Saturday, April 16, 2011

Shameless bragging and an unlikely Gospel tract

First of all, as dad to two of the contestants, let all three of my readers know that if you want to find a  group of 10-13 year olds who know dog breeds, diseases, showmanship, and so on better than any other group of 4-H members of the same age in Minnesota, you can find them in my town.  But I'm not bragging....yeah, right, who am I kidding?   They worked hard and did well, which was a lot of fun.

While accompanying them to the competition, I also found that a classic work of literature is indeed an unlikely Gospel tract, specifically Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian GrayPrior to reading it, I knew it was a classic, I knew of Wilde's reputation for immorality, and I'd been told that the basic theme is that the picture gets older, but Dorian does not.

Those who know the real story--or for that matter have seen the 1945 film version (which takes some serious liberties)-- are of course aware that the greatest change in the picture is due to not his age, but rather his sin.  The book is peppered with Biblical references, including a wonderful passage where Gray notes that had he been forced to confront his sins, he might have repented in time before becoming nothing less than a moral monster.

All in all, it's a reasonable Gospel tract for those who will understand it--and alas, the papers at the time it was released did not contemplate this, but rather (per the Victorian spirit maybe?) concentrated on the debauchery common to almost all characters--the protagonist is not the only one who needs a work of art to show the results of ongoing sin, not by a long shot.

For that matter, I half wonder if the work is mildly autobiographical, as it begins with chapters that strongly reflect his homosexual acts of the time he wrote the book, countered by scathing descriptions of the lives of London "gentlemen" of the time.  Is Gray actually Wilde, and is Lord Henry actually Robert Ross--or vice versa?  Is the book really Wilde's plea to be released from his own passions--ironically just as he was to start indulging them most deeply--and was that plea repeated in his play Salome?  Do the objections of the critics result from real convictions, or were they because they recognized their sins skewered by Wilde?

Wilde alone knows, of course, but as for me, I came away from the book contemplating how good it might be if Christian filmmakers were to produce a new film version, this time more faithful to the original book.


W.B. Picklesworth said...

This is one of those books that I own, that I've been meaning to read for a very long time and just haven't gotten to. Perhaps it's time to put it on the short list.

Bike Bubba said...

I'd encourage that; it's only 200 easy pages and with your Anglophilia, I think it would be very easy for you.

I'd also be interesting to see if you got the same thing out of it that I did; I must confess that my view of what's going on differs from that of most critics.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

I've gotten through the first 75 pages or so. He's just tossed Miss Vane overboard. It's tough reading because the characters are so in thrall to foolishness. I can't stand any of them! Not sure that I'll finish. There are so many good things to read that I'm not sure I want to devote any more time to frustration.

Bike Bubba said...

I felt the same way; can't blame you if you quit, as it's an entirely depressing novel in many ways. On the flip side, I can't think of a better example of Romans 6:23 in literature.