An Young Father

Oscar Wilde’s first and only novel narrates the chilling story of a man called Dorian Gray. [1]  Dorian was handsome, splendidly handsome (not quite like Jeremy Kidwell or Dave Benson but getting close), to such an extent that a painter depicts a portrait of Dorian. When Dorian sees his own beauty on display, he expresses the wish to remain young, and to woo the world with his handsomeness forever.

Sometime later Dorian gets to know a girl, a Shakespearean actress, and proposes to her. She is ecstatic – what a gorgeous groom! – but when Dorian finds out that she lost her acting skills because of her consuming passion for Dorian, he rejects her, and she commits suicide. When Dorian arrives home, there is a change in his portrait – his face now displays a cynical smile – and Dorian realizes that his wish came true: from now on his portrait will wrinkle and age, and he will maintain the eternal freshness of youth.

Free from the visual consequences of time, Dorian succumbs to a life of pleasure and vices, and at one point kills the man who painted his portrait. His portrait grows ever uglier, grimmer, more disgusting, like an unsettling mirror of his soul. At one point Dorian is so scared of his disfigured face hovering over the living room, and of the hopeless odor of his life, that he decides to kill his portrait, in a last attempt to find some form of redemption. But when he stabs the portrait with a knife, Wilde narrates that the servants of the house hear a cry, and when they arrive, they see the portrait back in its original form, and the body of an old man on the floor with a knife stuck in his chest, wrinkled, dreadful, deformed.

It is a chilling story, yet Wilde makes us see graphically a curious observation: sin ages us. At every vice Dorian experimented, his portrait grew older and uglier. He saw his acts result in a sunken face, withered hair, eyes screaming with dread. His sin aged him, like it ages every one of us, weakening our minds, darkening our spirits, turning us in on ourselves. Sin makes us bitter and cynical, and I think that’s why we feel so old, even those of us who are quite young.

Yet, if that is the case, well, it may be that our Father is younger than we. G. K. Chesterton observed once how children like to play the same games over and other: you throw a girl into the air, and she asks, “Do it again!” You throw her another time, and she begs, “Do it again!” You throw her again still and she shouts, “Do it again!. So what about God, who created galaxy after galaxy, who did not tire of creating cell after cell or leaf after leaf? “It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun;” inferred Chesterton, “and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon… It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” [2]

I’ve always imagined God as an elderly man, weakened by the endless seasons of eternity. Yet he may be younger than we think; vigorous, fresh, spirited. We may worry to approach a cranky senior yet find a presence of joy instead, we may we muster a serious prayer yet be interrupted by jokes – “finally, my dear Lord…”- “Hold on, what did the duck say to Vladimir Putin?”. The hours are longer on his clock, and his memories may stretch way back, yet his heart is younger than ours. We mature and wise up as we approach him, but we are refreshed and enlivened too, hearing not the sigh of a face tired of seeing us come in repentance one more time, but the vigor of a young father who shouts, “Yes, do it again!”

René Breuel

[1] Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Three Stories, (New York: Tribeca Books, 2010).

[2] G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2007), 54.

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2 responses to “An Young Father

  1. Did you just compare Jeremy and me to Dorian Gray? I’m simultaneously honoured and offended! Thankyou, I think!?!
    Seriously, though, I read Wilde’s book mid-2011 and was staggered at its richness. He mapped the farthest reaches of the soul as someone speaking from the inside – which given Oscar’s varied ‘experiences’ makes sense. So this sinful ‘ageing’ of the soul is anything but a simple moralistic tale from someone writing from a safeplace. He knew the pain, and the cost of his choices. Perhaps worth a few more posts dealing with specific passages from this amazing book. Thanks Rene :)

  2. Pingback: A Zest for Life | Wondering Fair·

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