This Review Thursday is a special one because you will get two reviews for the price of one! It's okay if you did a fist pump, I appreciate it. 

And what are the two books? I can just seen you trembling with anticipation... Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde! A classic novel double bill, just what your day needed, right?

Do not be fooled by the classics! I know they seem dusty and hard to read but there is a reason that these books have lasted for over a hundred years so every once in a while I like to find out why. Maybe I don't always like them and find them a little dry or long or strange but at the end I find I have always learned something. 

Uncle Tom's Cabin taught me so much more then I thought it could. I knew it was about slavery but the main premise of the novel is nothing compared to the ideals and insightful writing that I found in the book. It could be because the only real exposure I to Uncle Tom's Cabin was from this scene in the movie The King and I:
As you can gather it isn't quite like what the novel is actually like, and I expected that (especially the Buddha part). But what I thought would be a simple story of Eliza running from her master to freedom, transformed into a story where there are many stories running through it. What really struck me was how Harriet Beecher Stowe managed to display all sides of the slave and master relationship. Some masters were nice, some were mean but the thought behind owning a slave was always different: keeping them because they needed someone to do the work, because they wanted to educate them, or abusing them because they were thought of as animals. And on the side of the slaves: how human they really were when people didn't think so and how they reacted to what each master thought of them. 

I also didn't expect the large Christian element that ran its course through the whole book. Several characters wrestle with the idea of God, slave and white both, trying to understand if he is really there and if he is, why would he put us through all of this. 

Though very thoughtful and interesting to see a book written by a women abolitionist during the time of slavery, the book is a long one. Also, don't be fooled by thinking the whole book is about Eliza. We leave Eliza in the very beginning and end up with Uncle Tom for the majority of the book. It is a good read if you, like me, had an inkling to read it because of trying to understand why it is so praised. I had good periods while I was reading it trying to mull everything over it presented to me...

The Picture of Dorian Gray is (as I found out later) the only novel published by Oscar Wilde. For some reason I thought he had written more books but I was wrong. I also found out that it wasn't highly favored when it came out for various reason which after reading the book I can see why.

Not to say that I didn't like the book. I knew of the story already: a young man in love with his youth has a painting that ages and becomes ugly with his sins while he remains full of youthfulness and untainted. 

I already had some insight into what is was going to be like, and unlike my ideas about Uncle Tom's Cabin before I read it. And for the most part I was right. Dorian Gray sits for a painting and is influenced by another man about youth and aging. In this he wishes that he should remain young and the painting of him get old. Which actually happens as he comes to realize later. 

The thing I found most intriguing about it is that the man that influences Dorian Gray about youth, Harry, also manages to influence him on a great other things and manages to throw his life in this spiral where Dorian ends up become quite corrupt. The influence of others can be a dire things if you are not guarded.

There is a lot of banter in the book which is fun but for some reason I was expecting more... chase? Mostly that I thought some one would figure out Dorian Gray's secret and try and kill him through it or at least black mail him. But no such luck. One person does try to kill him and never succeeds, a brother trying to get revenge for his sister but it is a very short scene. 

In the end it is Dorian himself, who being so possessed by this painting that he can hardly be away from where it is hidden in his house and thinks at any moment that someone is going to uncover the truth, decides he needs to destroy it before anyone can see it and see his sins. By doing this *SPOILER* he ends up killing himself. 

This novel is packed with a lot of philosophical ideas and those can become overwhelming at times because everywhere you turn they keep cropping up before you get a chance to wrap your mind around the last one. But it is a short read and has a good pace. So if your interested in a famous classic book but don't have large amounts of time this may be one for you.

I read both of these books on my Kindle (which I may talk about later). A lot of classic literature is free is e-book form, which is great for those who are curious about them and don't always have time to run to the library... like me...

The Wakeful Dreamer

8/26/2011 02:57:21

I believe Oscar Wilde was ostracized by society for his fairly public relationships with men, which is why he was never able to publish more than the one novel, especially since it did contain some pretty scandalous (for the era) ideas on homosexuality. It's a shame because I think he's a genius. I adore the Picture of Dorian Gray. I think Harry is one of the more devious characters in the book, mainly because, after a few readings, it's kind of clear he's making most of what he says up (the catalyst Wilde uses to project his own philosophical ideals). He kind of just says whatever comes to mind to see how Dorian will react, and I love it!

I think you should do Jane Eyre next!

The Wakeful Dreamer
8/26/2011 16:11:28

I'm sorry to say that I read Jane Eyre recently (as in the last two years) so I remember it quite well. So that one may have to wait...

8/29/2011 08:50:18

It's so funny that you chose these two because I also read them on my Kindle right around the same time a few months ago! I had always wondered why Oscar Wilde was so quoted, and once you're a few pages into the book it's obvious... He almost exclusively says things that I think are both true and offensive, so that you can spend the entire book being shocked or laughing at yourself. I especially love "She behaves as if she was beautiful. Most American women do. It is the secret of their charm." "Why can't these American women stay in their own country? They are always telling us that it is the paradise for women." "It is. That is the reason why, like Eve, they are so excessively anxious to get out of it." And "If one puts forward an idea to a true Englishman...he never dreams of considering whether the idea is right or wrong. The only thing he considers of any importance is whether one believes it oneself." If I spent all my time sitting around talking about nothing with people I pretended not to hate, I think I'd be bitter, too! It lightens the load when you don't take yourself too seriously ;)


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