The story of “The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde begins with Basil Hallward, a painter in the Victorian

era, talking with a friend in the garden outside his home. The friend is Lord Henry Wotton, a hedonistic man with a silver tongue and sharp wit. Basil is telling him about a new subject that has taken over his painting Dorian Grey, a young man who has unsurpassed beauty, the innocence of youth, and wealth. Basil fears that his love of the man borders on idolatry, which Henry laughs at. Henry was never concerned by sin, seeing it only as a way to receive pleasure faster. Lord Henry is fascinated by Basil’s description of Dorian and asks to meet him, since he is to be arriving soon to sit for a portrait. Against Basil’s better judgment, he allows Henry to stay. When Dorian arrives, and sits Basil is completely absorbed in the work of painting telling Henry to keep the lad entertained so he will not tire of sitting. Lord Henry proceeds to do so by telling Gray about how youth and beauty are all important, how it is impossible to keep it, and while he still had it he should try to experience all the pleasures of the world, especially the pleasures of the body and its senses. The portrait is by far Basil’s best work ever, but upon seeing it Dorian is upset that it will stay as beautiful as the day it was painted and his beauty and youth will be spent. In his grief he said that he would give his soul, if only the painting would bear the marring of time instead. Feeling that the painting shows too much his idolatry for Dorian Grey, Basil offers the painting to Dorian so that he will not be so upset. Dorian accepts it woefully. Over the next few weeks Dorian and Lord Henry become quite inseparable. Henry finds it fascinating at how he can impose his own perceptions and ideas on Dorian with such ease. Dorian begins to live a sinful life dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure. Shortly after, he falls in love with a young actress named Sybil Vane, seeing her as the

supreme form of beauty as she is the heroine of every Shakespearian play she performs in. She also falls madly in love with him, referring to him only as “Prince Charming” to her family and friends. Her brother, James Vane, who is about to leave to find his fortune in Australia, warns her that with the higher class love is short and fleeting and promised that if any harm came to her from this “Prince Charming” he would not rest until he had killed him. Unfortunately, when Sybil felt true love she could no longer pretend the fake love she was supposed to feel on stage. Appalled after a bad performance Dorian met her backstage and broke off their engagement. While Sybil lay on the floor crying, Dorian returned to his home and by chance looked at his portrait. It had changed. Where before there was an enchanting smile there was now an ugly sneer. Upset, but rationalizing it must be a trick of the light, Dorian goes to bed. Upon waking, Dorian remembers what he thought he saw last night and looks again. It is true, his portrait sneers back at him. Realizing his prayer has come true he vows to make things right with Sybil and writes her a lengthy love letter. This is interrupted soon by the visit of Lord Henry with news that Sybil Vane is dead. Being the dramatic type, she poisoned herself in her grief. Unable to make amends for his cruelty, Dorian accepts Lord Henry’s view of Sybil’s death as a truly romantic gesture and to feel no responsibility for it. After Lord Henry leaves Dorian decides it will not do to have his very soul on display and moves the portrait of himself to an unused upper room and locks it with a key so no one but he could watch it change. In the book eighteen years pass and Dorian is the talk of the town. Rumors fly about his shady endeavors, but they remain only rumors. No one could believe that such a good looking man could possibly be as vicious as he was rumored to be. He spends his life search for new and sinful pleasures. On a foggy night at 2 a.m., Dorian Grey once

again meets Basil Hallward. Basil has been looking for him, as he is about to leave for Paris and wishes to show the portrait he painted of Dorian at an exhibit. Dorian invites Basil into his house without waking any of the servants. Basil tells Dorian of all the rumors he has heard about him and asked if any of them were true. Dorian decides on impulse to show Basil his painting that he has hidden in the abandoned upper room. Upon seeing it, Basil is horrified that someone has satirized his wonderful painting with this hideous one. Dorian then reminds him of the wish he had made so many years ago when the painting was finished, and shows Basil his own signature along the bottom of the painting. Horrified even more at what became of Dorian’s soul, Basil cries for him to repent from his wickedness. In anger, Dorian stabs the man who painted this portrait that has taken over his life. Glancing at his portrait as he leaves he room, Dorian notices the painting’s hands are stained with blood. After a peaceful night of sleep, Dorian sends a letter to a doctor that he was once friends with. The doctor, Alan Campbell, arrives and Dorian sends his butler on a chase for orchids. Dorian blackmails his old friend to cremate the body upstairs and not tell anyone, as it is the only piece of evidence. The body is cremated and Dorian is off the hook. Overwhelmed by the complexity of his life, Dorian goes to a frequented opium den to forget this trouble. By chance a sailor is sitting across the room when Dorian is referred to by the name “Prince Charming”. The sailor follows Dorian out of the opium den, and attacks him in an alley. It is none other than James Vane, the brother of Sybil Vane, Dorian’s first love. Knowing nothing of the man Sybil had killed herself because of, other than his title of “Prince Charming” James had all but given up trying to find the gentleman. With a gun to his head, and being accused of a crime he truly committed

Dorian asked how many years ago James’s sister had died. When it was confirmed by James that it was eighteen years ago, Dorian told him to look upon his face in the light. James did so and found the man he was holding couldn’t have been much more than in his early twenties and let him go with a start, fearing the crime he had almost committed. The curse of the painting saving him, Dorian hurried away and disappeared shortly after James found out he was nearly forty. Afterwards James begins to follow him in order to kill him. James is accidentally shot while hiding in the brush while Dorian is part of a hunting party. Having once again avoided paying for his crimes, Dorian feels sorrow and vows to repent. Arriving at home he goes to see if his painting has changed to show that he has begun to repent. When he removes the screen from the portrait he sees hypocrisy in his own eyes. He knows that as long as he does not confess his past sins, the good things he does now will never make up for them. In a fit of anger, he grabs the same knife that he used to kill the painter and stabs the portrait through the heat. A deathly scream is heard and the servants come rushing in. Upon entering the great study they see a beautiful unharmed portrait of Master Dorian Grey and in front of it a decrepit, wrinkled, ugly old man with a dagger through his heart wearing their Master’s clothes and jewels. At the beginning of the book I didn’t find “The Picture of Dorian Grey the least bit entertaining. As the book opened I found no interest in Grey, but had a great interest for both Basil and Lord Henry. It seemed to me that Dorian was too neutral to be an interesting character. While he much the same beliefs as Basil, he adopted everything said by Lord Henry as a fact as well. The character only started becoming interesting to me after he killed Basil. After that is when he has true character. Before that he was always flip-flopping with his morals, but once you have done something as wicked as that you

have chosen sides. Not only was it interesting because it forced Dorian to choose sides in his morals, but it also thickened the plot as an extraordinary conflict. That it was resolved so quickly was a bit of an upset, but it was never resolved in Dorian’s soul. This spiced up the entire novel. I enjoyed watching the corruption of the poor youth that Dorian once was, as Lord Henry opened new doors of thought to him. As Dorian tries to experience all the pleasures the world can offer him at the expense of others, and teaching others the ways of the hedonistic life that has corrupted him, he becomes increasingly unhappy. He knows of his wickedness but cannot help it. It is an addiction that he knows he must stop but cannot bring himself to do it. The pleasures that he seeks are pleasurable one moment, but in memory are painful. They are painful because he cannot have them all the time and his soul must pay when he does have them. I enjoyed this book by the end of it because it showed the lifestyle and morals of the time period. I learned the view of Europeans towards the Americas at that time. What the Victorians thought was important to one’s life and a there was a good lesson of what happens when you sin. It also takes you into the mind of a person growing up in that world. It shows how people in your life can influence you, and how you must beware believing everything that you are told. This book relates to humanities through its story by showing what the Victorian era was like. Their beliefs, morals, everyday life were all shown through out the book. It’s a real historical record of a time that isn’t here anymore. It shows the double standard of the time, with the scandals and women with a past. It shows the culture of the time period with the operas, Shakespearian plays, gentlemen’s clubs, and hunting parties.

It also shows the more regular things of the times. It gives a description of a hansom, as one person buggy, the Victorian equivalent of taxi. It describes streets well known for wonder, nobility, or viciousness. It even gives you an accurate description of what most of the houses were like, with the three stories, bars on the windows, and libraries and studies. This book relates to humanities in how it explains and describes everyday life in the Victorian era. Five quotes I found important from the book were: 1. “You poisoned me with a book once. I should not forgive that. Harry, promise me that you will never lend that book to anyone. It does harm.” “My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize. You will soon be going about like the converted, and the revivalist, warning people against all the sins of which you have grown tired. You are much too delightful to do that. Besides, it is of no use. You and I are what we are, and will be what we will be. As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that. Art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire to act. It is superbly sterile. The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame. That is all.”1 2. “Having reached the door, he turned the key, and opened it. He did not even glace at the murdered man. He felt that the secret of the whole thing was not to realize the situation. The friend who had painted the fatal portrait, to which all his misery had been due, had gone out of his life. That was enough.”2157

1 2

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Pearson Education Inc. 2007 p. 214 Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Pearson Education Inc. 2007 p. 157


“I can’t explain to you, Basil, but I must never sit to you again. There is something quite fatal about a portrait. It has a life of its own.”3


“’To be good is to be in harmony with one’s self,’ he replied, touching the thin stem of his glass with his pale, fine-pointed fingers. ‘Discord is to be forced to be in harmony with others. One’s own life--- that is the important thing…..Besides, Individualism has really the higher aim.’”4


“’But, surely, if one lives merely for one’s self, Henry, one pays a terrible price for doing so?’ suggested the painter. ‘Yes, we are overcharged for everything nowadays. I should fancy that the real tragedy of the poor is that they can afford nothing but self-denial. Beautiful sins, like beautiful things, are the privilege of the rich.’”5

3 4

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Pearson Education Inc. 2007 p. 115 Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Pearson Education Inc. 2007 p. 80 5 Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Pearson Education Inc. 2007 p. 80

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