The March meeting of the discussion group for The Fantastic in Victorian Literature focused on Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. In the novel, handsome young Dorian has his portrait painted by artist Basil Hallward, who is smitten with Dorian. The painting is a masterpiece, capturing the essence of Dorian's soul. Dorian wishes that he remain eternally youthful. Lord Henry, Dorian's friend, expounds on the pleasures of a hedonistic lifestyle. Dorian soon finds that his wish has come true: that his own sins change the picture while he remains young and innocent looking.
The gathering was extraordinarily well-attended, with roughly 20 people, including hosts Sir JJ Drinkwater and Dame Kghia Gherardi. Sir JJ remarked that perhaps the book attracted Second Life users because our avatars did not age, no matter how badly anyone behaved. (I'm paraphrasing, but I think I captured the essence.)
The book is interspersed with Wilde's trademark wit, but tackles themes such as public versus private activities, responsibility for one's actions, and the transforming ability of art.
Like Dracula and Frankenstein, two earlier books (that were the subjects of the first two meetings of the group), the fantastic elements - a painting that changes instead of its subject, vampires, and creating life through science - are elements used to create a story that is thematically about things that are grounded in human nature.
Next month we tackle three works by Lord Dunsany: "The Sword of Welleran," "The Fall of Babbulkund" and "The Highwaymen," all collected in the 1908 volume The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories.