Nov 6, 2014

No One Talks in Aphorisms, or Why Lord Henry Should Have Died

WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for "The Picture of Dorian Gray." If you are somehow so culturally devoid (or having lived under a rock) you don't know the story of Dorian Gray and would like to remain unspoiled, you should recuse yourself immediately. If however, you've read the tome, are familiar with Dorian's end, or don't fancy reading it at some point in your life (a true mistake IMHO) you may read on. Yes, I'm aware how odd the tone of this is.

Even without having gotten to the fourth chapter, I knew Basil would come to a sticky (or perhaps pointy?) end. I'm sorry for that. He was too curious after all, having gone to visit Dorian one last time. "What a schmuck," I said to myself after he followed Dorian home once he saw him in the street. He should have just taken the uninterrupted wait at Dorian's as a sign to leave and never look back. He would have gone to Paris, become some celebrated painter for a time, then got addicted to absinthe or opium and died in an alley or bathhouse. But the poor sod, the poor lovesick idiot, he just had to chase after Dorian after seeing him on the street. Some people can't leave well-enough alone.

On that cliché bombshell, let's talk about Lord Henry Wotton, or Harry as he was called so frequently. I detest people like Lord Henry, so I refuse to refer to him as such a jovial nickname. Not to mention, if someone was a lord or a person of the peerage, would they let even their friends call them by a nickname, even back then? I'm not sure I suppose John Fitzgerald Kennedy was "Jack" to friends and family, but probably not once he was President of the United States. Be that as it may...

I really did hate Lord Henry. I wanted him to try to sneak a peek at that portrait so bad that Dorian had no choice but to stab him and not the painting. I'm sure there's a large contingent of people who truly detest Dorian as a character, but honestly, why? He was nothing but a curious fellow who was foolish to make such a pleading wish on that fateful day he sat for Basil. We've all wished ill fates or wished false hopes to our peers. I just can't understand why Lord Henry couldn't meet a nasty end such as Dorian's. Do I think Dorian deserved to die? Well, I'll get to that.

I could sit here and discuss at length the reasons I detest Lord Henry. Like I said in the title of this post, no one speaks solely in aphorisms! Even old Ben Franklin purportedly saved his aphorisms for the page more often than not. But why should he have died? Not just because of his douchebaggery but because he was clearly wrong. About everything. Well... perhaps not. He did say this one true thing and that is almost certainly why he should have died, if not from a murder than at from fright or soemthing:

"The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid for ourselves."

It's true. And it's why I can't fault him for his aphorisms I guess. But perhaps in his not-dying there is a moral. Wilde wanted his readers to say "Have we any friends like Lord Henry Wotton, we should send them out immediately, refuse to have contact or accept gifts from them, lest a terrible fate befall us." I think that's probably right. His hideous appearance in every corner of the story probably reminds us that the devil is always on our shoulder; that the path to success (or youth? or fame?) is always full of temptation.

Let's discuss Dorian because he obviously could not survive the end. It couldn't be so that Dorian lived on and on, now living among us: still young, still beautiful, but having to change his name and move around every thirty years like some beautiful vampire. No, that's too weird, even for Wilde. Instead Dorian has to die: he can't live with guilt like that, no matter if he thought destroying the painting would remove the evidence. How foolish to think that destroying the portrait would mean only the evidence was destroyed?

No, there is no hope of redemption for him. He has corrupted too many and wanted for too much, even after being given such a gift (with which he could have done much good). To him, it was a gift at first, but one which became a curse because of the actions and path he chose. In stabbing at the painting he stabs himself and dies instantly. Of course, he only dies instantly because the painting itself does not only reflect his soul but also his physicality. He has been so physically damaged by his debauchery and lifestyle that his body is also wrecked. Any stab would have been fatal.

It's not even a surprising ending, I don't think, and not because I knew it already. There's no other way for it to end: he must die, and with him the portrait must remain, however damaged. They must switch places, him and his ravaged self. But Lord Henry? He should have met his maker too. I hope he died of something terrible, the great twit. Like consumption.


I liked this and I'm glad to have read something I have been putting off for so many years. I see now why so many of my friends adore Wilde and this novel. I could have done without that part in the middle which was meant to show the passage of time and all the obsessions Dorian took on. But still, I don't blame Wilde. He was painting a portrait, let's say.

I'm planning to read something more contemporary next; something of which I have no knowledge of the ending. But not just now (I'll probably start tonight), so leave a comment with what book from the RLR list you think I should take on next. Happy reading!