A specimen to Reading with embedded analysis
A specimen analysis with tentative questions introducing Reading with embedded analysis is based on an excerpt from Chapter 1 of the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, which follows...

It is better not to be different from one’s fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. /…/ They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive it from alien hands. Your rank and wealth, Harry, my brains, such as they are – my art, whatever it may be worth, Dorian Gray’s good looks – we shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly.”

“Dorian Gray? Is that his name?” asked Lord Henry, walking across the studio towards Basil Hallward.

“Yes, that is his name. I didn’t intend to tell it to you.”

“But why not?’

“Oh, I can’t explain. When I like people immensely I never tell their names to anyone. It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvelous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it. When I leave town now I never tell my people where I am going. If I did, I should lose all my pleasure. It is a silly habit, I daresay, but somehow it seems to bring a great deal of romance into one’s life. I suppose you think me awfully foolish about it?”

“Not at all,” answered Lord Henry, “not at all, my dear Basil. You seem to forget that I am married, and the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing. When we meet – we do meet occasionally, when we dine out together, or go down to the Duke’s – we tell each other the most absurd stories with the most serious faces. My wife is very good at it – much better, in fact, than I am. She never gets confused over the dates, and I always do. But when she does find me out, she makes no row at all. I sometimes wish she would; but she merely laughs at me.”

“I hate the way you talk about your married life, Harry,” said Basil Hallward, strolling towards the door that led in to the garden. “I believe that you are really a very good husband, but that you are thoroughly ashamed of your own virtues. You are an extraordinary fellow. You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing. Your cynicism is simply a pose.”

“Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know,” cried Lord Henry, laughing; and the two young men went out into the garden together, and ensconced themselves on a long bamboo seat that stood in the shade of a tall laurel bush. The sunlight slipped over the polished leaves. In the grass, white daisies were tremulous.

After a pause, Lord Henry pulled out his watch. “I am afraid I must be going, Basil,” he murmured, “and before I go, I insist on your answering a question I put to you some time ago.”

“What is that?” said the painter, keeping his eyes fixed on the ground.

“You know quite well.”

“I do not, Harry.”

“Well, I will tell you what it is. I want you to explain to me why you won’t exhibit Dorian Gray’s picture. I want the real reason.”

“I told you the real reason.”

“No, you did not. You said it was because there was too much of yourself in it. Now, that is childish.”

“Harry,” said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.”

Lord Henry laughed. “And what is that?” he asked.

(Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1963, pp. 22-24)

An analysis through model questions and expected answers is exemplified below:

1. What happens in this scene from Chapter I of the novel? – Not much. Two men talk of themselves and the third one.

2 What does the reader learn from this scene? - Of three men: the two speakers and the sitter.

3 Of whom the reader learns more? - Of the two speakers.

4 Is this a motivated representation in literary art at its opening? What is achieved? The two speakers are introduced through their conversational exchanges and the absent one is obscured. An introduction of the characters is the function of an exposition.

5 Why is the third man obscured? Obviously, for intrigue and to give some weight to Basil Howard’s fascination with the absent sitter.

6 Even if the vocabulary in the opening paragraph here causes no problems to a group of students, it is worth while focusing on the meaning of alien hands. This is not a wholly usual collocation. It might be asked what it means exactly. The adjective ‘alien’ means strange and frightening, different from what you are used to, disapprovingly, and not usual or acceptable, also disapprovingly. The first of the senses, ‘strange and frightening’, is closest to the point in the context. Knowing that the synonym of ‘alien’ in this sense is ‘hostile’, this guess appears acceptable and motivated. Still, it might be helpful to remember the usual collocations with the adjective ‘alien’: an alien environment; the world can become alien and dangerous; alien beings, etc.

7 Of whom and what does the reader learn from this opening paragraph? It is of the painter, Basil Hallward. As these are the opening lines in this paragraph, the painter sounds candid on no clue. He just predicts some evil. This is not a manly attitude. Lord Henry is more reserved. A prediction so candid, verging on religious beliefs is likely to come from a woman or from a weak man.

8 What does the reader learn of the speakers? That Basil is a young and sensitive painter, who is critical of Lord Henry’s ideas. That Lord \Henry may be Basil’s senior, but both are “young man” in the author’s word; it is Lord Henry’ reserved attitude that obscures his age. Scanty details tell the reader that Lord Henry is an aristocrat of a high state.

9 What is the source of this knowledge and impression of the characters? The two men’s conversational exchanges.

10 What exactly is the meaning of the painter’s “I didn’t intend to tell it to you.” That the painter had no plan or purpose to disclose the name of the fascinating absent man, that it just slipped off his tongue. This slip of the tongue might have been overlooked by the author, but it opens a way for the author to have the painter venture into another confession of himself which is his attachment to his acquaintances down to concealing their names. Although names should not be banded about in polite conversation, this is men’s talk and an opportunity for the author to disclose the painter’s character further.

11 Is the verb ‘surrendering a part of them” significant and what does it exactly mean? The verb ‘surrender’ means to admit defeat and to give up sth/sb when you are forced to. This is a formal verb and not commonly used in routine. It implies that the painter was a very sensitive person and he felt conscience-stricken, so as to feel guilty of his slip of the tongue.

12 What does this second opening of the painter about himself mean to the reader? It confirms the earlier implication that the painter was very sensitive and that he was a weak man who would open up about himself on no clue.

13 How well is the reader familiar with a parenthetic word, daresay? This verb means that sth is likely and is a fill-in word in conversation. It is a British word and not a word of the very latest time. Parenthetic words, such as: I must say, I say, you may think, perhaps, probably, for sure and others, are shorter in contemporary conversation. They are also less formal.

14 How formal is this say by the painter Basil? A very pointed verb intend and the formal surrender would not make this talk formal but there are other components which make it so.

15 What are other features of formality in this section of the conversation? Only an occasional contracted verb form. Most are full forms of the auxiliaries.

16 What does the syntax of this section of the conversation tell the reader? All the statements are short and of standard structures.

17 What is missing in the syntax of this section of the conversation compared to modern conversation? Unfinished sentences, sentence fragments, clauses functioning as separate units, crowded sentences and similar inaccuracies.

18 How can the language of Oscar Wilde’s conversation be assessed? The language of Oscar Wilde’s conversation is standard, correct and precise. It is slower in tempo than the language of modern conversation. Overall, this section of conversation shows that Oscar Wilde’s conversation is more formal than modern conversation.

19 Focusing on two following paragraphs of the conversation, what striking features do you find in them? If students find the statement. I hate the way you talk,,,, significant, they are right. This is an emphatic exaggeration or overstatement, but it is typical of spoken English.

20 Would you quote anything from the first section of conversation that would be a likely overstatement? There are several overstated fragments in the first section of the conversation: I like people immensely; to love secrecy; the commonest thing is delightful if…; a great deal of romance; awfully foolish, the most absurd stories with the most serious faces. These are even more common positive conversational overstatements and some of them are quite modern.

21 What is striking in the syntax of the three following sections of the conversation? It is deliberate syntax based on contrasting or antithetic statements: some of these statements are quite simple, almost routine, for instance: She never gets confused over dates and I always do. I sometimes wish she would, but she merely laughs at me. But further, antithetic statements become quite intentionally artistic or true antithesis: You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing. Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know.

22 Can the students define what antithesis is? Antithesis is a rhetorical or literary device in which an opposition or contrast of ideas is expressed” (COD, 2011, 58). The students might notice and mind this device, which is a favourite device of Oscar Wilde to show off in his intentional wit and it will recur in the novel.

23 How conversation and descriptions balance in the quoted excerpt of the novel? The students would be encouraged to appreciate the description of a scene in the garden in the middle of the excerpt and to note that descriptions are only one or two and very brief but expressive.

24 How significant is the painter Basil’s confession in the final paragraph in this excerpt from the novel? Does it reveal anything new about the painter? Not much. It confirms the previously noticed candid disposition of the painter.

25 Can the reader expect any growth of the significance of the paragraphs discussed here?

The students’ guess may be positive. Indeed, the students must be advised to remember the painter’s confession about the execution of the portrait. A reader may wonder at the end of the novel how the transformation of the portrait took place and this knowledge of the painter’s confession initially may help him. More than that, even if the reader read and remembered Oscar Wilde’s dictum in the preface to this novel, which is “All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril”, he may want to interpret the denouement of the novel further. The reader would definitely need to remember the initial confession of the artist in his own interpretation.

26 Do the students find this exposition accomplished and appreciates it? What are the merits and drawbacks of this exposition in the novel?

27 Does the exposition imply anything about further relations among the characters? What kind of relations may these be?