvelous to us.  The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it” (Wilde 7). Thus, Dorian Gray acts as a cultural product and producer, in that it was written to produce a sense of acknowledgment in the reader, and that, since its publication, cultures (especially, as Glick explains, the Queer community) have been affected by it.

The exploration of art and consumerism as both rivals and necessary conspirators is a fascinating one to me; I know there is a great deal of literature on the subject, though I have spent perhaps far too little time engaging with it. My consideration of Dorian Gray as a novel that both rejects and utilizes consumerism has encouraged me to consider other topics similarly. It is especially interesting to me that an aesthete, like Wilde, would so cheekily critique the very concept he personally faults. Wilde wrote for an audience, after all, so he cannot be excepted from his own criticism (as someone like Salinger, say, could be, because Salinger ultimately did reject the spectacle of it all and continued to produce art without making it consumable.)

Please visit early segments for my thoughts on Dorian Gray and Formalism; Dorian Gray and Reader-Response; and Dorian Gray and Post-Structuralism. I will return next week with the final installment, Part 5: Dorian Gray and Feminism.

Works Cited and Consulted

  • Baker, Houston A. “A Tragedy of the Artist: The Picture of Dorian Gray.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 24.3 (1969): 349-55.
  • Glick, Elisa. “The Dialectics of Dandyism.” Cultural Critique 48 (2001): 129-63.
  • Leitch, Vincent B ed. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001.
  • Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
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Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon (1:5)

RBR Sunday Salon

Volume 1, Issue 5

This second week of September might mean Pumpkin Spice lattes and early autumn feelings for many North Americans, but here at Roof Beam Reader it means 108-degree temperatures and another Sunday Salon!

This week, in addition to recapping my own posts and sharing what I’m currently reading, I’m sharing my favorite reads from my favorite bloggers, as well as a number of fascinating articles from across the web, including some on science, history, and politics.

I look forward to hearing about what you’ve read/written this week, or what you think about the links I’ve shared. Please feel free to comment below. Happy September!

Blog Posts I Loved

  • Wild Moo Books: Wrap Up: Big Book Summer Challenge. “Back in June I enthusiastically jumped into my friend Sue’s Big Book Summer Challenge. The challenge was to read books over 400 pages long between Memorial Day and Labor Day.”
  • Interesting Literature: The Pit and the Pendulum and the Short Story: “Of these lesser-known Poe tales, the one that stood out to me was ‘The Domain of Arnheim’, in which Poe seems to lay out his artistic credo in the form of a work of fiction. It’s a love letter to the imagination and a late-Romantic expression of the primacy of the human imagination, describing an imaginary voyage through a poet’s mind.”
  • An Historian About Town: Creating Your Library. “While this is a lovely dream to have, it isn’t as easy as it might seem on the surface, and there is a lot to consider. For a lot of people, it is a way to establish their intellectual self in their home.”

Literary Miscellany

History & Politics

Culture & Society

Science, Tech., & Nature

Teaching & Writing

Posts from Roof Beam Reader

Currently Reading

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • So Big by Edna Ferber (for #CCSPIN)

Thank you for stopping by and taking part in another SUNDAY SALON. There was much to choose from this week, and I hope I have presented you with a decent selection. Some of these I found interesting and engaging, others troubling and bothersome. I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these or the other things you’ve read this week!


All work found on roofbeamreader.com is copyright of the original author and cannot be borrowed, quoted, or reused in any fashion without the express, written permission of the author.


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The Folio Society

Folio Friday: The Left Hand of Darkness

Over the course of the next few Fridays, I’m excited to share with you all three new selections from the September catalog of The Folio Society. As many of you know, I’m a devoted fan of The Folio Society editions of classic literature, and the three I received so generously from the publisher have done nothing but encourage my adoration. This week, I want to highlight their edition of Ursula K. Le Guin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS.

I’m drawn in by the incredible cover art and the interior illustrations that The Folio Society are known for, and one of the things I truly appreciate about their editions are the sturdy slipcovers that are also well-designed. The fact that TFS puts thought into not just the artwork for the book, but also its display case, is excellent. This particular edition was also a collaboration between Le Guin herself and the publisher, which makes it all the more unique and special. As a Le Guin fan, I’m proud to own this one.

According to The Folio Society:

Described by Margaret Atwood as ‘one of the literary greats’ and by Stephen King as ‘a literary icon’, Ursula K. Le Guin stands as a colossus in the field of speculative fiction. The Left Hand of Darkness won multiple awards, including the Hugo for best novel, making Le Guin the first woman to win it; appropriate indeed, given that her extraordinary novel of betrayal, loyalty, love and survival was to change the conversation about gender for ever. In her introduction, novelist Becky Chambers – herself nominated for both the Clarke Award and the Hugo – calls the book ‘a titan’, one that gave rise to new perspectives on what fiction could be.

About the Book:

Genly Ai is an Envoy, a diplomat sent to make first contact with inhabited planets. Winter, a world locked in a perpetual ice age, is a particularly daunting challenge: its people are androgynous, only taking on male or female sexual characteristics during ‘kemmer’, a monthly period of change and arousal. Struggling to understand the intricacies of a society where anyone could be both mother and father to multiple children, Genly is soon caught in the dangerous machinations of politicians and kings who care little for his life, or the potential life beyond their planet. He is left with little choice but to flee across a vast ice sheet, a journey dangerous enough for a native of Winter, let alone a human ill adapted to extreme cold. Yet with survival and desperation comes trust, and Genly gains a new understanding of Winter and its people.

About the Illustrated Edition:

Like the layers of snow, ice and rock that make up Winter, The Left Hand of Darkness is a novel of many layers. Le Guin’s lifelong interest in anthropology and cultural diversity is the bedrock of every page, with chapters devoted to Winter’s mythology, oral history and folk stories. Winter itself, where the habitable stretch of land is always in danger of being suffocated by ice, feels utterly real – Le Guin crafts a world of lethal beauty and completely believable complexity. David Lupton, who provided the illustrations for the Folio edition of A Wizard of Earthsea, returns with a series of sensitive and intimate black and white artworks. Le Guin herself was closely involved in directing the look and feel of this edition, with the binding, slipcase and endpapers specially designed to invoke the icy atmosphere of Winter.

Book copy and all images are courtesy of The Folio Society. Feel free to review the September Collection, it is brilliant! Please come back next Friday, when I feature the new Folio edition of Thomas Hardy’s JUDE THE OBSCURE.

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