Falling in Love with Dorian Gray
Falling in Love with Dorian Gray
At 14, I was far too young to read anything by Oscar Wilde, but something about the way his words painted pieces of a puzzle in my immature mind fed me a warmth. None of the puzzles ever neared completion, of course, until I was in my mid-twenties. I had not the capacity to uncover the glorious colors and clarity of his symphonic meanings or callous views of the world he was borne into until I could discern my own. What I did not know then, but have confirmed now, is that we, Oscar Wilde and I, see the world in precisely the same clouded, precarious way; he was just much better at describing it than I am or could ever be.
When I was 25, I found a tattered copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray at a local used book store. I purchased it on a whim, but truly intended to read it without haste. That intention turned into 2 years of ignoring poor Dorian as he sat on an over-stuffed bookshelf acquiring a familiar suit of armor made out of my neglect. By chance, I picked him up again, along with a collection of Sylvia Plath’s best, for an impromptu road trip with one of those men I have already forgotten. Without knowing the implications of the connection I would soon have with Dorian, I opened up the first page at mile three of the trip to who-knows-where- and so began my love affair…
So many years had come between the author and I that my memory of his wordy pallet was hard to find. Forgetting the enticing movement of Mr. Wilde’s brushstrokes, I was startled to find myself struggling over words; both in articulation and context. Without the internet, or smartphone, or a pocket dictionary, I wrestled through the introduction. However, shockingly, when I reached chapter one, the flood of word-lust came rushing into me again, like the orgasm that has tickled its way out through the touch of a feather. Yes, it was precisely like that.
I won’t bore you with all the reasons the words could not be read fast enough, or the brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s metaphoric genius; but I will tell you that by the time Dorian Gray was introduced to me, the hungry reader, I had become a mirrored image of Pavlov’s dog. It was if Divine light and color circumscribed Dorian as he entered into the vivid tale being played out in my mind. Though his name had been spoken by the two main characters and his description made clear, when he walked onto the page for the first time, my heart danced frantically. My lips instinctively parted to gasp for a breath I somehow had forgotten to take.
The build-up was unlike anything read before or since and I can say with great certainty that upon meeting Mr. Gray, I, just like every fictional woman to lay eyes upon him, began to fall in love.
As I read, it became clear to me that I possessed many of the unsavory attributes Oscar Wilde had given to my beloved. Dorian’s ever-present vanity and inability to accept life’s beauty as anything other than superficial was indeed hard to welcome. While he turned away any real emotional connections, I wept for his intense loneliness. Each tainted tryst and distasteful liaison he participated in broke my heart more for him. As he hid from his truths and ran from his identity, I hid and ran alongside him. For every heart he tortured and left in ruin, I felt pity and remorse so that he would not have to. I took on his shame so that he could continue to conceal it. Throughout the book, I fell deeper into a dangerously doomed romance with my misunderstood, fictional love. I fought for him, silently. I cried for him, loudly. I even, at one point near the end, tried to plead with him, to no avail. As the book ended, it felt as if I bled for him.
For many days after I finished Oscar Wilde’s poignant masterpiece, I hated him for giving me Dorian Gray and then ripping him from me. I grieved for my infatuate; the man I would never- could never touch or hold. I screamed inside of myself for allowing such a thing to happen. With grief comes many emotions, though, and as days turned into years, those emotions became less abrasive and my screams became less guttural.
When I read The Picture of Dorian Gray, I had not known how to allow another to love me. I had not the ability to see past my own shallowness nor did I have the capacity to truly believe I was worthy of love. I could say the words “I love you,” and in a few rare moments, I could mean them, but those moments were fleeting- and as I have learned, love is not fleeting.
Today as I dusted my bedroom, I found that same tattered copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray covered in the same familiar suit of armor created by my neglect. As I ran my fingers across the title, a warmth swam through me. I sat on the edge of my bed and began to weep as the truths of my love affair were whispered into my ear. Each tear spilled onto the pages so many years ago was a tear spent for me. Every pang of remorse felt for Dorian was a pang of remorse felt for me. Each flutter of my heart as it fell in love with Dorian was a flutter of my heart as it longed to fall in love with me. All the suffering I tried to protect him from was a suffering I needed to feel for me. As I replayed the events of Oscar Wilde’s last chapter, it was painted out so dramatically for me. Remarkably, it was not Dorian’s face on the portrait any more, but my own. In that moment, it was I whose face lay battered on the canvas and it seems it had been the whole time.