Lord Henry’s advice and wisdom

Who doesn’t like Lord Henry? He’s the straw that stirs the drink in The Picture of Dorian Gray, and one of the most exciting characters in all of literature. He is pompous and he is a blowhard; he is a true wit and a great observer. Lord Henry comes to life upon meeting Dorian in Chapter 2, and begins to bash Dorian with speech. This bit is a favorite:

“And yet,” continued Lord Henry, in his low, musical voice, and with that graceful wave of the hand that was always so characteristic of him, and that he had even in his Eton days, “I believe that if one man were to live out his life fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream—I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal—to something finer, richer than the Hellenic ideal, it may be. But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself. The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives. We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollection of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also. You, Mr. Gray, you yourself, with your rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood, you have had passions that have made you afraid, thoughts that have filled you with terror, day-dreams and sleeping dreams whose mere memory might stain your cheek with shame—”

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Wilde and Huysmans

Fortune smiles on the adventurous reader and book-buyer. A few months ago, at the moment Houellbecq’s novel Submission released on France, I learned of one Joris-Karl Huysmans and his novel Against Nature, which informs a major part of Submission. I found the Huysmans novel a couple weeks later and have picked through the lengthy introduction; looks promising and exciting.

Last night I reread the first chapter of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and came across a note in that book’s intro penned by biographer Richard Ellmann, alluding to Huysmans and Against Nature’s importance to Dorian Gray.

There is no order to books. It is interesting to know how influence comes to novelists, what books matter and when they matter, whether we are reading and writing in 1890 or 2015.