"The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn."
"The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde is one of those classics everybody talks about, maybe it was even assigned in high school, but I always got the feeling a lot of us didn't read it. Instead we gathered random facts about the book from here and there--word of mouth, Sparknotes, Wikipedia--and then just claimed to understand everything it was saying. Sort of like The Bible, but I digress.
Set in 19th century Europe, this Oscar Wilde classic begins when a well-known artist, Basil Hallward desires to paint a portrait of Dorian Gray, a wealthy and impossibly pretty young man. Dorian agrees to sit for several portraits and at first the artist paints him as ancient Greek heroes or mythological figures, but in the picture in question, he decides to paint Dorian as he actually, truly is. The same day the artist shows Dorian the newest painting, he also introduces him to Lord Henry Wotton (see also: the guy your mom always warned you about).
Before the end of their first conversation, Lord Henry, aka the worst influence ever, upsets Dorian by ranting on and on about the "transient nature of beauty and youth." In a fit of distress, Dorian pledges his soul if only the painting could bear the burden of age and infamy, allowing him to stay forever young. It is only after he breaks off his engagement with a young actress in a very cruel and unexpected manner, that Dorian realizes the painting is altering with every horrible, selfish thing he does.
I won't spoil the juicy bits for you, (in case you really haven't read it), but I will say that throughout the remainder of the book, we see Dorian fall deeper and deeper into moral ineptitude. What starts off as a good time--alcohol, drugs, women and other things found in debaucherous opium dens--turns into real life-threatening situations, depression and ethical numbness.
Is it fair to call Dorian Gray the original fuckboy? Now, now--hear me out. He's obsessed with his looks, he's a self-proclaimed disciple of “new Hedonism” and lives his life dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. He has the type of nonchalant attitude that allows him to overlook the suicide of his ex-fiance--AND IT WAS HIS FAULT. Add to that the way his boyish good looks keep him in good favor with everybody in town and yeah, Dorian Gray is a fuckboy. He and Chris Brown should hang out.
Because The Picture of Dorian Grey is set in 19th century Europe, I decided to bake simple Victoria sponge cupcakes with strawberry jam in the middle--YUM! The Victoria Sponge is a quintessential English teatime treat and became popular during the reign of Queen Victoria, according to my quick Google search. Two tricks for a fluffy, well-aerated sponge cake: Make sure the weight of the eggs equals the weight of the butter and add warm water to the batter right before you bake. I will be sure to follow that advice next time, as I ignored the recipe and used regular sized eggs instead of large.
The ingredient list is short for this, but less is definitely more in this case. These cakes are sweet and light with a burst of strawberry flavor.
The Picture of Dorian Gray: 4 stars
Victoria(n) Sponge Cake Cupcakes: 5 stars
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) softened butter
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 tablespoon warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup jam (I used strawberry!)
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
1. Beat butter and sugar in a bowl, until light and fluffy.
2. Alternate adding eggs and flour, (starting and ending with an egg) and beat until well mixed.
3. Lightly mix in water and vanilla.
4. Spoon about two tablespoons of batter into each muffin cup, followed by 1 teaspoon of jam, then top with another tablespoon of batter. Be sure to spread the top layer of batter to fully cover the jam layer.
5. Bake about 15 minutes at 400 degrees. (Or until light brown.)
6. When you remove from the oven, let cupcakes stand a couple of minutes; turn onto a wire rack to cool.
7. When ready to serve, dust with powdered sugar.
8. Enjoy while drinking a cup of tea with your pinkie up, like the queen or king you are!
NOTE: Obviously, I dyed my batter to keep with the Victorian gothic theme of the book, but be warned: that much gel food coloring will alter the texture of your cake!
“The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.”
“I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”
“When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one's self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.”
“Never marry at all, Dorian. Men marry because they are tired, women, because they are curious: both are disappointed.”
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
“Some things are more precious because they don't last long.”
“You must have a cigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?”
Happy baking, everybody!