The two books I have chosen for my open study are: The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The first one, written in 1890 by Oscar Wilde, is the story of a young, aristocratic dandy who, influenced by a friend, becomes a hedonistic, selfish man who ends in tragedy. The second, written in 1886 by Robert Louis Stevenson, is the story of a scientist, Dr. Jekyll, who, under the effect of a potion, mutates into a terrifying monster every night, killing whoever doesn't please him.
Choosing the books was not a difficult task for me: 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' is a book I read last year, and took great pleasure in reading, but I felt as if I didn't get some of the messages and ideas of the novel. This is why I thought that choosing it for my essay could help me understand it better. I then thought of choosing the second book based on the features of the first: I wanted a book written in the same style, of the same genre, in the same period of time and with a similar plot. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fitted perfectly.
These two books link and differ in various ways. As I have said, they are particularly similar in style of writing and period setting, as they were both written and are set towards the end of the 19th century, but then differ a great deal in social aspect and characters. Dorian Gray is an aristocratic young gentleman, with love and friends whilst Henry Jekyll is a reserved, middle-class scientist. The genres can be considered similar and different at the same time. The two books are actually both of the horror and mystery genre but the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is much more classical and mainstream than the original and controversial Picture of Dorian Gray, creating an opposite 'clash' between the two books.
For my open study essay, I will analyse in depth the beginnings and endings of these two books.
The Picture of Dorian Gray starts with a classical description of the setting. The first short paragraph is a description of the aromas that can be sensed in the studio of Basil Hallward: "The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses…" (p.3 - The Picture of Dorian Gray) this section runs smooth and gracefully, illustrating "the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn" (Loc. Cit.) as if these fragrances were circling in motion, overlapping each other, one after the other.
Then a new paragraph starts with the introduction of a character that clashes with this parade of essences. The character is Lord Henry Wotton, a friend of Basil Hallward. He is lying on a sofa of Persian saddle-bags, smoking cigarettes. In contrary to the first paragraph, the portrayal is now centred around what the Lord can see from where he is sitting: "From the corner of the divan […] Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of beauty" (Loc. Cit.). Wilde has been very thoughtful using the word honey in repetition, and selecting the laburnum, which bends downwards in a careless manner. With his choice of words, he is truly giving the reader a sense of the slow-motioned afternoon stickiness that the Lord is experiencing by relaxing and smoking on the sofa. Further more, the laburnum is a poisonous tree of the pea family. Certainly, Dorian Gray turns out to be poisonous to many characters and, like the laburnum, has difficulty bearing 'the burden of beauty'. This symbol seems to foreshadow many plot developments.
Then, the shadows of birds in flight flitter across the silk curtains, creating strange patterns. This effect reminds the Lord of Japanese painters, so the narrative, together with Henry Wotton's mind, jumps to the other side of the world: "…the long tussore-silk curtains [produced] […] a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and made him think of those pallid jade-faced painters of Tokyo who […] seek to convey the sense of swiftness...
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