Who here has ever had an exchange like this one:
“My dear boy, no woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.
“Harry, how can you?”
“My dear Dorian, it is quite true. I am analysing women at the present, so I ought to know. The subject is not so abstruse as I thought it was. I find that, ultimately, there are only two kinds of women, the plain and the coloured. The plain women are very useful. If you want to gain a reputation for respectability, you have merely to take them down to supper. The other women are very charming. They commit one mistake, however. They paint in order to try and look young. Our grandmothers painted in order to try and talk brilliantly. Rouge and esprit used to go together. That is all over now. As long as a woman can look ten years younger than her own daughter, she is perfectly satisfied. As for conversation, there are only five women in London worth talking to, and two of these can’t be admitted into decent society.”
Ms11 gave me a ‘WTF?’ look when I read this one out loud, and no wonder. It’s colourful language. But, as it turns out, the book is not about women – women are just one part of the larger theme of the destruction of the soul through sin and debauchery.
Not only that, but we don’t in fact see Harry in action as he goes about his ‘study’. Nor Dorian. We see precious little action apart from the larger plot-points: the break-up of the affair, the hiding of the portrait, the murder. All the rest we hear about through conversation. Interesting device, and rather theatrical in the sense that literature seems to be governed by the ‘less is more, as long as you pack a punch’ rule. Large chunks of dialogue are often absent in literary texts, for several reasons, but primarily because every piece of dialogue should work very hard on several levels, including revealing character, moving the plot forwards, exposing backstory, and so forth. Nothing is wasted, less is more.
And this is why The Picture of Dorian Gray could work on the stage. It enables an exploration of the internal world without defaulting to the omniscient narrative voice.