The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1856 - 1900)

The Picture of Dorian

by Oscar Wilde (1856
- 1900)

Type of Work:

Fantasy novel


London, England; late nineteenth century

Principal Characters

Dorian Gray, an extremely handsome young

Basil Hallward, Dorian's older friend,
a portrait artist

Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian's vile tempter

Sibyl Vane, Dorian's actress-lover

James Vane, Sibyl's brother

Story Overveiw

As Basil Hallward artfully put the finishing
touches on his full-length portrait of an extraordiiiarily beautiful young
man, Lord Henr Wotton paid him a call. Lord Henry mucn admired the painting
and desired to meet the subject. The artist objected, knowing the poisonous
influence of which Lord Henry was capable; young Dorian Gray was his ideal
of purity and had inspired Basil to the most expressive art of his life.

Just then, in walked Dorian Gray. Against

Hallward's wishes, the two met, and Dorian was immediately taken by Lord

Henry's fascinating words, presence and wittiness. Henry flattered Dorian
with his comments on the virtues of beauty, the charms of youth, and expressed
his sadness at the thought that such youth should fade into the ugliness
of age. This caused Dorian to plummet into melancholy.

Seeing his portrait for the first time,

Dorian gasped at his own beauty. He lamented that the picture would mock
him his entire life; age would indeed steal his color and grace: "I know,
now, that when one loses one's good looks, whatever they may be, one loses
everything ... Lord Henry Wotton is perfectly right. Youth is the only
thing worth having. When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself."

Then he wished instead that the picture might grow old while he remained
forever young: "I would give everything. I would give my soul for that!"

Alarmed by these passions in the young man, Hallward attempted to destroy
the painting, but Dorian stopped him and had it taken home that very evening.

After that first meeting, Dorian and Lord

Henry became fast friends and frequent partners at local theatres. Henry
presented Dorian with a gift - a book about a young man's passions, sins
and vileness. Dorian became captivated by its plot. For years he leafed
through its pages - anct the book became an entrenched, tragic guide in
the life of Dorian Gray.

Dorian met and fell madly in love with

Sibyl Vane, a beautiful and talented actress who was portraying Juliet
in a cheap theatrical troupe. But the night Dorian invited Lord fienry
and Basil Hallward to meet his new love, her performance was lifeless.

She was hissed and booed by even the uneducated audience. Afterward, she
joyfully explained to the disappointed Dorian that her love for her "Prince

Charming," - as she knew him - had transformed her from a mere actress
into a real woman. Dorian coldly shunned her, admitting that his love for
her had been killed, and vowed that he would see her no more.

On returning home, he was surprised to
notice that the face in his painting had changed. A touch of cruelty now
lined the mouth. His wish that the painting might be seared with suffering
and guilt while his own face was left untarnished, had been granted!

But now he pitied the portrait and resolved
to live a pure life. He would return to Sibyl and marry her. He would see
no more of the selfish Lord Henry. Dorian wrote Sibyl a passionate letter
and fell asleep, confident that he would make amends to Sybil the following

However, that next morning Lord Henry brought
bad news: in grief, Sibyl had killed herself during the night. Lord Henry
charmed the devastated youth, urging him to imagine the tragedy as a drama,
with Juliet or Ophelia the victims, not the flesh-and-blood Sibyl.

No, she will never come to life. She has
played her last part ... To you at least she was always a dream, a phantom
that flitted through Shakespeare's plays ... But don't waste your tears
over Sibyl Vatic. She was less real than they are.

Now Dorian forgot his good resolutions.

If fate would deal unjustly with him, he, in turn, determined to give himself
up to a life of pleasure and let the portrait bear the burden of his corrupting
soul. Eternal youth, wild joys, infinite passion would be his.

Horrified at Dorian's lack of remorse and
feeling, Basil Hallward tried to reason with him. But Dorian was unmoved.

He continued to guard the secret of the portrait from Basil, first covering
it a with a sheet, and later moving it to an upstairs room, unopened since
his grandfather had died mere five years earlier. Separated by this chasm
of secrecy and scorn that Dorian