Reflections: A Picture of Dorian Grey

Art by: Unknown (( please leave a comment if you do know so I may credit ! ))

Throughout my later adolescent life and early adulthood, I gorged on classic literature; from the sordid angst of ‘Madame Bovary’ to the, admittedly dry, journey of ‘Dante’s Inferno’. Some novels I hated some I loved. Some, even now, stand out in memory though I have not read them since that first time. In particular, there is ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’. This was the first work of Oscar Wilde I read and found myself immediately enthralled by his way with words. Writing that flows, has a rhythm and grace of its own beyond base description and dialogue. I do not know if I was more enamored with the story he told or how he told it.

Encountering such a style fundamentally altered my own approach to writing. Where before I considered description in terms of the concrete, my eyes were now opened to a whole other way of seeing things. While I understand much of Wilde’s style can be attributed to a standard of writing pervasive in his era of life, it inspired a hunger to improve my own writing in a way other works had not.

“He is all my art to me now,” said the painter, gravely. “I sometimes think, Harry, that there are only two eras of any importance in the world’s history. The first is the appearance of a new medium for art, and the second is the appearance of a new personality for art also. What the invention of oil-painting was to the Venetians, the face of Antinous was to late Greek sculpture, and the face of Dorian Gray will someday be to me. It is not merely that I paint from him, draw from him, sketch from him. Of course I have done all that. But he is much more to me than a model or a sitter. I won’t tell you that I am dissatisfied with what I have done of him, or that his beauty is such that Art cannot express it. There is nothing that Art cannot express, and I know that the work I have done, since I met Dorian Gray, is good work, is the best work of my life. But in some curious way – I wonder will you understand me?- his personality has suggested to me an entirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style. I see things differently, I think of them differently, I can now recreate life in a way that was hidden from me before. ‘A dream of form in days of thought:’ – who is it who says that? I forget; but it is what Dorian Gray has been to me. The merely visible presence of this lad – for he seems to me little more than a lad, though he is really over twenty – his merely visible presence – ah! I wonder can you realize all that that means? Unconsciously he defines for me the lines of a fresh school, a school that is to have in it all the passion of the romantic spirit, all the perfection of the spirit that is Greek. The harmony of soul and body – how much that is! We in our madness have separated the two, and have invented a realism that is vulgar, an ideality that is void. Harry! If you only knew what Dorian Gray is to me! You remember that landscape of mine for which Agnew offered me such a huge price, but which I would not part with? It is one of the best things I have ever done. And why is it so? Because, while I was painting it, Dorian Gray sat beside me. Some subtle influence passed from him to me, and for the first time in my life I saw in the plain woodland the wonder I had always looked for, and always missed.”
– Oscar Wilde, ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ Pgs. 11 – 12

Basil’s dialogue with Harry about Dorian Gray was my first encounter with seeing a muse described. Before then it wasn’t something I understood to exist in writing or in art. Beyond that, this is, I think, one of my favorite moments in the early part of the book. Despite my unfamiliarity with a muse, I could, in a way, understand what was being said. After all, reading the book left me with the most intense hunger to be able write like that and evoke such profound, I suppose feeling with words the way Wilde was able to achieve.

It was also about this time in their discussion that Harry’s irreverence really began to sink in. He is, to me, a hedonist. I found it curious, how he seemed to seek only pleasure or entertainment from life. While many of his statements were profound to a degree, I found them to be interestingly rationalized. Excuses, justifications for his amoral actions, although I do not think he was truly a bad person. In comparison to Basil, and his rose colored idealism, Harry is almost shockingly down to earth. Well, as down to earth as any aristocrat could be, I suppose. Lord Henry Wotton, Harry, an incorrigible character who seems to delight in pulling Dorian Gray from the pedestal Basil sets him upon. Almost from their very first interaction, it was as if he settled himself in pruning every bit of extraneous naivety and innocence he could find out of the young man.

“There’s no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral – immoral from the scientific point of view.” 

“There’s no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral – immoral from the scientific point of view.” “Why?” 

“Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions.”

 ‘A Picture of Dorian Gray’ Pg. 20

The irony of Lord Henry’s statement is galling even now. What better way to hook someone in than to completely refute things society accepts as common, normal even? I was terribly frustrated when watching Harry break down Dorian, but fascinated as well. There’s just something interesting about watching characters break, watching what once was picked apart – or perhaps it is so simple as uncovering something always there, but hidden.

Either way, Lord Henry’s role in this novel as something of a ‘should devil’ is irrefutable. He was a catalyst through which Dorian could be thoroughly corrupted, and poor, poor Basil, losing his muse to such darkness. Perhaps neither of them were meant to present such a dichotomy, but I cannot help but to see it. In a way, I wonder if the entire thing isn’t a commentary on human nature.

What would we all do, if offered freedom from repercussion? If we would not (could not) die; if we never aged? Is it in human nature to remain upstanding, righteous – admittedly naïve even – when faced with such power? I admit, I am somewhat jaded to as to the existence of inherent goodness, so I can definitely see where most people would give in. Perhaps not at first, but as one watches family, friends, or children age and fade and die – what would be left? What would fasten a person to humanity, to humility when all they have is themselves and their secrets?

All of this brings me to the most fascinating plot point in A Picture of Dorian Gray, his portrait. Basil claimed it as his greatest achievement yet, feared it for how much of himself was in it, feared it for how much of Dorian’s essence he captured. I have heard that people once believed painting portraits, like making dolls and taking photographs, could steal the subject’s soul, trap it on the mortal plain. While I think many of these were whispered by fear of drawing ghosts after death, I find Wilde’s more literal translation of that so very interesting. It wasn’t something I had read as a plot in anything before this novel.

I adore the concept of a portrait which takes on the true essence of a person, reflects their soul to them. I dread what this would do to a person, however. It is difficult to fathom having something so intangible, something ethereal made concrete. The soul isn’t something anyone ever really thinks about, not immediately. Even the most devout religious followers,  I would imagine, think of it as something disconnected from themselves. They think of going to Heaven, or being reborn in a better life, but that is different than imagining every bad thing they’ve done as tarnishing their soul.

Dorian loses that luxury, though he doesn’t think so at first. Until every cruel thought, every capricious action begins to change him. He doesn’t see it in the mirror, but every time he looks upon his portrait, his soul, stored in oil on a canvas, it’s different; a blemish here, a wrinkle there. Perhaps the eyes are hollower; perhaps they’ve lost a bit of that boyish light Basil so adored in the young man Lord Henry introduced to sin. He stops aging, but the painting grows old and withers, but people still adore him. After all, his face is beautiful, youthful as Adonis and immortal. No one believes anything truly bad about him because how can someone so angelic possibly be vile?

I think, perhaps, the portrait would only make it all worse. It became an object to display all his inhumanity, a perfect show of what a monster he is beneath flawless skin. Paranoia, in such a case, would only make sense. What with an ageing Lord Henry still whispering in his ear, doubts and jaded musings. Then there is his own fear, after all, if he can’t see a change in himself obviously it isn’t happening. So long as Dorian isn’t confronted with the effects of all his sin, he can deny it, pretend it doesn’t exist. His paranoia increases, his trust decreases – and then he begins to grow bitter, jaded to life and other people. Dorian begins the story as a naïve boy, and ends it as a twisted up, bitter man… but he was never really bad, not evil. Not really, though he did make so many terrible mistakes. Dorian was human, after all, and had he been completely bad, he would never have ended himself . I believe his guilt over Basil’s death to be selfish, less about killing the man and more about how it would affect himself.

It paints an interesting psychological event, although I doubt such was really Wilde’s intention when he wrote the novel. I wonder, should such circumstances befall anyone else, how different their actions would be. Would they regret an unchanging life? Would they fear laying eyes on their soul, marred by whatever decisions they made? How many would slow down, or consider their actions more heavily if they could actually see what affect their actions had on themselves?

 

 

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Lost Divinity: Nishikawa

𝐴𝑐𝑡 𝐼: 𝑁𝑒𝑤𝑏𝑜𝑟𝑛 𝐿𝑖𝑔𝒽𝑡
A new light breathed its first, a little flutter of life that was his to protect – a heartbeat that came to life in the same instance as his own. A little creature; pure and innocent – a benevolent soul left to his care, his protection. The year was 1267 and war was brewing on the horizon; a terrible war, a terrible struggle of greed and power. This little light shown as a beacon amid the darkness of the time, and he descended upon it with all the whimsical grace granted his kind by the great Amaterasu.

The Lady nearly lost her life birthing the young Prince, whose wails kissed the air at the first light of dawn and he hovered over them, a shimmering blaze of Divine favor. Hirohito they named him, beneath the swirling golden eyes of his Kirin Guardian, for surely he would grow to become great and benevolent.

The second child born to the Daimyo, and his fist son, he was perfect. He was a delight for his elder sister of nearly seven years, little Yoko with her bright eyes and ebony hair. He remained at their side, a protector and guardian as little Hirohito grew, well and strong and kind as the fluttering light of his birth had promised.

It was a splendid time, these years, that flew and crept by in equal measure – and the children grew and grew with warm golden eyes ever watching after them.

𝐴𝑐𝑡 𝐼𝐼: 𝑊𝒽𝑒𝑛 𝑡𝒽𝑒 𝑆𝑎𝑘𝑢𝑟𝑎 𝐵𝑙𝑜𝑜𝑚𝑠
Bliss followed them, a dream of this world of humans and mortality – a beautiful world of beautiful, but transient creations. A world he marveled at, a world told to him in stories by little Yoko who was no longer so little. Indeed, the sweet child had blossomed into an elegant young woman. Demure in her way, soft spoken, graceful in manner – entrancing even to such a creature as he, a pearl held close to even a Divine beast’s heart.

She sang for him in the hours between study and duty, curled against sun-warm scales and threaded fingers through the great white mane sprouting from his nape. She spoke to him of all things, for there were no secrets between them. – and he, in turn, confided his inhuman heart in her. Gave into her care something which was never his to offer, but that she owned, held with such care, regardless.

It was a love such as no other, indeed, such as he would never see again.

How treasured she was, his beloved Yoko, how she shown so brightly in this world – and whom was ever courted by Lords and Princes of foreign Provinces. Ever did she turn them away, beg and plead with her father not to force her away – for what would be left of her heart should she be parted from it?

None of them knew, so they believed. How could any believe such a tale? Wondrous as it was, enthralled as they were with such a dream – it could never truly be, but how they hoped.

She refused to sing for him one evening, deep in the Autumn, the shoji doors thrown wide and smell of jasmine tea perfuming the air. He believed something amiss, perhaps a wrong he had committed somehow – but no. She smiled at him in such a way that he melted, ducked chin away from such reverence.

’In all these years, we have shared all of ourselves. No secret lies between us… except that of your name. Tell me, beloved Kirin, what it is you are called?’ Her secret smile, curled sheepishly – and he was trapped within her twinkling stare. ’A name even mortal tongues can speak.’

She laughed, a bell-like sound that thudded in time with his heart – racing as it was with this last transgression. Yet how could he deny her? She whom he would lay down his very essence for?

’Nishi.’ He whispered to her, Nishi, born in the western sky on the eve of her beloved brother’s birth.

How sweetly she repeated his name, a song on lips never meant to own it – but she did, and Nishi lost a little more of himself to this all-consuming love.

It was perfect, and tucking his chin atop her shoulder, he naively believed it would always be so.

𝐴𝑐𝑡 𝐼𝐼𝐼: 𝐻𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑡𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑀𝑒𝑛
Their dream came to an end, it seemed to only take an instant – their illusion shattered with the first chimes of war.

Yoko, now a spinster twenty-first summer, bid her dearest brother goodbye as he rode away to war. A regiment followed him, chins high and mouths set in a grim line. This would be his first true test as an heir, the first time he would see combat – death – the destruction brought by the never-ending struggles of the Daimyo for more land and power.

Nishi was torn to leave him, with Yoko standing at her door, tears falling like little crystals from her eyes – but his duty was to Hirohito, his little star, no matter how his love bid him remain with his heart.

He left her with a promise, a kiss to ivory cheek and a gold and ebony scale in memory – she sent him with a comb, a beautiful work of jade held close and treasured as no other.

War was horrible. The first Nishi was to see in this mortal realm. It was a horror unlike anything he expected – such violence and rage and hatred driving men’s hearts with a blackness he recoiled from. Ever he yearned to take his Divine form and lay them low with judgement – but they were not truly wicked men, and so he fought at his Prince’s side. Feared upon the battlefield for his speed and ruthless efficiency, wielding blade and tessen and wind in guise of a human, Nishi gravely partook of his duty.

He would not allow this growing blackness in mortal hearts to lay his Prince low.

The tide was turning, though battle never seemed far from dawn – and many an eve Nishi sat with Hirohito, as the boy trembled at the loss of another life, tears streaming down young cheeks in remorse even for his gravest enemies. It was this which Nishi was sent to protect, this kindness unlike the cynical hearts of his men could comprehend.

It felt as though the death would never cease, and it tainted the very air – a darkness that was more than mere human conflict a rising miasma on the air that reinforced Nishi’s resolve to his duty. He would protect Hirohito. He would see this vile darkness conquered if it meant his life – no matter how he wished to offer it to his beloved Yoko for as long as she would cherish it.

It was an oath made too soon.

Evil crept into the very home of the Daimyo, into the hearts of those dwelling there – an attack of cowardice in the form of shadowed assassins in the night.

Their triumph would have meant the end to it all, would have left Hirohito a fugitive in his own lands. So Nishi left his side, for but a night, for how could he leave his beloved to suffer death? The assassins met their end in the fire and gnashing teeth of a Kirin, rather than the blade of his mortal form.

His love was safe. His dream secured.

Then news came of the Prince’s death, a skirmish at dawn – a surprise attack by the enemy upon their encampment. A death Nishi should have prevented, were he not drawn away by his own heart.

Heart stopped in his chest when the little fluttering light flickered its last – the heart that beat next to his own for sixteen years a howling silence that rocked foundations. His duty failed. His oaths failed. All in the blink of an eye, all in but a moment that he looked away.

Nishi was senseless, frozen in the shock of the revelation which needed no words – heedless of the growing despair of the Daimyo. Nishi took the field again, a fury of despair – reaching out for that warm little flutter of life he’d taken for granted all these years, to find nothing. Enemies bowed and scrambled in fear of his wrath – a gale sweeping through the battlefield claiming life after life.

They spoke of him to their Daimyo as Zephyr, for none knew his name; a pale warrior bearing Daisho and tessen with inhuman power. And the Daimyo plotted, and fretted and made his own deal with one not-so-human. And all the while, the bereaved father of Hirohito fostered a callous hatred in his heart for this curse of a Divine beast set upon his family.

His daughter’s heart stolen away.

His son’s life claimed in negligence.

His ear opened to the whispered words of malice by a daemon perched so sneakily upon his shoulder.

𝐴𝑐𝑡 𝐼𝑉: 𝐵𝑒𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑦𝑎𝑙
Their long battle was over, for now, the would-be invaders retreating to lick wounds and strategize. Nishi too, followed the procession of soldiers to the only home he knew in this world of pervading death. He felt shaken still, hollow in ways he was unable to comprehend.

Yoko awaited him, eyes a teary mess she dabbed daintily with handkerchief tucked beneath sleeves. How he wished to embrace her, but he had duties to the Daimyo before all – forgiveness would never be asked, but he could offer up this empty victory.

The man was changed – wrinkle lines deepened by frowns, brow heavy and shadowed, grey at his temples Nishi couldn’t recall seeing before. He seemed but a shadow of himself, his eyes hard and narrowed with a heat the Kirin couldn’t comprehend.

Until he met Yoko beneath the first harvest moon, in the inner garden.

She sat stiffly, her flute idly twirled in fingers and eyes distant, glazed as she peered at the moon’s reflection within the pond. Silence lingered thick and heavy between them after he sat, watching and waiting for some sign of what plagued her so – but none came until dark, lustrous eyes turned to him, imploring him to believe her even as tears glossed them over.

’I love you. Forever my heart is with you.’ She choked out – despair breaking porcelain veneer and Nishi was left scrambling for a why when burning pain exploded all about him.

Chains and rope, hurled over form and lit with dark light that clawed at him like knives and the Kirin twisted with a roar of rage as Yoko dropped her face into her hands, sobbing a broken melody.

Confusion and rage and pain dominated his thoughts – until moonlight was snuffed by a heavy darkness and the damp smell of earth and stone and fire stole away the crisp autumn air.

They left him there, chains clapped about wrists and ankles and nape, locked in a cage draped heavy with talisman and sigil – the work only an Onmyoji could manage. But why? Why? Why? The question circled as he lingered there, shock encumbering system and a growing fear clouding reason.

They left him for days, or perhaps not so long – the darkness only pierced by inhuman eyes until torchlight brought their looming forms.

The Daimyo, come for vengeance for his son’s death, for his daughter’s stolen heart – for the ruin of dreams. A cold-hearted man in place of one once genial. A demon who grinned with every sizzling burn of the Onmyoji’s cursed chains tightening about him. They asked no questions and he gave them no pleasure of begging in their tongue – bowed his head to the punishment of his failure.

The guilt gnawing inside eased with every bite of pain, every tear of this pitiful mortal body and Nishi reveled in the absolution – hope still burning that this would indeed end, that he would be free of this. Soon. Soon. For the Daimyo was not a cruel man, surely he would not exact more than was due.

Days passed. Months. Nishi lost the flow of time, lost count of the pain – a haze lingering in the back of mind. Watched only for the flickering glow of shadowed forms with dulled golden eyes.

Then she came. A ray of light and hope renewed and battered body. His beloved Yoko, come with wan face and tearful eyes and promises in hushed whispers for his freedom.

Oh! But only if she were to join him, and her smile was brittle as she promised she would.

If only, if only – perhaps if they were faster, perhaps were he not so wounded, still weighed by chains neither had the power to remove.

Her father found them, swordsmen at his back and a black, bitter loathing twisting that once-familiar face in a visage that tore at Nishi’s heart. How could he hate him so? When he had done what he could to bear through that wrath? To accept the justice of his failed duty?

He stumbled.

The swordsmen caught up.

Yoko screamed and heart froze in chest as her father grabbed her, a fist full of beautiful ebony hair, a knife to her throat and a manic gleam in his eyes.

’You’ve taken enough from me, beast, you won’t have more.’ He howled, cursed and condemned the very creature who once brought such hope for glory to his household.

He plunged the blade into Yoko’s heart, tears on his face – and Nishi felt his own still with final breath that choked from blood-filled lungs before her body was dropped to the ground.

Perhaps it was that moment when the first spark of hate ignited in his heart, a hatred that would no know bounds – from himself to all of humanity, to the very Goddess who gave him life.

With a roar Nishi lunged, gleaming eyes and talons and scaled body coiled in wrath and fire toward these wicked, vicious monsters of men that took her. Took her away. His heart, his love, his sun…

Light and pain and screams that rent the air beneath bloodied talons and sundered bodies – Nishi hit the ground writhing in pain unlike any he could recall, despite the scars already littering body.

The Onmyoji stood at the Daimyo’s side, a baleful light in his eyes, a contrast to the moment of fear Nishi saw in the Daimyo.

The torment was worse now. His fate sealed. The torture unending as they lay every humiliation they could fathom upon his form – and the hatred ate him away, the desolation and the guilt and the betrayal and mire of darkness that stole away the light.

They sawed off his horns, mounted them upon the Daimyo’s helmet – a token of their besting even a Divine creature. His mane and tail shorn, scales peeled from body – and all the while those burning, horrible dark talisman’s held him fast; little more than a bird in a cage, a toy for their evil.

How he hated them. How he feared the unending torture – the days that bled together in a haze of pain.

The last flicker of hope burned out with the spell that carved Nihongo into his very flesh – locked him in the mortal form taken only for disguise – and the howl of utter despair rocked the very skies above this cursed place.

But the spell freed him. For such chains as could hold a creature of the Divine, could not contain the monster he was left. A heart blackened by desolation, a light that died with his beloved’s last breath.

Their cage could not hold – and the Onmyoji, fearful now that his own power had so betrayed him, went down first. A brutal spray of blood and gored flesh – the Daimyo next, but how he fled. Arrogance giving way to fear with the beast upon his heals, chains clanking behind him and fingers curled like claws hungering for his life.

He died, brutal and slow, with hands wrapped about his neck – but not before taking one last thing from Nishi – the sight he so needed, burned away with the careless fling of coals.

It was a fitting state, he mused, when the breath fled still figure, for one such as him to be locked in eternal darkness – for what beauty could there be left in this world of men?