As I mentioned on Tuesday, I don’t do scary, creepy, or horrifying. This week, I’m sharing some of my favorite non-horror Halloween-appropriate reads. Welcome to the third installment of…
Today I’ll be looking at the two classic novels I read for the second Dueling Monsters readalong: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (which I read) and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (which I listened to). I originally signed up to read The Picture of Dorian Gray but added the other so that I could more fairly proclaim a winner. Neither, thankfully, was the sort of scary I try to avoid, and I would recommend either for some good Halloween reading.
Contenders will be judged on four categories: plot, structure, characters, and writing. And now, without further ado, let the battle begin!
Category 1: Plot
I won’t summarize these two novels here. Instead, clicking on the titles in the paragraph above will take you to a Goodreads synopsis for the corresponding book.
Both stories are rather imaginative, though I already knew the story of Jekyll and Hyde before reading it. Personally, I enjoyed the slower pace of the longer novel (Dorian) to the quick progression of the shorter (Jekyll). In Jekyll, you are never allowed to forget that you are busy uncovering the mystery of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde. It’s like all the extra story fat has been trimmed away. By contrast, Dorian feels more like a novel. There is the peculiar situation of the main character which runs throughout, but there is plenty of superfluous banter and opera viewing as well. Personally, I rather enjoy having the story fat in there to cushion the narrative a bit. It makes the novel feel more real and less isolated.
Winner in the Plot category: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Category 2: Structure
The Picture of Dorian Gray progresses chronologically, beginning when Dorian Gray is rather young and following him through the beginning of his adult years. We observe what happens to him as it occurs, not knowing at the story’s beginning where it will lead us in the end.
In contrast, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is told through conversations, letters, and journals. When we meet Mr. Utterson, the lawyer through whose eyes we witness the tale, he has already noticed strange things happening. As he fills in the gaps, we begin to piece together the events that have already occurred.
As a means to build suspense, I thought the structure of Jekyll was more effective. Utterson is something of a detective, gathering information and piecing it together to uncover what has happened to his dear friend, Henry Jekyll. The reader knows from the start that something horribly odd is going on. With Dorian, it isn’t until part way into the novel that the reader realizes something is amiss.
Winner in the Structure category: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Category 3: Characters
Because of its short timeline and compact style, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde had little room for character development. Besides Utterson and a couple of others, the characters are met only through letters, stories, or the briefest of encounters. There wasn’t much in any character to latch onto, and so I felt myself listening along with interest but without much sympathy or attachment.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, on the other hand, had splendid characters. There is, of course, Dorian Gray, whose development is the main interest of the story. I loved the contrast between public Dorian, dressed to the nines and the favorite of society ladies, and private Dorian, plagued by personal demons. There is also Basil Halliward, Dorian’s painter friend, who pops in and out of the story. And then there is Lord Henry, my very favorite. At the start of the story, I was ready to strangle the man for his steady stream of one- and two-liners. But as the novel progressed–and especially after Dorian began to change–I came to adore Lord Henry. With Dorian as a foil, Henry appears nothing but a harmless gentleman who enjoys hearing himself talk. I found him endearing.
Winner in the Characters category: The Picture of Dorian Gray
Category 4: Writing
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is mostly narration; there isn’t much dialogue. Instead, there are letters and journal entries that express the various characters’ voices and experiences. The writing is stark, the tone matter-of-fact with overtones of the kind of horror that causes one to shudder, not shriek.
I can’t resist sharing this little nugget of…um…wit? which Utterson thinks to himself while staking out Hyde:
“If he be Mr. Hyde, I shall be Mr. Seek.”
Ohhhhhh. That makes me cringe. Seriously, Robert? Did you name your character “Hyde” just so you could work in that line?
The Picture of Dorian Gray was definitely heavier on dialogue. I attribute that to the fact that Wilde was primarily a playwright. I especially loved the silly, snappy banter that inevitably materialized whenever wealthy minor characters gathered. Where there was description, I thought it was lovely. For example:
“The sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine, seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the bourdon note of a distant organ.” (p. 1)
“The moon hung low in the sky like a yellow skull. From time to time a huge misshapen cloud stretched a long arm across and hid it. The gas-lamps grew fewer, and the streets more narrow and gloomy….The side-windows of the hansom were clogged with a grey-flannel mist.” (p. 209-210)
I love how clearly both passages evoke their respective settings. Jekyll just didn’t have anything that could compete.
The only strike against Dorian was chapter 12, the dreaded collections chapter. I had to skim. It was way too long. I do have to say, though, that it did produce the feeling that time was passing in the story.
Winner in the Writing category: The Picture of Dorian Gray
And the winner is…
With a score of three to one, I hereby declare
The Picture of Dorian Gray
the winner of Dueling Monsters: Round Two!
If you missed the previous Halloween for the Faint of Heart posts, you can find them here:
Who is your favorite classic monster? Why do you love him/her so much?