A Quick Word with Mr Wilde

The PREFACE

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.

The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass.

The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

The moral life of man forms part of the subject-matter of the artist, but the morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium.

No artist desires to prove anything. Even things that are true can be proved.

No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable

mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.

From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of feeling, the actor’s craft is the type.

All art is at once surface and symbol.

Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.

Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.

Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.

When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Oscar Wilde.

 

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas
Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas By Apollomelos~commonswiki – http://www.web.apc.org/~jharnick/cemetary.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64045

This gorgeous epigraph at the beginning of The Picture of Dorian Gray might be my favourite part of the whole book. It performs the same function as the modern day disclaimer that we are all so familiar with. This is Wilde getting in the first and hopefully the last word in a hypothetical debate with his contemporary literary critics. Wilde’s work was not by any means universally popular. In fact, there were several critics who took particular delight in eviscerating his works. The mere cheek and eloquence of this epigraph make it one of the most endearing defences of aestheticism in literary history.

Wilde today is acknowledged as being one of the most influential writers of the aestheticism movement that advocated art for art’s sake. Art that does not provide us with commentary or allegory, art that is just beautiful and enjoyable.

This epigraph dares critics to find fault with the narrative that follows, because if they do they will be guilty of the flaws they see in the text.

In summary, fuck you. It’s art and if you don’t like it then that’s your problem.

Calling literary criticism autobiography certainly has its merits for there are as many readings of a text as there a readers. We, as readers, bring the full scope of our life experience along for the ride when we read a book.

A small child can read a Disneyified version of Cinderella in a very different way to an adult.

The small child sees a lady who is sad and lonely, who gets to go to a party, and, through a series of intervening events isn’t lonely or sad anymore.

As we grow up our understanding of the book changes, it becomes more complex and potentially, as in my case, less uplifting and more problematic. And very discriminatory against people with large feet.

So too does our understanding of more complex gothic stories like the tale of Dorian Gray.

There is no one right way to understand The Picture of Dorian Gray.

 

And now it is confession time…

This is a poorly worded epigraph or preface to a conversation I would like to have in the future, a conversation that Wilde may have hated.

Can The Picture of Dorian Gray be read as an allegorical cautionary tale?

A tale about the hubris of man wanting to interfere with nature?

A story about the creation of a monster?

Can we compare The Picture of Dorian Gray to Frankenstein?

 

References:

The Picture of Dorian Gray on Project Gutenburg

Paradise Lost in The Poetical Works of John Milton on Project Gutenburg

 

 

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The Virtual FrankenPod Murder Board January 2018

Chronicling the links between potential tangents and my slow/rapid? descent into madness.The-FrankenPod

Bats Optional – What is Gothic Literature?

Disclaimer:

I am not an expert and feel free to correct me (nicely) on any of this. The podcast is an evolving beast and I will happily revisit any of the ideas and texts we look at.

This is taken from this week’s episode of The FrankenPod.

Listen via youtube 



Before our podcast release next week I thought it might be a good idea to have a bit of a chat about Gothic literature and what exactly that entails. I am not assuming that everyone knows or doesn’t know about the gothic genre and this certainly won’t be a deep dive because I am simply not qualified. This is just to define the parameters of the initial genre we will be focusing on with Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

First up we need to acknowledge that the gothic genre is super problematic. There are stories that give a strong voice to people of all shapes, sizes, gender identifications, sexual orientations and nationalities but this progressiveness is a pretty recent development. Gothic literature can be racist, homophobic and is frequently classist and misogynist. Whilst we could dismiss these issues as being products of the time in which they were written I think it is important that we are aware of the problems in the things we love and to acknowledge them. The only way we can move forward is to understand the issues of our past. Frankenstein is classist, misogynistic and racist. It is my favourite novel of all time, but I completely acknowledge it’s flawed.  


Let’s get into my barebones overview of Gothic Literature.


Particularly popular in the 18th and 19th century, Gothic literature typically draws on a spectre of evil

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By Post Of Romania

from the distant past that threatens to reach forward and destroy the present. Bram Stoker creates a particularly threatening creature who oozes ancient evil in Dracula. With vampire myths existing in every culture, some tied to the bible, some tied to ancient Egyptian mythology Bram Stoker had a wealth of ancient evil to draw from. His Count is descended from Attila the Hun and himself is a spectre of ancient or at the very least medieval evil, being virtually immortal. He has been around for centuries, but in Stoker’s narrative, he ventures into Victorian industrialised society to act all creepy around the ladies of London.


The Corruption of the Innocent 

The predatory sexuality of Dracula is one of the most blatant examples of the corruption of the innocent, a trope that is revived again and again. He preys on young vulnerable and virginal women in the same way that monsters of his kind will again and again in the novels we cover. But the innocent does not have to be a young virginal woman. The good Doctor Jekyll is corrupted in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the innocent Dorian is corrupted by his own vanity, Sir Henry and a supernatural lack of accountability, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is usually a girl or a woman who gets shortchanged. Even in contemporary gothic tales, the innocent vs. the beast is trotted out regularly, look at Buffy and Twin Peaks. I promise this will not become a Twin Peaks podcast but that won’t be the last reference to the series.


Locked Doors and Secret Passageways

Often gothic literature features mysterious castles, decrepit houses or monasteries. Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) is commonly cited as the first gothic novel, which is a whole ridiculous story that we will get to in another episode. The Castle of Otranto has a lot of the features that would come to be prevalent in the gothic novels that would come after it; an old castle, a family curse, the corruption of the innocent, the supernatural and the sublime.

 


The Other Goths

The word Goth does allude to a mysterious Scandinavian people who come into the verifiable historical record suddenly in the first century A.D. and this part of the story I am horrifically underqualified to talk about, even more than everything else I have been talking about. If you know a lot about the Goths, the Visigoths or the Ostrogoths please get in touch. Absolutely willing to revisit this! All I know is that as a teenage goth it was a source of very real and deep disappointment that the goths were not pale skinned eyeliner wearing robed people with black hair lounging about nonchalantly waiting for The Cure to be formed. 


Dramatic Architecture

The Gothic became a pejorative term that was used to dismiss architecture as ugly or barbaric which is a little harsh not to mention more than a touch racist. I also know basically nothing about this aspect of the gothic so again… if you know your way around gothic architecture please get in touch. Gothic literature has a lot more to do with the emergence of the goth subculture as we know it today than the Germanic Goths and gothic architecture.


This architectural notion of the terrible, dramatic and brutal has carried over into the gothic as it pertains to literature. With gothic plots being frequently brutal and dramatic in their content. Gothic literature also blurs the lines between the natural and the supernatural. 


The Indefinable Threat

The gothic does not require a ghost or a ghoul but needs an analogous threat. In fact, some of the most ambiguously supernatural gothic novels are the most troubling. Oscar Wilde’s protagonist does not have to wrestle with a literal physical monster, but with his own bargain with a malevolent force and we never conclusively find out if the governess of Henry James’ Turn of The Screw (1898) is actually experiencing a haunting or a psychotic break.


Popular_Detective_August_1935
By Published by Beacon Magazines, Inc. – Scanned cover of pulp magazine, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9849556

Detective Fiction

Stemming from the romantic supernatural gothic novel is the detective novel which dabbles in the macabre and the mysterious. These stories might start with a supernatural interpretation, as in the Sherlock Holmes novels, and a shown by the genius detective to be wholly natural, however improbable. The blurring of the gothic and the detective novel is particularly prevalent in The Hound of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, in which we get an appearance of the moors which feature so heavily in gothic fiction, they are like naturally occurring labyrinthine castles full of mystery and unpleasant surprises.


Gothic Film

The gothic film genre is closely tied to horror as it often features a lot of evil, death and destruction, however, it is also closely tied to the genre of period drama as the movies that draw inspiration from the classic gothic novel often keep their narratives within the same time and space as the original narrative. Most of the films we will focus on will have a Victorian or Vintage flavour, but the neo-gothic and gothic noir film has moved the gothic movie into the city and the modern world so there is a rich vein, no pun intended of material to work with.


So what makes Frankenstein gothic? 

Well aside from the cliché that it happened on a dark and stormy night. Victor Frankenstein is beholden to a deep ancient desire to create life from whole cloth. The Doctor’s drive to emulate god has a lineage tracing back to ancient Greece. Mary Shelley even renders the curse of the doctor explicit in the title of the novel Frankenstein, or the modern-day Prometheus. The Prometheus myth is a huge thing to unpack so I might have to do that another time. The creature of the novel is not born of God, so while he is a creature of science and consequently science fiction he is also a supernatural innocent that seeks to find his way in the world. There is the corruption of the innocent, death and the fall of a great noble family.

So what do you ideally need for a gothic novel or film? Not all novels will have all these but these are the factors to look out for…


Trick_photo,_decapitated_man_with_bloody_knife,_holding_his_head_(2720790706).jpg
By George Eastman House – https://www.flickr.com/photos/george_eastman_house/2720790706/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53600367

The Gothic Text Wish List

□ Death

□ Mystery

□ A Haunting

□ A Curse

□ A Challenge to the conventional

□ An Artefact imbued with magic or supernatural properties

□ The Corruption of the innocent

□ Creepy architecture

□ Preferably a labyrinth of some kind

□ And an Ancient Evil

*Bats and ambiguous shadows optional


I’ll see you next week with Brent to compare the 1931 movie Frankenstein and the 1818 novel in which we officially apply the concepts of galvanism to the unsuspecting creature that is our podcast. 


How could this possibly go wrong?


You can watch the fall out from this act of hubris in real time @thefrankenpod on twitter and thefrankenpod.wordpress.com has all the resources I was diligent enough to include.


In the meantime hit up Project Gutenberg and Librivox for a free copy of Frankenstein and any other gothic tales in the public domain.


Resources

  • Smith, Andrew. Gothic literature. Edinburgh University Press, 2007.
  • If you want to find books over 100 years old or thereabouts you can probably find it on Gutenberg Project Free Books outside of the Public Domain on Project Gutenberg
  • My copy of many gothic texts discussed are drawn from: A Gothic Treasury of the Supernatural: The Castle of Otranto; Frankenstein: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Dracula; The Turn of the Screw” 1981
  • Other research is drawn from the Macquarie University and Jstor
The feature image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 17 August 2008, 12:59 by Yuriybrisk. On that date, it was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the license indicated.