Age. It’s a funny old thing isn’t it? No matter what medium you use, you cannot escape it. Adverts on TV will sell you products to stop it, articles online will guess at an individual’s and debates on the radio will discuss its impact.
One of my favourite ways of exploring this subject is through literature. It is a theme that transcends the eras. Up until now one of my favourite comments on aging could be found in Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. For those of you that haven’t read the book, or seen a worthy adaption, the plot features beings that are appear normal at birth but are in fact immortal. They are known as Struldburg; and mock Gulliver for his fantasies of immorality. Like most people, Gulliver at first thinks that immorality would be a wonderful thing; however we learn that although the Struldburgs do not die, they continue to age. The novel goes on to give a depressing, and downright grim look at life in old age.
On the other end of the spectrum is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. This could quite possibly be my new favourite discussion of aging. I picked up this book a few weeks ago, I’d read Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and thoroughly enjoyed both the plot, humour and style of writing so thought I would give it a go.
The book shares the rich language and social commentary of Wilde’s other works, if not more commentary. The novel follows the life of Dorian Gray a man who becomes so enamoured with his own beauty that he sells his soul for eternal youth. Instead of physically aging all of his misdeeds are reflected in an ever-altering portrait of himself.
All of the characters are believable, and if not likable – thoroughly charming. One character in particular, the sceptical and provocative Lord Henry; can be viewed as the main mouth piece for Wilde. Whenever Henry enters a scene, you can be sure he will be offering uncharitable and unconventional views on humanity and society at the time. I say at the time, however many of the theories on love, life and the working of society could easily be applied to any era with very little change. The book sets up the theme of aging as a battle ground; while Dorian does not physically age, he does (it can be argued) age in terms of maturity and spirit. The promise of eternal youth is shown to be a dangerous and defeating.
I’m not going to lie; this book starts out well and ends well. There was a brief period in the middle where I had to force my way through; Dorian’s interests could be easily skimmed over because they do drag on, in detail, for quite a while.
The book is written beautifully. The imagery is vivid and atmospheric; the dialogue is entertaining and natural. Wilde’s talents as a writer ensure that concepts that could be convoluted are easy to follow and weigh up.
I would say that this is the perfect lunch-break book; it is enjoyable, it gets you thinking but it is also easy to put down. You know them books where you just have to read one more page? This book isn’t one of them; it is good, but it is also quite relaxed in pace. The only time I felt I simply had to read a bit more than time really allowed was towards the end – but I don’t want to ruin the surprises for you. And trust me; there are a few in store.