I’ve been trying to add some of the classics to my reading list this year, and for some reason chose this one. Years ago I saw the movie, but it apparently didn’t leave an impression on me. Still, I think the movie would’ve been better.
I’m a few chapters into this and I’m still waiting for the story to unfold. That’s normal for the era in which Wilde wrote–along with the head-hopping and long descriptive prose (which is about the only thing I’ve liked so far). The dialogue is far from realistic; I’m certain, even in his era, people didn’t talk like that. If they did, I’m glad I wasn’t born then.
These are things I expect out of 19th Century novels (well, I’ve seen better dialogue). Usually, while I wait for the story to kick in, I face these novels with patience and a hope for learning. I look for clever phrases, picturesque prose, thoughts worthy of mulling over. Wilde gets an A in descriptive prose: who wouldn’t like his line “the sullen murmer of bumble bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass” or “blue cloud-shadows chased themselves across the grass like swallows”? Or how about this: “She was a curious woman, whose dresses always looked as if they had been designed in a rage and put on in a tempest”?
I even found one nugget that is applicable to today: “Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”
But so far, I’ve been met with page after page of pontification. The supposed wisdom of Lord Henry comes with the package of the character himself. The man is full of himself, loves to hear himself talk, and is convinced no one has anything to say that’s worth his listening to. His bloviations range from the brainlessness of women, the uselessness of Americans, and the folly of fidelity. Hedonism suits him well, but only for the upper classes, the bored rich, because the unwashed lower classes haven’t the intellect to enjoy it. And those who are subjected to his diatribes either won’t argue with his dogma, or have an epiphany through his “truths.” Young and old alike find him “delightful” company.
I assume Wilde presented his philosophies through Lord Henry and developed for himself an audience who would listen to his words of enlightenment–because I sincerely doubt his words went without argument when he presented this drivel in person.
It isn’t just that I disagree with absolutely everything Lord Henry/Oscar Wilde has to say, it’s also the way he says it. Page after page of difficult monologue that I’m learning to skim over because it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort to figure it all out.
But I’ll continue reading–skimming–because the story itself interests me. I just hope he gets to it soon.