Leaves, in crimson red and fiery orange, are pouring down every street corner, as the autumn season comes upon us. What better to do in this cozy and cold weather, than pick up a book or two? And let me tell you, you will not want to put these down. The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Secret History, both fall in the same category; what the kids these days call “dark academia” (Pinterest is full of this, search it up). Both books embody a similar aesthetic, calling to mind images of old literature, of candlewax dripping down stakes, distant music floating up from unseen pianos, big libraries at old colleges, dark and stormy weather, academic madness, the beauty of poetry and ancient languages, and wearing long trench coats and scarves. You get the gist of it? Great, let’s dive into the specifics.
In my opinion, no one combines poetry and drama quite like Oscar Wilde, and he does this beautifully in The Picture of Dorian Gray. The book tells the story of a young man, Dorian Gray, a quite handsome one at that, getting his portrait painted. He is so fascinated with his own beauty, that he makes a wish – that all the marks of age in his life will only show up on the portrait, and not on his own face, and thus, he will never physically age. With this wish, our young man thrives upon his everlasting beauty, but also must face the consequences of his wilting morality. Throughout the book, we find Dorian in different situations, where he is faced with the perks and faults of his beauty, and for how long can he keep his composure? The two most important side characters we get to meet are Basil Hallward, the painter, and of course the infamous Sir Henry Wotton, a lord with questionable morals and a little too much pride. Both characters have a lot to say in this horrifyingly magnetic story.
What makes this book so interesting for me, is how it brings you face to face with your own sense of self. When you learn about these characters, you also start looking into yourself. Why do we sympathise with characters who are so morally wrong? Is this what the author wants us to feel, or am I a bad person? These are some of the questions you will be sitting with after turning the last page. The language in this book is also extraordinarily beautiful. Wilde writes in the way old love letters are written. Every line of his work oozes with flowery poetry, and I absolutely love it. It is worth mentioning the way the author discusses the concept of art in the preface. If that preface doesn’t reel you into the story, then I don’t know what will.
For some, this might be a heavy book to get into, as it can feel slow-paced, but I promise you, once you get used to reading the very poetic language you’ll dive into a world of art, misery, death, poetry and all the things that come with them. Being somewhat of poet myself, I think it is quite natural that this book is one of my favourites. We do thrive in misery.
The Secret History explores the same themes as the previous book, but arguably in a much more brutal manner. In this book you’re faced with young students who in the midst of learning Greek and Latin at college, find themselves turning evil in a way that is not foreseen. The story, which is set in the 1980’s follows the protagonist Richard Papen, a literary student, in his journey through Hampden College. From his narrative, we get to know Julian, the professor of his Greek studies class, and the six students in this very exclusive and tightly-knit class. The prologue, which features the death of one of the characters kicks off the whole thing, and the rest of the book lets us in on the mystery of how these students ended up there. We get to experience from Richard’s perspective, how jealousy, power, and betrayal can result in amorality, waves of guilt, and even death.
The book is a slow burn, it takes time to get to the really thrilling parts, and to be honest, I almost gave up on the first try. However, when I finally got to said parts, it was impossible to put this book away. Author Donna Tartt does an incredible job of keep the reader on the edge of their seat. Even the smallest details, and the thought process of this main character makes you wonder. Each character feels so relatable, that it leaves you wondering why? Are you morally sound? Why does this feel like something I shouldn’t be agreeing with? These questions will keep you up at night have you reading this book.
As you probably get by now, these books explore the same themes, but in very different and interesting ways. Both are definitely considered classics, The Secret History being a more modern one than The Picture of Dorian Gray. Both of these books have such relatable characters, but at the same time you both love them and hate them. However, these books are incredibly thrilling to this day. If you love the dark academia sub-genre, you will love these. The thrill of reading about characters descending into madness, questioning every waking moment up until insanity, it really keeps you up at night flipping page after page.