Tag Archives: gay

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

21 Jan

In the age of the internet cute cat pictures, Youtube, and all things witty reign supreme. And there is no one wittier than Oscar Wilde. Not before him, and not since him has the world seen someone as skilled with wit, irony, and humor as this guy. A social butterfly and flamboyantly gay, Wilde was a unique personality and a distinctive writer. While his image lives on today, it always surprises me how few people have actually read his work. Do consider him to warm up your winter blues, or store away for a distant beach day some many months from now!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Published: 1890

Quick Read?: Yes, though slow down if you want to appreciate all of Wilde’s subtle (and not-so-subtle) wit.

Difficulty: Not very. There is a lot of wordplay, but overall, it’s a very straight forward read.

Synopsis: Dorian Gray is one handsome young man, and he knows it too. An upper-crust gentleman unable to control his own, ahem, vulgar urges, he has made quite a name for himself. As he poses for the meek painter Basil, he expresses that what he feels is most important in life is beauty, and the pursuit of it in every possible way. But when he asks to sell his soul so that his portrait will age instead of his body, he finds himself embroiled in a conflict he could not have anticipated. With act of debauchery on part, Dorian’s portrait, hidden away, slowly becomes more aged and disfigured. Dorian knows he must one day confront the true reflection of himself, but not without dire consequences.

Why should I read this? Wilde is a wonderful, humorous writer whose humor is still just as satisfying today as it was in the late 19th century. His works are, at times, laugh out loud funny, an accolade I don’t give out to just any old funny book. Wilde’s antics in his life and his works inspired many humor writers long after him. Timeless humor is truly impressive, and always refreshing to read.

Also, I know a number of folks like to read and understand a book, but hate esoteric, vague symbols and themes. The Picture of Dorian Gray is pretty upfront in its symbolism–Dorian’s portrait stands for who he really is, the disfiguration of portrait is disfiguration of the soul, on and on. His ideas are straightforward and right on the surface, so you don’t have to delve far to see where oh where Wilde was trying to go with this text. Another way of saying: this book is nowhere near as much work to read as you might think!

Some fun facts (it’s hard to pick just one with this guy. Google him. His life was so, so ridiculous):

I can't tell you how much fun I had Google searching "Oscar Wilde." I just love his dandyism. It was hard to pick just one photo, I got to admit.

  • Wilde won a scholarship to school, but his gossipy, extravagant childhood made him more rebellious than intellectual. He once turned up late to university three weeks into the semester…just because.
  • Paris Hilton and the Kardashians and all of those socialites ought to pay tribute to Wilde. While he garnered fame for being a playwright at first, he’s considered one of the first celebrities who was “famous for being famous.” If only he knew what he was starting (a slew of terrible reality shows, am I right?).
  • Wilde was arrested for homosexuality and sodomy after news of his intimate relationship with Alfred Douglas came to light. He eventually got out of jail and moved to Paris, though all reports say he was never quite the same. Douglas was known to be vain–and was was rumored to be the inspiration for the cocky Dorian Gray.

If you like this, try: “The Importance by Being Earnest” by Wilde; any poetry by Dorothy Parker; Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

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Orlando by Virginia Woolf

14 Jul

I must apologize, readers, for the small delays to this blog–I’m working two jobs this summer, and sometimes my wonderful ideas for blog posts get lost somewhere between eating, seeing friends, and passing out completely from exhaustion. My summer has been and will remain beyond fun, but alas, sometimes Better Know a Book gets paused. My apologies.

But fear not, for there are plenty of posts to come. Today, I’m tackling another book from my favorite writer, the Woolfinator–Orlando. For anyone who thinks Woolf is an uber-serious, stuffy, boring writer, they have clearly never come near this gem. It’s a fun, whimsical ride through British history, defying gender norms and ideas of love even today. It’s a love letter to love, but also, an actual love letter, and one that almost always gets wrongfully shafted on summer reading lists.

Published: 1928

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Quick Read?: Let yourself get into the flow of it–once you do, it is definitely very quick.

Difficulty: Not very. It does help to know some British history, but even then.

Synopsis: Written in faux biographical form, Orlando opens during Elizabethan era of English history, where our hero, Orlando, is a young lord in Queen Elizabeth I’s court. He is a handsome young man, with lovers in, ahem, very high places, but when the Russian princess Sasha comes to visit, Orlando is beyond smitten. After an intense and short affair, Sasha must leave suddenly, leaving Orlando devastated, resorting to poetry to heroic valor for his country to soothe himself. Yet somehow, magically, Orlando lives not for decades, but centuries, and finds himself an ambassador to Turkey from England. It is there that, during days of slumber after a battle, that he turns into a woman (through a beautifully written passage). As he/she parades through British history, Orlando meets with historical figures, including many writers and poets, to try and understand poetry and love, both of which he abandoned once Sasha left. He/She does this up until the 19th century, living amongst history and the present day. A charming, whimsical work, it flows just like Orlando’s beloved poetry, filled to the brim with the euphoric feel only being in love can really give.

What makes this book awesome? It’s entirely possible you ended up reading all that just to think Holy crap, this book sounds weird as hell, I don’t get it. But that’s truly it–Orlando is just a magical human being who transcends both time and gender, and is able to make larger assertions and ideas about both through his experiences. Woolf writes about his/her life in a way that is seamless and entirely believable. It seems natural that Orlando discussed poetry with Alexander Pope just as it seemed natural that he went ice skating with Queen Elizabeth I’s court. So if you’re worried this will just be too weird, just trust your imagination. It’s only weird if you allow it to be–if you don’t allow it to be, it’s a beautiful love story.

And yes, it’s humorous! Woolf pokes fun at a lot of historical eras, figures, and writers. Even if you only know a tiny bit about these ideas, you can still pick up on the humor, and really is giggle-worthy. The narrator is just as taken aback by Orlando as we are, and it is this exasperation on their part that causes us to laugh as well. This book is proof, if any of them are, that Woolf actually had a wonderful sense of humor.

The way she writes gender is fascinating as well. She makes Orlando extremely androgynous, with very feminine and masculine traits all at once. It is gender-bending even by today’s standards, and shows the effect of time on our ideas of gender, our relationships, and on society’s beliefs as a whole. Many believe this to be one of the first pieces of lesbian literature, though few realized this at the time it was published, thanks to its magical traits.

The Woolfinator, messing with homophobes since the day she was born. Also, messing around with women when her husband wasn't around.

Some great facts to know:

  • When folks say Orlando is a love letter, they mean it. It’s not just to English history or a love letter to love either–Woolf had an affair with noted painter and eccentric Vita Sackville-West. Their affair prompted the novel, as noted in Woolf’s own diary. (Their letters to one another are a hoot, for the record). No one recognized the lesbian elements to the story until much later on, thanks to the warping of time and reality throughout.
  • Because no one recognized these elements, it was one of Woolf’s best-selling works while she was alive.
  • There has been a movie adaptation of it, as well as several stage adaptations, given that it is one of the least cerebral of her works, and the most straightforward (seriously, isn’t that ridiculous? a book about time travel and gender bending is your most straight forward book? You crazy, Virginia).
If you like, try: any other works by Woolf, The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

The lady who inspired this Orlando, Vita Sackville-West. Who knows how old she REALLY was when this was taken...