Friday, December 11, 2009

Ruminations: The importance of being earnest

On this Lazy Friday, I've decided to take a look at two works - residual from the Back to School challenge - that have not too much in common with one another other than they a) take Gothic literature to either the tragic or comic extremes, b) experiment with literary style, and c) have rather amusing videos that accompany them. Plus, in times of economic crises, publishing houses go back to the classics - giving them a new jacket or introduction - in order to sustain business. Vintage Classics has repackaged 19th century (aka public domain, aka without copyright) works, as has Penguin in its new gorgeous deluxe hardback editions:

I read Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights because being someone who kind of despises 80s music I wanted to understand the power ballad. The king of said genre, Jim Steinman, wrote such epics as most of the Meat Loaf music, 'Total Eclipse of the Heart', and 'It's All Coming Back to Me Now' based on this novel, apparently. The latter was written with the a scene in mind - one that actually doesn't exist in the book - where Heathcliff digs up his long lost love's body and dances with it in the moonlight. About two-thirds of that statement is right: Heathcliff digs up Catherine's coffin in the moonlight, but he doesn't dance with it (which probably would have made the scene much more fascinating; but hey, it was 1847 when Brontë wrote it, and I have a feeling that that wouldn't have been kosher with her publisher, even though the Victorians enjoyed their grave digging).

Still it's one of the most rough, vicious, and brutal novels I've read in my lifetime. Talk about people who can't let anything go. Every single character lives to destroy the next. It's a novel where characters are trying to outlive their neighbours solely for spite in order for property to remain in their family name, so that their children don't fall in love with the 'wrong' one, so that paternalism can take itself to its logical end. Which of course lends itself to a wonderful rendition from Monty Python (the Wuthering Heights bit starts about 1.04 mins in), where they capture most of what you need to know about the book, in semaphore too!:

The other book that I read recently was Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray, which I had to read in high school but hadn't revisited since. At that point I was more intrigued by the evil and darkness that the novel depicted; I had just read Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus and the concept of selling your soul for education (in Faustus's world) or for eternal beauty (in Dorian Gray's case) I found fascinating. However, this reading time around I focused on the humour, the absurdity, and the cleverness of wit that Wilde is absolutely and justifiably known for: The clingyness of the portrait painter Basil, the terrible acting of Dorian's female love interest Sibyl Vane, the brilliant and Gawker-style snarky one-liners of Lord Henry Wotton.

The ostentation in this book is just out of control. In high school, my friends and I - whenever we came across such unnecessary purple prose in other novels - would jokingly refer to such passages as being like 'Dorian Gray's tapestries', for there is a chapter in this book that just describes the absurd and decadent tastes that Dorian picks up after reading a vicious book, described:
'I am so sorry, Harry' [Dorian] cried, 'but it is entirely your fault. That book you sent me so fascinated me that I forgot how the time was going.'
'Yes: I thought you would like it,' replied his host, rising from his chair.
'I didn't say I liked it, Harry. I said it fascinated me. There is a great difference.'
'Ah, you have discovered that?' murmured Lord Henry. And they passed into the dining room.
That's just a wonderful quote about the 'poisons of literature'; for they show that, as Lord Henry earlier states, 'Sin is the only real colour-element left in modern life'. And of course this story - sans the homoeroticism - is a perfect novel that the film industry would want to get its hands on, with all the wild colours and temptations and soul selling that encompasses this wonderful work. And below is the somewhat ridiculous trailer for the film that apparently came out in the UK and has no release date in the States, probably for good reason. It just looks like it missed the humour and focused on the 'drama'. And really, that's not decadent at all...I doubt Wilde would have approved.


Kari said...

Haha, that Monty Python clip was great. But what happened to your Twilight analysis? ;)

Oh, Colin Firth. He just has to be involved in everything based on British literature. I love him despite (or maybe because of) that.

Salvatore said...

The woman beside me on the subway this morning was reading Twilight. At some point those book might be read...