Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

The Picture of Dorian Gray

To borrow a phrase from a song in the Broadway musical Rent, that’s how long it’s been (approximately) since I started my project to read the 101 greatest fiction novels ever written.  525,600 minutes = one year.  What have I accomplished this past year, you may ask?  Well, you certainly should ask because I’ve been asking myself that very question as my birthday draws near.  For the blog, I’ve written 17 insightful and clever posts (including this one) plus three background pages, and I’ve completed 10 books on the list.  Yes, only 10.  At this rate it will take me a decade to finish this task I’ve set for  myself, at which time, I’m sure, blogs will be replaced with some as yet un-invented mode of communication that will likely involve a plug placed into the base of my skull.  The above accomplishments would seem fairly shameful if I hadn’t lived through what has become one of the most challenging and rewarding years of my life.  Top five for sure, if not the best of all.  The satisfaction and pleasure derived from the year are directly proportional to the effort involved in attaining them.  I feel like much of the good that has been “given” to me was earned in this and prior years, literally, in blood, sweat, and copious amounts of tears.  I recognize the role of good fortune in my life, because I’ve benefited from it many times in many ways, and I hope that I am adequately appreciative of it.  But it is the weight I slowly struggled to lose, the words of the novel locked in my brain that I battled to drag forth into the sunshine, the new job that has taken me a year and a half, hundreds of resumes, and more than one emotional breakdown to finally win that are most deeply gratifying because they teach me about me and my astonishingly boundless inner strength.

Part of what has led me to these reflections is my most recent read, Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and its title character who was given everything without any personal effort:  money, youth, beauty . . . all the trappings of success and happiness that nineteenth century England and even today’s society seem to most value.  It is a morality story where most any reader can guess the ill-fated end of the handsome protagonist, but for me, the ability to generally know where I was going in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the journey.  I’ve always been a fan of snarky Oscar Wilde on principle, having seen the 1997 biographical movie Wilde and thoroughly enjoyed becoming familiar with his popular, if frequently contradictory, witticisms.  So familiar, in fact, that the dialogue in the book is overflowing with epigrams that would seem tired and trite were it not for the knowledge that Oscar Wilde was their originator.  Much like how the movie Casablanca could appear to be full of clichés if the viewer were unaware that within the movie is where those clichés were actually born.

The descriptions are artful, the storyline is unique, and the dialogue makes me wish that I were seated at the dining tables and salons of the individuals lucky enough to host the sparkling conversations of the main characters of the novel, particularly Lord Henry Wotton who I take to espouse at least part of Oscar Wilde’s personal world view in his own voice.   I believe that my only real complaint with the story is that the climax came upon me very fast, in just a couple of paragraphs, and just ended, like a slammed door.  No gentle extrication for the reader who has grown to enjoy the voices in the book.  No dénouement.  Just the abrupt end.  Like a sudden death.  Which *spoiler alert* is what happens, so I suppose it makes sense.

The same day I finished the book, I watched the 2009 movie Dorian Gray.  There was ample departure from the book and much more specificity about the hedonistic practices of Dorian.  I imagine that Wilde probably would have approved of the embellishment as needed elaboration since he raised harsh criticism from Victorian England over the slightest homoerotic allusion that was in his original serialized version of his work, so that didn’t bother me much.  I was slightly put off by the selection of the dark-haired Ben Barnes as Dorian since I had it in my head somehow that he was supposed to be blonde . . . I haven’t checked to see if that’s my projection or something actually written in the book.  He turned out to be fairly good and the dark hair eventually made him more evil and sinful looking, so it worked.

It took Dorian much more than a year to meet his grim end and he enjoyed a multitude of pleasures during that time, exploring each sensual trigger and response in great depth, but at the cost of his happiness, his soul, and ultimately his life.

At one point he remarked, “I have never searched for happiness.  Who wants happiness?  I have searched for pleasure.”

I would think that even for the luckiest among us, those endowed with all the benefits of our age, that happiness is a much more difficult quarry to capture than pleasure since pleasure can simply be purchased or stolen.  But to attain happiness?  How exactly does one go about that?  I’m no expert, but that has been the reward for many of the things for which I’ve fought.  Perhaps labor is essential to finding real happiness.

What have you done in the last twelve months that has made you truly happy?  What are you going to do in the next year?