Why Nobody Wants To Be Called Middle-Aged

 

Has anyone ever sat down and wondered at their old photos? It’s my lovely little sister’s sixteenth birthday today, and so we’re sat around, looking at photos from when we were both just tiny tots. And it’s hilarious. I was a victim of the perpetual bad hair day, and my sister just looked like a thug, with the biggest baby head I have ever seen. She also had an adorable little top-knot. It made her look a little bit like a teletubby. Does anyone remember tellytubbies? I used to quite like them.

I also quite enjoy looking at what your parents used to look like, twenty years ago before your teenager strops and tantrums turned them grey, or bald, or thin, or fat. It’s even more strange to look at them in long-forgotten holiday photos, before you were born, when your Mum was still blonde, and your Dad carried a slightly more svelte figure than you’ve ever seen. It’s really, really weird when you realise your mother was the dead spit of you, and therefore you catch something of a glimpse at what you will look like in middle-age.

I always think the phrase ‘middle age’ has slightly negative connotations. The Middle Ages, in Britain at least, were dark, and smelly, on the whole. Technology hadn’t begun to advance, and people had come to something of an intellectual standstill. Illness was rife, death was more common than a bucket of sewage on the head, and to add to this predicament, religious order was still a serious issue. As in, well, there wasn’t one. I think I’ve found the reason why nobody likes to be referred to as middle-aged.

And then there’s the problem of after middle-age. Old. Elderly. An older person. Nobody would ever want to be referred to as old, and I can imagine being unbelievably irritated if somebody had referred to me as old, even if I was about ninety-six years old. Anyway, I have to go, and carry on my excursion down memory lane. I apologise for my collection of thoughts on age; I’ve never known what it’s like to be old, but I suppose one day, it’ll creep right up on me.

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Dorian and I? We Had a Fantastic Afternoon…

This afternoon, I sat down and watched the adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring Colin Firth and Rebecca Hall. And I’ve never enjoyed a film adaptation of a novel so much in my life. Usually, I tend to rebel against them; I find them slightly abhorrent, and feel as though they potentially corrupt the value of the text itself. And whilst the novel shows some differences, the theme and concept remains completely the same. The essence of the text has been preserved; possibly the mark of some of the very best adaptations.

The adaptation very accurately and rather shockingly portrays the idea of the soul being revealed in a painting, a visual medium; the graphic image of the maggots quite literally eating away at the portrayal of the soul is a repulsive image. As humans, we reject the idea of decay, because we seek to survive and preserve. The brutality of Dorian Gray’s character as a result of impulse as portrayed in the film also represents the concept of excess, an almost epidemic problem in Wilde’s own lifetime. The sexual excesses in which Dorian indulges represents not necessarily the corruption of an entire era, but the effect these excesses have on Dorian. The effect on his psyche is spectacular; his aversion to the idea of multiple partner experiences soon changes to an insatiable appetite for every sexual indulgence possible; from the sadomasochistic, to the bi-sexual.

Dorian's first visit to the Opium Den. (1)

Decadence appeals to my frugal sense of the self because it is a luxury I lack both as a student, and as a person who works, and who realises the value of money. To be allowed a window into this world of unimaginable excess is therefore highly appealing, and Wilde as an author created small moments of complete, unrestrained indulgence for a reader, with an almost unrivalled level of skill. As a Victorian, he escaped from the restrained morality dictated by Christianity and entered a hitherto unexplored arena, notably examining the right of man to engage in homosexual activity without legal condemnation. Wilde’s trial was less focussed on condemning him for a clearly defined breach of legality; instead, the trial sought to persecute a lifestyle, instead of one element of a person’s possible activities.

The adaptation not only focussed on the destruction of Dorian’s soul, sacrificed on the altar of beauty, but also the influence of Lord Henry, the narcissistic uncle figure who first introduces the young man to the carnal and chemical pleasures of the world has to offer, most strikingly in the first visit to the opium den. The Lord himself dreams of a lifestyle of profound excess, however never quite has the courage to complete the dream; perhaps he has a conscience that is unrealised, and perhaps he cannot fathom exposing his soul to such complete tyranny; for those who harbour superstitions within themselves, it is simply an impossible notion to risk eternal damnation to such a degree as Dorian does. Dorian however lacks one of the fundamental elements of existence, in that he has no boundaries; no real influence telling him where he ought to draw the line, and to this end, he sacrifices his soul on the altar of beauty and physical pleasure.

I would recommend watching the film alongside reading the novel; it certainly brings to light some of the more subtle ideas of the novel and emphasises the value of aesthetic beauty in relation to the soul. Not only is the novel spectacularly on form, the lighting and scene cuts add a great deal of atmosphere to proceedings. I hope you enjoy it!

(1) http://th07.deviantart.net/fs71/PRE/i/2010/163/b/b/The_Opium_Den_by_FroschiLove.png

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A Proposal From Mr. J. Swift

Eighteenth century English satire is perhaps one of the most sophisticated of the literary periods. It subtlety satirizes, or makes ridiculous, the institutions that existed at the time, including the government, the treatment of children, and indeed social structures themselves. Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope were both famed satirists in their way, respectively Juvenalian and Horatian in style. Jane Austen was also a satirical writer, writing a critique of the restraints of the upper and lower classes, in an often amusing fashion.

A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, commonly referred to as A Modest Proposal, was written by Jonathon Swift in 1729, at the height of satirical importance in English literature. Swift was a famed satirist, however his complete body of works does not sit comfortable in either a Juvenalian or Horatian category of satirical writing specifically. This particular work however is broadly considered to be a Juvenalian text, combating issues of morality, such as the man’s treatment of his wife with ridiculous sentiments such as her usefulness as a “breeder”. It is this incredibly powerful juxtaposition that provokes the mind to consider these sentiments in all seriousness.

Mr. Swift (1)

Juvenalian satire is an angry, biting form of satire, using morality to create a situation in which contempt can be provoked. In A Modest Proposal there are certainly a number of these elements, such as his extreme derision towards himself as a narrator, and the continued references to human children as delicious meats for the wealthy, products of a “breeder”. Whilst it is strikingly obvious that this is a satirical condemnation of the poverty and lack of government awareness in Ireland at the time, Swift himself may have to a certain extent supported these ideas. There are however, also elements of Horatian satire in the pamphlet; Horatian satire is a gentler form of derision that is motivated more towards amusing the audience, as opposed to repulsing them. There are very few elements of his kind of satire in this text; for instance, the suggestion that the cannibalistic behaviour would lead to a more loving marital situation is astounding, especially since it suggests that men would view their wives in the same way as they view their livestock.

Swift himself attempted to protect the oppressed in Ireland, specifically those who lived under the control of the English (often absentee) landowners, and the Irish Parliament, which was dominated by English influences. Despite being an Anglo-Protestant himself, and being elected Dean of St. Patrick’s Church very reluctantly, he sought to protect the Irish against the Anglo-Protestant classes, using very serious sermons to spread a message. Most significantly however, Swift went to the power of the pen, and wrote pamphlets such as A Modest Proposal that highlighted the issues of poverty in such a severe way that it was impossible to ignore such an extreme mode of communication. Swift had huge psychological problems with being connected by blood to Ireland, and appears to have had a very complex psychological stance on identity and society as a whole. Nevertheless, he sought to speak out against the huge issues of poverty that he saw in the streets on a daily basis. These problems included infanticide, begging, and prostitution. Due to his position as a senior member of the church, Swift often experienced these issues first hand.

For those who haven’t yet started to look at satire, then I’d say that you should if only for the entertainment value; without considering the social implications, the satirical texts tend to be amusing on a superficial level. That surely is the point of satire; to amuse, whilst causing somewhere, in the subconscious, a consideration of the meaning of the text. We never have been able to fully understand the subconscious; and in the same way that we don’t understand fully how dreams are formed, we don’t understand what makes us think of ideas in the way that we do. A testament to the power of satire is how it has continued to be a significant genre even today, especially in television. Satire is fundamentally amusing, and often hides the more serious implications of satire for society within its fabric.

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(1) http://www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/images/jonathan-swift.jpg

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