in my story
i am blanche
and he is allan
but maybe in his
cause maybe i have been
writing about the wrong
this whole time.
My Dearest Sibyl Vane,
We are the same, you and I. We are the women who love in between shades of grey. The ones who don’t want realism, because we want magic–yes, magic! But magic only exists in poetry, does it not? In beautiful poetry, and for you, my dear, under those blinding stage lights–yes! Blinding like a searchlight. That is where the magic lives.
I think, darling Sibyl, that we loved the same boy once. My Grey boy wrote me the most colourful poetry, you know. And your’s–well. He was Gray in a different way than mine was, but the same boy still, wasn’t he? Because in my story he was Allan. Allan Grey. But in his–in his story, my dearest Sibyl Vane, he was Dorian. Dorian Gray. And I was you.
Don’t you see?
For you were the flower, yes! The beautiful English rose with petals for lips and a reed-like throat. How lovely you were on that stage–Rosalind one night and Portia the other. You said once that acting was the one reality in your life, that it was only in the theatre that you lived; I know what you meant when you said that you believed it. Believed in everything. That the painted scenes were a world for you to escape into every night. A world belonging to you alone, that housed people inside of whom you got lost in the most absolute and wonderful way–all at once, and much, much too completely. So completely, in fact, that you misplaced yourself entirely.
I, too, know what it is to become so far removed from the person you used to be that you no longer recognize your reflection in the eyes of those who love you. To live your life in a kind of shadow because light can be harsh on such a delicate face. But where I was running from something, my darling Sibyl, you were waiting to be found.
And then you were. He found you, Sibyl. Your Gray boy. All because of your magic; theatre–that was your magic.
I suppose in many ways it is mine too–I misrepresent things to people. I try to give them that magic by telling what ought to be the truth, in the same way that you make an audience believe you are the people whose skins you get caught inside. After all, your Gray boy did love you first as Juliet, didn’t he? First as Juliet, then as Rosalind, and, after that, Imogen.
People will always like the look of you before they like you.
Poor, darling Sibyl, with your violet wells for eyes and flower-like face–he wrote that about you, you know. He said you were the loveliest thing he had ever seen in his life. Maybe that’s why he seemed to be so fond of comparing you to flowers–because you are beautiful and so are they. But, you should have been careful, my darling. Careful of men and Gray boys who only ever looked for beauty in you.
That was your charm–your beauty. He should have known a woman’s charm is always fifty precent illusion.
You know, he said that has seen you in every age and in every costume; he has seen you die in the gloom of an Italian tomb, sucking the poison from your lover’s lips, and has watched you wandering through the forest of Arden, disguised as a pretty boy in hose and doublet and dainty cap.
He has seen you in every skin except your own.
That was the problem, wasn’t it? That he wanted every version of you except for yourself. Because then, on that night, when the searchlight was turned on for you, when he showed you what reality really was–on that night when you didn’t get lost in your magic, the illusion was ruined for him. The searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again and he destroyed you, Sibyl.
He destroyed you because you weren’t as beautiful to him as you had once been. That’s what happened to me, you know. But instead, it was I who destroyed my Grey boy, for he wasn’t the boy I thought.
But your Gray boy–he told you that you were nothing without your art, because your art was what had made you beautiful; I know that to be true, darling Sibyl, because I am nothing without mine. All you have in this life is your art–your art and your youth. You had both, you poor, lost girl. You had both and you traded that magic for reality.
Sweet, gentle Sybil. How could you have known?
Because if you were a rose before, now you are merely flowers for the dead.
This post was an analysis of the relationship between Sibyl Vane and Dorian Gray, explored through a creative comparison between Sibyl and Blanche– when I read ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ over the summer, the biggest thing that struck me was how many parallels there were with the book and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, which one of the biggest ones being how strikingly similar Sybil Vane and Blanche DuBois are, both in personality and in circumstance.
As such, I immediately identified with Sybil as I was reading, because there are many similarities between her and I as well; we are both actors whose identities are dependant on what characters we play, when we are in a show we both see that world as our reality, we spend so much time pretending to be other people that we don’t know who we are. The list goes on.
When Dorian was first telling Henry about his love of Sybil Vane, something that came up in their conversation gutted me;
‘“Tonight she is Imogen,” he answered, “and tomorrow night she will be Juliet.”
“When is she Sibyl Vane?”
“I congratulate you.”’ (46)
Because, I realized that, in that moment, I wasn’t reading about some made-up character in some made-up world; in that moment, I was reading about me.
This quality–this want of magic over realism–is something that Blanche, Sybil, and I share. And the three of us all have Grey boys. Coincidence? I think not.
Furthermore, I titled the piece ‘Flores Para los Muertos’ (flowers for the dead) because it is a recurring phrase in ‘Streetcar’, and because combined with Wilde’s seemingly compulsive use of floral imagery (particularly in his descriptions of Sybil Vane), that is exactly what Sibyl was. A flower for the dead.
Additionally, I found it interesting how characters who have such similar issues with realism and truth manifest this problem in such contradictory ways–Blanche with her aversion to light, and Sybil with her living under it. Because, for Blanche, light was equal to realism, realism was equal to truth, and truth was equal to a loss of magic. For her, her avoidance of light was both literal and symbolic, because in the physical world, she did not want others to know her age, and as such, this is symbolic of this denial of her reality and the truth. Her literally ‘keeping others (and herself) in the dark’ meant maintaining her magic act, thus allowing her to live in her own version of the truth.
With Sybil, however, the light represents her
deception magic and her rejection of her reality, because a life under the stage lights is a life that lacks realism. For her, reality lives in the shadows and waits in the wings, because, in contrast to Blanche, Sybil Vane has youth and beauty and doesn’t need to hide behind shadows. She is someone who is very much waiting to be found rather than someone who hides behind the image of someone she can’t be, however the person that Dorian found wasn’t her at all.
This is mirrored both in Blanche’s discovery of Allan Grey’s true identity, as well as Mitch’s discovery of her’s. Additionally, Blanche destroyed her Grey boy, which in turn destroyed her, just as Sybil let Dorian destroy her which in turn lead to his own demise.