The Seven Moods of Dorian is not a book, a play, or a movie – it’s just a chapter, but it’s my favourite chapter ever written.
The Flying Inn is a novel by G K Chesterton, printed in 1914. It’s technically a fantasy, since the plot is about the fantastic notion of what would happen if England suddenly became reformed by a party of Islamic Progressives. It more particularly involves the adventures of a barman and his friend who, finding the sale and consumption of alcohol outlawed, decide to take their inn on the road (in the form of a cask of wine and a wheel of cheese).
It’s not my favourite Chesterton book – the plot and some of the characters are lumpy and perhaps implausible – but there are many reasons to admire it. One reason is that it contains some of the most playful and sincere Chesterton poems, a few of which have become rather famous in their own right, such as The Rolling English Road and The Song of Right and Wrong. But the main reason I love it is because it contains Chapter XVI – The Seven Moods of Dorian, a chapter which I’ve read at least a dozen times – even though I’ve read the book only once.
It involves an aristocratic poet named Dorian Wimpole, ‘The Poet of the Birds’, who is a little too separated from real life to write really effective poetry. At the point in the story that Chapter XVI starts, Dorian has been tricked out of his limousine by the main characters, who give him a donkey to replace it, and drive off, leaving him stranded in the British countryside. He then progresses through seven Moods (not all of which are named, but which resemble): Hatred, Meditation, Beauty, Adventure, Astonishment (also called the Unexpected Mood), Righteous Indignation, and lastly, Oysters.
It’s such a remarkable chapter in English literature since it concerns so deeply such a minor character of the narrative. What Dorian Wimpole goes through in this chapter comes up just again in the climax of the book, to rather ambiguous effect, which only makes it more amusing. It is also written with such delight and sensitivity (putting it up there with the comic masterpieces of Jerome K Jerome, or the Grossmiths) as well as psychological insight, that it is a clear masterwork in itself. It seems to me that in today’s age, a chapter written in this way would be edited out for not moving the story along enough, and being too tangential, so it has the taste of something superfluously indulgent – or risky and naughty.
I can’t recommend it, or the book, highly enough.