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One of the major things that happened in my life this year is that I left London after 13 years in the Big Smoke. Yes, THIRTEEN YEARS, insane I know. I mean, how did that even happen. Anyway, I had enough and left. But not far. I now live in Oxford! Well, ever so slightly outside of Oxford – it’s practically the countryside. Almost. If you just ignore the ring road thundering by half a mile off.

Now, in doing a bit of research, as you do, about da new hood I found something that made me a teeny bit excited. My road appears to have been built by John Ruskin and Oscar Wilde. Yes, I kid you not.

Ruskin, an Oxford man, used to ride around Oxford and its surroundings, which, though most of Oxford is oooold af, didn’t look quite as it does today. There was no ring road for example. So there Ruskin was, trotting around where I now live to watch the peasant people do their thing and thought hey, there’s no road between these two villages and there should be so the poor peasant people don’t have to walk so far to get places (no cars either you see).

John Ruskin 1863.jpg

Ruskin – so photogenic!

So he rounded up a bunch of his university students, including some people who – surprise surprise! – would become important enough to have their own wikipedia entries. And Oscar Wilde was one of them! Here is his story of what went down that summer in 1874:

One summer afternoon in Oxford – ‘that sweet city with her dreaming spires,’ lovely as Venice in its splendour, noble in its learning as Rome, down the long High Street that winds from tower to tower, past silent cloisters and stately gateway, till it reaches that long, grey seven-arch bridge which Saint Mary used to guard  (used to, i say, because they are now pulling it down to build a tramway and a light cast-iron bridge in its place, desecrating the loveliest city in England) – well,  we were coming down the street—a troop of young men, some of them like myself only nineteen, going to river or tennis-court or cricket-field—when Ruskin going up to lecture in cap and gown met us. He seemed troubled and prayed us to go back with him to his lecture, which a few of us did, and there he spoke to us not on art this time but on life, saying that it seemed to him to be wrong that all the best physique and strength of the young men in England should be spent aimlessly on cricket ground or river, without any result at all except that if one rowed well one got a pewter-pot, and if one made a good score, a cane-handled bat. He thought, he said, that we should be working at something that would do good to other people, at something by which we might show that in all labour there was something noble. Well, we were a good deal moved, and said we would do anything he wished. So he went out round Oxford and found two villages, Upper and Lower Hinksey, and between them there lay a great swamp, so that the villagers could not pass from one to the other without many miles of a round. And when we came back in winter he asked us to help him to make a road across this morass for these village people to use. So out we went, day after day, and learned how to lay levels and to break stones, and to wheel barrows along a plank—a very difficult thing to do. And Ruskin worked with us in the mist and rain and mud of an Oxford winter, and our friends and our enemies came out and mocked us from the bank. We did not mind it much then, and we did not mind it afterwards at all, but worked away for two months at our road. And what became of the road? Well, like a bad lecture it ended abruptly—in the middle of the swamp. Ruskin going away to Venice, when we came back for the next term there was no leader, and the ‘diggers’, as they called us, fell asunder.

‘Art and the Handicraftsman’ in Essays and Lectures by Oscar Wilde

And that was that. There is still no easy way to get from North Hinksey to South Hinksey and the fields and paths around here still flood but at least there is a road that stretches as far as to my house, for which I am grateful.

 

 

That is by far the most interesting thing I have been able to find on the neighbourhood but there are some other lose art anecdotes. For example Millais and Collins lived in Botley for a while, and Turner (not to be confused with Turner of Oxford apparently) painted this from the village – such rural idyll!

 

oxford from N Hinksey Turner.jpg

Oxford from North Hinksey by Turner 

 

 

 

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This has been a most spectacular week, theatre-wise. Starting at the Barbican, Nevermore – the Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe was just pure magic. Ok, I am bias here. I am a sucker for musical theatre, especially the dark, unhappy kind. And that, my friend, is something that does not come along very often so this was a real treat. With Poe’s own words “all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream” guiding the aesthetic direction, Nevermore is the life (and dreams) of Edgar Allan Poe told like a gothic puppet show reminiscing Tim Burton and Lemony Snicket, containing more death and calamity than your average Greek tragedy (it has to be admitted; I pulled a cardigan over my head more than once). Poe himself is slightly one-dimensional but I think there is a point in that. Being more about telling than showing, it is the music that is the star of the show and the Poesque verse is both witty and harrowing.

Moving on now to Hampstead Theatre and Oscar Wilde’s Salome. Sigh, what to say? I get that it must be very tempting to do classics in modern dress these days and camouflage, machine guns, sand and oil appears to be the favoured choice (as if it was common duty to draw Iraqi parallels wherever possible). And with no taboos these days restricting the action, nakedness and sex on stage is more rule than exception. Now, while as a general idea this is getting a bit drab, it does quite often work well or possibly less well. In the case of Salome it just did not work at all. While it fits the basic (Biblical) story, Wilde’s Salome is pure poetry, evocative and sensual. This production is in-your-face and aggressive rather than suggestive, and Wilde’s lines are completely corrupted in orgiastic tomfoolery and masturbatory frenzy. But hey, it gets a point for trying.

Carbón Club, part of the National’s Watch This Space Festival, wins the prize for most excellent catholic imagery with its priest walking through the audience carrying a burning bible. Me like. And the show was jam-packed with these ingenious tricks of fire, explosions and what not. Full-on action performed very intimately, making the audience duck under everything from blowtorches to champagne showers. Now, while this is all very well I have to say, as a cabaret, the song and dance acts did just not come together all that well. Lots of poignant points (mining accidents, rape and lost love) were unevenly balanced by repeated jokes. One wish that less energy had been spent on special effects and more on the real extravaganza which, in comparison, costs no money. Nonetheless, new and interesting and so great to be outside and do something a little bit unusual.

Here my friend, are some gorgeous Salomes…(and not a Beardsley in sight, I’m sorry to say but I do find him tiresome.)

(Corinth; von Stuck; Strathman; Dessau-Gottein)

Ok, I have seen it now so I can moan as much as I like. Yay, let’s go!

Not only have I been to see Dorian Gray but I have also been to a sort of panel talk with the director Oliver Parker and the writer Toby Finlay. Oh, and double bonus; the guy who painted the portrait of Dorian Gray/Ben Barnes and the painting itself was there (I might explain here that this event took place at the National Portrait Gallery). It was so much fun! Although it was a bit fawning, like, of course all the Wilde-experts that were there and had seen the film gave their approval.

Afterwards we went up to Tottenham Court Rd to see the film and, unfortunately, that’s where the fun stops. Parker was saying (when being asked about the casting of Ben Barnes…’because in the book Dorian is blond with blue eyes’…yawn) that the biggest mistake you make with a film version of Dorian Gray is to actually show Dorian himself. Because no matter how it is done, he will never live up to the version you created in your head while reading it. Paradoxical but true, of course I judge this film partly based on how well it corresponds to my reading experience. But at the same time I don’t think interpolation is a bad thing. Exclude, flesh out and re-invent all you want as long as it is motivated and makes a good film.

See, I really don’t mind that Dorian isn’t an angelic fair-haired boy (I pictured him dark anyway). I don’t mind the invention of Lord Henry’s daughter, even if it is a little bit silly and unnecessary; at least it made a role for Rebecca Hall. Turning the painting into some devilish entity breathing horror was fine too, in fact all the gothic elements worked very well indeed. What I do mind is omitting vital scenes that would explain why these people behave as they do. Darling, darling Sybil never gets the chance to kill his love with bad acting (something I am sure Rachel Hurd-Wood would have pulled off terribly well). Instead they have sex and then Dorian dumps her. Basil never gets to confess his obsession with Dorian and his fear for this showing in the portrait. Instead they have sex and then Dorian kills him. And while there’s nothing wrong with an abundance of kinky sex per se, it shouldn’t be used only to cover up the complete lack of substance  Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. I wish. The philosophy is not a part of Dorian Gray, it is Dorian Gray. And this is nothing but an intolerably flimsy film where everything feels rushed, underdeveloped and looks like it has been butchered in the editing with a chainsaw.

There is lot of moaning going on about this new film adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Uhm, can’t everyone just chill out and wait for the film to actually be released instead of getting worked up about the trailer or the poster?

Like at the New Yorker, where they talk about Dorian Gray book-covers instead, so much more fun.

The cover of my edition, a very budget-friendly hardback copy, has gold-letters and a detail from this painting on it;

tissot_la balcon du cercle de la rue paris

Tissot’s club portrait; La Balcon du Cercle de la Rue Royale is usually seen on books by or about Proust. The Circle of the Rue Royale was one of the many Paris clubs imitating the gentlemen clubs of London, were the social elite of the 19th century could gather and…well, by the look of it, do nothing much. One of those men, is Charles Haas whom Proust used as a model for Charles Swann in In Search of Lost Time.

I like the idea of this cover very much:

dorian gray book cover

No title, no author, no picture of Dorian Gray. From Four Corners Books who does artistic interpretations of classics or something like that.

Or this illustrated Dorian Gray from Marvel;

marvel_dorian gray

on twitter

  • RT @artinsociety: Albrecht Dürer died #OTD 1528, almost 500 years ago, but his studies of animals and bugs live on ~ here’s his finely-obse… 1 month ago
  • RT @TheSyriaCmpgn: These photos show the devastating conditions Syrian refugees are facing in Lebanon after a brutal storm left their tents… 4 months ago
  • RT @jeremycorbyn: I, Daniel Blake will be shown on TV for the first time, tonight at 9.45pm on BBC 2. It shows the human cost of this Tory… 4 months ago

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