The picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. - HTML preview

PLEASE NOTE: This is an HTML preview only and some elements such as links or page numbers may be incorrect.
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.

‘Who is she?’

‘Her name is Sibyl Vane.’

‘Never heard of her.’

‘No one has. People will some day, however. She is a genius.’

‘My dear boy, no woman is a genius: women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. They represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as we men represent the triumph of mind 54 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

over morals. There are only two kinds of women, the plain and the colored. The plain women are very useful. If you want to gain a reputation for respectability, you have merely to take them down to supper. The other women are very charming. They commit one mistake, however.

They paint in order to try to look young. Our grandmothers painted in order to try to talk brilliantly.

Rouge and esprit used to go together. That has all gone out now. As long as a woman can look ten years younger than her own daughter, she is perfectly satisfied. As for conversation, there are only five women in London worth talking to, and two of these can’t be admitted into decent society. However, tell me about your genius. How long have you known her?’

‘About three weeks. Not so much. About two weeks and two days.’

‘How did you come across her?’

‘I will tell you, Harry; but you mustn’t be unsympathetic about it. After all, it never would have happened if I had not met you. You filled me with a wild desire to know everything about life. For days after I met you, something seemed to throb in my veins. As I lounged in the Park, or strolled down Piccadilly, I used to look at every one who passed me, and wonder with a mad 55 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

curiosity what sort of lives they led. Some of them fascinated me. Others filled me with terror. There was an exquisite poison in the air. I had a passion for sensations.

‘One evening about seven o’clock I determined to go out in search of some adventure. I felt that this gray, monstrous London of ours, with its myriads of people, its splendid sinners, and its sordid sins, as you once said, must have something in store for me. I fancied a thousand things.

‘The mere danger gave me a sense of delight. I remembered what you had said to me on that wonderful night when we first dined together, about the search for beauty being the poisonous secret of life. I don’t know what I expected, but I went out, and wandered eastward, soon losing my way in a labyrinth of grimy streets and black, grassless squares. About half-past eight I passed by a little third- rate theatre, with great flaring gas-jets and gaudy play-bills. A hideous Jew, in the most amazing waistcoat I ever beheld in my life, was standing at the entrance, smoking a vile cigar. He had greasy ringlets, and an enormous diamond blazed in the centre of a soiled shirt. ‘’Ave a box, my lord?’ he said, when he saw me, and he took off his hat with an act of gorgeous servility. There was something about him, Harry, that amused me. He was 56 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

such a monster. You will laugh at me, I know, but I really went in and paid a whole guinea for the stage-box. To the present day I can’t make out why I did so; and yet if I hadn’t!—my dear Harry, if I hadn’t, I would have missed the greatest romance of my life. I see you are laughing. It is horrid of you!’

‘I am not laughing, Dorian; at least I am not laughing at you. But you should not say the greatest romance of your life. You should say the first romance of your life. You will always be loved, and you will always be in love with love. There are exquisite things in store for you. This is merely the beginning.’

‘Do you think my nature so shallow?’ cried Dorian Gray, angrily.

‘No; I think your nature so deep.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘My dear boy, people who only love once in their lives are really shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or the lack of imagination. Faithlessness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the intellectual life,—simply a confession of failure. But I don’t want to interrupt you.

Go on with your story.’

57 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘Well, I found myself seated in a horrid little private box, with a vulgar drop-scene staring me in the face. I looked out behind the curtain, and surveyed the house. It was a tawdry affair, all Cupids and cornucopias, like a third-rate wedding-cake. The gallery and pit were fairly full, but the two rows of dingy stalls were quite empty, and there was hardly a person in what I suppose they called the dress-circle. Women went about with oranges and ginger-beer, and there was a terrible consumption of nuts going on.’

‘It must have been just like the palmy days of the British Drama.’

‘Just like, I should fancy, and very horrid. I began to wonder what on earth I should do, when I caught sight of the play-bill. What do you think the play was, Harry?’

‘I should think ‘The Idiot Boy, or Dumb but Innocent.’ Our fathers used to like that sort of piece, I believe. The longer I live, Dorian, the more keenly I feel that whatever was good enough for our fathers is not good enough for us. In art, as in politics, les grand pères ont toujours tort.’

‘This play was good enough for us, Harry. It was

‘Romeo and Juliet.’ I must admit I was rather annoyed at the idea of seeing Shakespeare done in such a wretched 58 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

hole of a place. Still, I felt interested, in a sort of way. At any rate, I determined to wait for the first act. There was a dreadful orchestra, presided over by a young Jew who sat at a cracked piano, that nearly drove me away, but at last the drop-scene was drawn up, and the play began. Romeo was a stout elderly gentleman, with corked eyebrows, a husky tragedy voice, and a figure like a beer-barrel.

Mercutio was almost as bad. He was played by the low-comedian, who had introduced gags of his own and was on most familiar terms with the pit. They were as grotesque as the scenery, and that looked as if it had come out of a pantomime of fifty years ago. But Juliet! Harry, imagine a girl, hardly seventeen years of age, with a little flower-like face, a small Greek head with plaited coils of dark-brown hair, eyes that were violet wells of passion, lips that were like the petals of a rose. She was the loveliest thing I had ever seen in my life. You said to me once that pathos left you unmoved, but that beauty, mere beauty, could fill your eyes with tears. I tell you, Harry, I could hardly see this girl for the mist of tears that came across me. And her voice,I never heard such a voice. It was very low at first, with deep mellow notes, that seemed to fall singly upon one’s ear. Then it became a little louder, and sounded like a flute or a distant hautbois. In the garden-59 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

scene it had all the tremulous ecstasy that one hears just before dawn when nightingales are singing. There were moments, later on, when it had the wild passion of violins.

You know how a voice can stir one. Your voice and the voice of Sibyl Vane are two things that I shall never forget.

When I close my eyes, I hear them, and each of them says something different. I don’t know which to follow. Why should I not love her? Harry, I do love her. She is everything to me in life. Night after night I go to see her play. One evening she is Rosalind, and the next evening she is Imogen. I have seen her die in the gloom of an Italian tomb, sucking the poison from her lover’s lips. I have watched her wandering through the forest of Arden, disguised as a pretty boy in hose and doublet and dainty cap. She has been mad, and has come into the presence of a guilty king, and given him rue to wear, and bitter herbs to taste of. She has been innocent, and the black hands of jealousy have crushed her reed-like throat. I have seen her in every age and in every costume. Ordinary women never appeal to one’s imagination. They are limited to their century. No glamour ever transfigures them. One knows their minds as easily as one knows their bonnets.

One can always find them. There is no mystery in one of them. They ride in the Park in the morning, and chatter at 60 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

tea-parties in the afternoon. They have their stereotyped smile, and their fashionable manner. They are quite obvious. But an actress! How different an actress is! Why didn’t you tell me that the only thing worth loving is an actress?’

‘Because I have loved so many of them, Dorian.’

‘Oh, yes, horrid people with dyed hair and painted faces.’

‘Don’t run down dyed hair and painted faces. There is an extraordinary charm in them, sometimes.’

‘I wish now I had not told you about Sibyl Vane.’

‘You could not have helped telling me, Dorian. All through your life you will tell me everything you do.’

‘Yes, Harry, I believe that is true. I cannot help telling you things. You have a curious influence over me. If I ever did a crime, I would come and confide it to you.

You would understand me.’

‘People like you—the wilful sunbeams of life—don’t commit crimes, Dorian. But I am much obliged for the compliment, all the same. And now tell me,—reach me the matches, like a good boy: thanks,—tell me, what are your relations with Sibyl Vane?’

Dorian Gray leaped to his feet, with flushed cheeks and burning eyes. ‘Harry, Sibyl Vane is sacred!’

61 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘It is only the sacred things that are worth touching, Dorian,’ said Lord Henry, with a strange touch of pathos in his voice. ‘But why should you be annoyed? I suppose she will be yours some day. When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls romance.

You know her, at any rate, I suppose?’

‘Of course I know her. On the first night I was at the theatre, the horrid old Jew came round to the box after the performance was over, and offered to bring me behind the scenes and introduce me to her. I was furious with him, and told him that Juliet had been dead for hundreds of years, and that her body was lying in a marble tomb in Verona. I think, from his blank look of amazement, that he thought I had taken too much champagne, or something.’

‘I am not surprised.’

‘I was not surprised either. Then he asked me if I wrote for any of the newspapers. I told him I never even read them. He seemed terribly disappointed at that, and confided to me that all the dramatic critics were in a conspiracy against him, and that they were all to be bought.’

62 of 250

eBook brought to you by

Create, view, and edit PDF. Download the free trial version.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘I believe he was quite right there. But, on the other hand, most of them are not at all expensive.’

‘Well, he seemed to think they were beyond his means.

By this time the lights were being put out in the theatre, and I had to go. He wanted me to try some cigars which he strongly recommended. I declined. The next night, of course, I arrived at the theatre again. When he saw me he made me a low bow, and assured me that I was a patron of art. He was a most offensive brute, though he had an extraordinary passion for Shakespeare. He told me once, with an air of pride, that his three bankruptcies were entirely due to the poet, whom he insisted on calling ‘The Bard.’ He seemed to think it a distinction.’

‘It was a distinction, my dear Dorian,—a great distinction. But when did you first speak to Miss Sibyl Vane?’

‘The third night. She had been playing Rosalind. I could not help going round. I had thrown her some flowers, and she had looked at me; at least I fancied that she had. The old Jew was persistent. He seemed determined to bring me behind, so I consented. It was curious my not wanting to know her, wasn’t it?’

‘No; I don’t think so.’

‘My dear Harry, why?’

63 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘I will tell you some other time. Now I want to know about the girl.’

‘Sibyl? Oh, she was so shy, and so gentle. There is something of a child about her. Her eyes opened wide in exquisite wonder when I told her what I thought of her performance, and she seemed quite unconscious of her power. I think we were both rather nervous. The old Jew stood grinning at the door-way of the dusty greenroom, making elaborate speeches about us both, while we stood looking at each other like children. He would insist on calling me ‘My Lord,’ so I had to assure Sibyl that I was not anything of the kind. She said quite simply to me,

‘You look more like a prince.’’

‘Upon my word, Dorian, Miss Sibyl knows how to pay compliments.’

‘You don’t understand her, Harry. She regarded me merely as a person in a play. She knows nothing of life.

She lives with her mother, a faded tired woman who played Lady Capulet in a sort of magenta dressing-wrapper on the first night, and who looks as if she had seen better days.’

‘I know that look. It always depresses me.’

‘The Jew wanted to tell me her history, but I said it did not interest me.’

64 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘You were quite right. There is always something infinitely mean about other people’s tragedies.’

‘Sibyl is the only thing I care about. What is it to me where she came from? From her little head to her little feet, she is absolutely and entirely divine. I go to see her act every night of my life, and every night she is more marvellous.’

‘That is the reason, I suppose, that you will never dine with me now. I thought you must have some curious romance on hand. You have; but it is not quite what I expected.’

‘My dear Harry, we either lunch or sup together every day, and I have been to the Opera with you several times.’

‘You always come dreadfully late.’

‘Well, I can’t help going to see Sibyl play, even if it is only for an act. I get hungry for her presence; and when I think of the wonderful soul that is hidden away in that little ivory body, I am filled with awe.’

‘You can dine with me to-night, Dorian, can’t you?’

He shook his head. ‘To night she is Imogen,’ he answered, ‘and tomorrow night she will be Juliet.’

‘When is she Sibyl Vane?’

‘Never.’

‘I congratulate you.’

65 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘How horrid you are! She is all the great heroines of the world in one. She is more than an individual. You laugh, but I tell you she has genius. I love her, and I must make her love me. You, who know all the secrets of life, tell me how to charm Sibyl Vane to love me! I want to make Romeo jealous. I want the dead lovers of the world to hear our laughter, and grow sad. I want a breath of our passion to stir their dust into consciousness, to wake their ashes into pain. My God, Harry, how I worship her!’ He was walking up and down the room as he spoke. Hectic spots of red burned on his cheeks. He was terribly excited.

Lord Henry watched him with a subtle sense of pleasure. How different he was now from the shy, frightened boy he had met in Basil Hallward’s studio! His nature had developed like a flower, had borne blossoms of scarlet flame. Out of its secret hiding-place had crept his Soul, and Desire had come to meet it on the way.

‘And what do you propose to do?’ said Lord Henry, at last.

‘I want you and Basil to come with me some night and see her act. I have not the slightest fear of the result. You won’t be able to refuse to recognize her genius. Then we must get her out of the Jew’s hands. She is bound to him for three years—at least for two years and eight months—

66 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

from the present time. I will have to pay him something, of course. When all that is settled, I will take a West-End theatre and bring her out properly. She will make the world as mad as she has made me.’

‘Impossible, my dear boy!’

‘Yes, she will. She has not merely art, consummate art-instinct, in her, but she has personality also; and you have often told me that it is personalities, not principles, that move the age.’

‘Well, what night shall we go?’

‘Let me see. To-day is Tuesday. Let us fix to-morrow.

She plays Juliet to-morrow.’

‘All right. The Bristol at eight o’clock; and I will get Basil.’

‘Not eight, Harry, please. Half-past six. We must be there before the curtain rises. You must see her in the first act, where she meets Romeo.’

‘Half-past six! What an hour! It will be like having a meat-tea. However, just as you wish. Shall you see Basil between this and then? Or shall I write to him?’

‘Dear Basil! I have not laid eyes on him for a week. It is rather horrid of me, as he has sent me my portrait in the most wonderful frame, designed by himself, and, though I am a little jealous of it for being a whole month younger 67 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

than I am, I must admit that I delight in it. Perhaps you had better write to him. I don’t want to see him alone. He says things that annoy me.’

Lord Henry smiled. ‘He gives you good advice, I suppose. People are very fond of giving away what they need most themselves.’

‘You don’t mean to say that Basil has got any passion or any romance in him?’

‘I don’t know whether he has any passion, but he certainly has romance,’ said Lord Henry, with an amused look in his eyes. ‘Has he never let you know that?’

‘Never. I must ask him about it. I am rather surprised to hear it. He is the best of fellows, but he seems to me to be just a bit of a Philistine. Since I have known you, Harry, I have discovered that.’

‘Basil, my dear boy, puts everything that is charming in him into his work. The consequence is that he has nothing left for life but his prejudices, his principles, and his common sense. The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful are bad artists. Good artists give everything to their art, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in themselves. A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes 68 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.’

‘I wonder is that really so, Harry?’ said Dorian Gray, putting some perfume on his handkerchief out of a large gold-topped bottle that stood on the table. ‘It must be, if you say so. And now I must be off. Imogen is waiting for me. Don’t forget about to-morrow. Good- by.’

As he left the room, Lord Henry’s heavy eyelids drooped, and he began to think. Certainly few people had ever interested him so much as Dorian Gray, and yet the lad’s mad adoration of some one else caused him not the slightest pang of annoyance or jealousy. He was pleased by it. It made him a more interesting study. He had been always enthralled by the methods of science, but the ordinary subject-matter of science had seemed to him trivial and of no import. And so he had begun by vivisecting himself, as he had ended by vivisecting others.

Human life,—that appeared to him the one thing worth investigating. There was nothing else of any value, compared to it. It was true that as one watched life in its curious crucible of pain and pleasure, one could not wear 69 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

over one’s face a mask of glass, or keep the sulphurous fumes from troubling the brain and making the imagination turbid with monstrous fancies and misshapen dreams. There were poisons so subtle that to know their properties one had to sicken of them. There were maladies so strange that one had to pass through them if one sought to understand their nature. And, yet, what a great reward one received! How wonderful the whole world became to one! To note the curious hard logic of passion, and the emotional colored life of the intellect,—to observe where they met, and where they separated, at what point they became one, and at what point they were at discord,—

there was a delight in that! What matter what the cost was? One could never pay too high a price for any sensation.

He was conscious—and the thought brought a gleam of pleasure into his brown agate eyes—that it was through certain words of his, musical words said with musical utterance, that Dorian Gray’s soul had turned to this white girl and bowed in worship before her. To a large extent, the lad was his own creation. He had made him premature. That was something. Ordinary people waited till life disclosed to them its secrets, but to the few, to the elect, the mysteries of life were revealed before the veil 70 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

was drawn away. Sometimes this was the effect of art, and chiefly of the art of literature, which dealt immediately with the passions and the intellect. But now and then a complex personality took the place and assumed the office of art, was indeed, in its way, a real work of art, Life having its elaborate masterpieces, just as poetry has, or sculpture, or painting.

Yes, the lad was premature. He was gathering his harvest while it was yet spring. The pulse and passion of youth were in him, but he was becoming self-conscious. It was delightful to watch him. With his beautiful face, and his beautiful soul, he was a thing to wonder at. It was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end. He was like one of those gracious figures in a pageant or a play, whose joys seem to be remote from one, but whose sorrows stir one’s sense of beauty, and whose wounds are like red roses.

Soul and body, body and soul—how mysterious they were! There was animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality. The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade. Who could say where the fleshly impulse ceased, or the psychical impulse began?

How shallow were the arbitrary definitions of ordinary psychologists! And yet how difficult to decide between the 71 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

claims of the various schools! Was the soul a shadow seated in the house of sin? Or was the body really in the soul, as Giordano Bruno thought? The separation of spirit from matter was a mystery, and the union of spirit with matter was a mystery also.

He began to wonder whether we should ever make psychology so absolute a science that each little spring of life would be revealed to us. As it was, we always misunderstood ourselves, and rarely understood others.

Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name we gave to our mistakes. Men had, as a rule, regarded it as a mode of warning, had claimed for it a certain moral efficacy in the formation of character, had praised it as something that taught us what to follow and showed us what to avoid. But there was no motive power in experience. It was as little of an active cause as conscience itself. All that it really demonstrated was that our future would be the same as our past, and that the sin we had done once, and with loathing, we would do many times, and with joy.

It was clear to him that the experimental method was the only method by which one could arrive at any scientific analysis of the passions; and certainly Dorian Gray was a subject made to his hand, and seemed to 72 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

promise rich and fruitful results. His sudden mad love for Sibyl Vane was a psychological phenomenon of no small interest. There was no doubt that curiosity had much to do with it, curiosity and the desire for new experiences; yet it was not a simple but rather a very complex passion.

What there was in it of the purely sensuous instinct of boyhood had been transformed by the workings of the imagination, changed into something that seemed to the boy himself to be remote from sense, and was for that very reason all the more dangerous. It was the passions about whose origin we deceived ourselves that tyrannized most strongly over us. Our weakest motives were those of whose nature we were conscious. It often happened that when we thought we were experimenting on others we were really experimenting on ourselves.

While Lord Henry sat dreaming on these things, a knock came to the door, and his valet entered, and reminded him it was time to dress for dinner. He got up and looked out into the street. The sunset had smitten into scarlet gold the upper windows of the houses opposite.

The panes glowed like plates of heated metal. The sky above was like a faded rose. He thought of Dorian Gray’s young fiery-colored life, and wondered how it was all going to end.

73 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

When he arrived home, about half-past twelve o’clock, he saw a telegram lying on the hall-table. He opened it and found it was from Dorian. It was to tell him that he was engaged to be married to Sibyl Vane.

74 of 250

eBook brought to you by

Create, view, and edit PDF. Download the free trial version.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Chapter IV

‘I suppose you have heard the news, Basil?’ said Lord Henry on the following evening, as Hallward was shown into a little private room at the Bristol where dinner had been laid for three.

‘No, Harry,’ answered Hallward, giving his hat and coat to the bowing waiter. ‘What is it? Nothing about politics, I hope? They don’t interest me. There is hardly a single person in the House of Commons worth painting; though many of them would be the better for a little whitewashing.’

‘Dorian Gray is engaged to be married,’ said Lord Henry, watching him as he spoke.

Hallward turned perfectly pale, and a curious look flashed for a moment into his eyes, and then passed away, leaving them dull.’ Dorian engaged to be married!’ he cried. ‘Impossible!’

‘It is perfectly true.’

‘To whom?’

‘To some little actress or other.’

‘I can’t believe it. Dorian is far too sensible.’

75 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘Dorian is far too wise not to do foolish things now and then, my dear Basil.’

‘Marriage is hardly a thing that one can do now and then, Harry,’ said Hallward, smiling.

‘Except in America. But I didn’t say he was married. I said he was engaged to be married. There is a great difference. I have a distinct remembrance of being married, but I have no recollection at all of being engaged.

I am inclined to think that I never was engaged.’

‘But think of Dorian’s birth, and position, and wealth.

It would be absurd for him to marry so much beneath him.’

‘If you want him to marry this girl, tell him that, Basil.

He is sure to do it then. Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.’

‘I hope the girl is good, Harry. I don’t want to see Dorian tied to some vile creature, who might degrade his nature and ruin his intellect.’

‘Oh, she is more than good—she is beautiful,’

murmured Lord Henry, sipping a glass of vermouth and orange-bitters. ‘Dorian says she is beautiful; and he is not often wrong about things of that kind. Your portrait of him has quickened his appreciation of the personal 76 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

appearance of other people. It has had that excellent effect, among others. We are to see her to-night, if that boy doesn’t forget his appointment.’

‘But do you approve of it, Harry?’ asked Hallward, walking up and down the room, and biting his lip. ‘You can’t approve of it, really. It is some silly infatuation.’

‘I never approve, or disapprove, of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take towards life. We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices. I never take any notice of what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do. If a personality fascinates me, whatever the personality chooses to do is absolutely delightful to me. Dorian Gray falls in love with a beautiful girl who acts Shakespeare, and proposes to marry her. Why not? If he wedded Messalina he would be none the less interesting. You know I am not a champion of marriage. The real drawback to marriage is that it makes one unselfish. And unselfish people are colorless. They lack individuality. Still, there are certain temperaments that marriage makes more complex. They retain their egotism, and add to it many other egos. They are forced to have more than one life. They become more highly organized.

Besides, every experience is of value, and, whatever one may say against marriage, it is certainly an experience. I 77 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

hope that Dorian Gray will make this girl his wife, passionately adore her for six months, and then suddenly become fascinated by some one else. He would be a wonderful study.’

‘You don’t mean all that, Harry; you know you don’t.

If Dorian Gray’s life were spoiled, no one would be sorrier than yourself. You are much better than you pretend to be.’

Lord Henry laughed. ‘The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror. We think that we are generous because we credit our neighbor with those virtues that are likely to benefit ourselves. We praise the banker that we may overdraw our account, and find good qualities in the highwayman in the hope that he may spare our pockets. I mean everything that I have said. I have the greatest contempt for optimism. And as for a spoiled life, no life is spoiled but one whose growth is arrested. If you want to mar a nature, you have merely to reform it. But here is Dorian himself. He will tell you more than I can.’

‘My dear Harry, my dear Basil, you must both congratulate me!’ said the boy, throwing off his evening cape with its satin-lined wings, and shaking each of his friends by the hand in turn. ‘I have never been so happy.

78 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Of course it is sudden: all really delightful things are. And yet it seems to me to be the one thing I have been looking for all my life.’ He was flushed with excitement and pleasure, and looked extraordinarily handsome.

‘I hope you will always be very happy, Dorian,’ said Hallward, ‘but I don’t quite forgive you for not having let me know of your engagement. You let Harry know.’

‘And I don’t forgive you for being late for dinner,’

broke in Lord Henry, putting his hand on the lad’s shoulder, and smiling as he spoke. ‘Come, let us sit down and try what the new chef here is like, and then you will tell us how it all came about.’

‘There is really not much to tell,’ cried Dorian, as they took their seats at the small round table. ‘What happened was simply this. After I left you yesterday evening, Harry, I had some dinner at that curious little Italian restaurant in Rupert Street, you introduced me to, and went down afterwards to the theatre. Sibyl was playing Rosalind. Of course the scenery was dreadful, and the Orlando absurd.

But Sibyl! You should have seen her! When she came on in her boy’s dress she was perfectly wonderful. She wore a moss-colored velvet jerkin with cinnamon sleeves, slim brown cross-gartered hose, a dainty little green cap with a hawk’s feather caught in a jewel, and a hooded cloak lined 79 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

with dull red. She had never seemed to me more exquisite. She had all the delicate grace of that Tanagra figurine that you have in your studio, Basil. Her hair clustered round her face like dark leaves round a pale rose.

As for her acting—well, you will see her to-night. She is simply a born artist. I sat in the dingy box absolutely enthralled. I forgot that I was in London and in the nineteenth century. I was away with my love in a forest that no man had ever seen. After the performance was over I went behind, and spoke to her. As we were sitting together, suddenly there came a look into her eyes that I had never seen there before. My lips moved towards hers.

We kissed each other. I can’t describe to you what I felt at that moment. It seemed to me that all my life had been narrowed to one perfect point of rose-colored joy. She trembled all over, and shook like a white narcissus. Then she flung herself on her knees and kissed my hands. I feel that I should not tell you all this, but I can’t help it. Of course our engagement is a dead secret. She has not even told her own mother. I don’t know what my guardians will say. Lord Radley is sure to be furious. I don’t care. I shall be of age in less than a year, and then I can do what I like. I have been right, Basil, haven’t I, to take my love out of poetry, and to find my wife in Shakespeare’s plays?

80 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Lips that Shakespeare taught to speak have whispered their secret in my ear. I have had the arms of Rosalind around me, and kissed Juliet on the mouth.’

‘Yes, Dorian, I suppose you were right,’ said Hallward, slowly.

‘Have you seen her to-day?’ asked Lord Henry.

Dorian Gray shook his head. ‘I left her in the forest of Arden, I shall find her in an orchard in Verona.’

Lord Henry sipped his champagne in a meditative manner. ‘At what particular point did you mention the word marriage, Dorian? and what did she say in answer?

Perhaps you forgot all about it.’

‘My dear Harry, I did not treat it as a business transaction, and I did not make any formal proposal. I told her that I loved her, and she said she was not worthy to be my wife. Not worthy! Why, the whole world is nothing to me compared to her.’

‘Women are wonderfully practical,’ murmured Lord Henry,—‘much more practical than we are. In situations of that kind we often forget to say anything about marriage, and they always remind us.’

Hallward laid his hand upon his arm. ‘Don’t, Harry.

You have annoyed Dorian. He is not like other men. He 81 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

would never bring misery upon any one. His nature is too fine for that.’

Lord Henry looked across the table. ‘Dorian is never annoyed with me,’ he answered. ‘I asked the question for the best reason possible, for the only reason, indeed, that excuses one for asking any question,—simple curiosity. I have a theory that it is always the women who propose to us, and not we who propose to the women, except, of course, in middle-class life. But then the middle classes are not modern.’

Dorian Gray laughed, and tossed his head. ‘You are quite incorrigible, Harry; but I don’t mind. It is impossible to be angry with you. When you see Sibyl Vane you will feel that the man who could wrong her would be a beast without a heart. I cannot understand how any one can wish to shame what he loves. I love Sibyl Vane. I wish to place her on a pedestal of gold, and to see the world worship the woman who is mine. What is marriage? An irrevocable vow. And it is an irrevocable vow that I want to take. Her trust makes me faithful, her belief makes me good. When I am with her, I regret all that you have taught me. I become different from what you have known me to be. I am changed, and the mere touch of Sibyl 82 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Vane’s hand makes me forget you and all your wrong, fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories.’

‘You will always like me, Dorian,’ said Lord Henry.

‘Will you have some coffee, you fellows?—Waiter, bring coffee, and fine-champagne, and some cigarettes. No: don’t mind the cigarettes; I have some.— Basil, I can’t allow you to smoke cigars. You must have a cigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can you want?— Yes, Dorian, you will always be fond of me.

I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit.’

‘What nonsense you talk, Harry!’ cried Dorian Gray, lighting his cigarette from a fire-breathing silver dragon that the waiter had placed on the table. ‘Let us go down to the theatre. When you see Sibyl you will have a new ideal of life. She will represent something to you that you have never known.’

‘I have known everything,’ said Lord Henry, with a sad look in his eyes, ‘but I am always ready for a new emotion. I am afraid that there is no such thing, for me at any rate. Still, your wonderful girl may thrill me. I love acting. It is so much more real than life. Let us go. Dorian, you will come with me.—I am so sorry, Basil, but there is 83 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

only room for two in the brougham. You must follow us in a hansom.’

They got up and put on their coats, sipping their coffee standing. Hallward was silent and preoccupied. There was a gloom over him. He could not bear this marriage, and yet it seemed to him to be better than many other things that might have happened. After a few moments, they all passed down-stairs. He drove off by himself, as had been arranged, and watched the flashing lights of the little brougham in front of him. A strange sense of loss came over him. He felt that Dorian Gray would never again be to him all that he had been in the past. His eyes darkened, and the crowded flaring streets became blurred to him.

When the cab drew up at the doors of the theatre, it seemed to him that he had grown years older.

84 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Chapter V

For some reason or other, the house was crowded that night, and the fat Jew manager who met them at the door was beaming from ear to ear with an oily, tremulous smile.

He escorted them to their box with a sort of pompous humility, waving his fat jewelled hands, and talking at the top of his voice. Dorian Gray loathed him more than ever.

He felt as if he had come to look for Miranda and had been met by Caliban. Lord Henry, upon the other hand, rather liked him. At least he declared he did, and insisted on shaking him by the hand, and assured him that he was proud to meet a man who had discovered a real genius and gone bankrupt over Shakespeare. Hallward amused himself with watching the faces in the pit. The heat was terribly oppressive, and the huge sunlight flamed like a monstrous dahlia with petals of fire. The youths in the gallery had taken off their coats and waistcoats and hung them over the side. They talked to each other across the theatre, and shared their oranges with the tawdry painted girls who sat by them. Some women were laughing in the pit; their voices were horribly shrill and discordant. The sound of the popping of corks came from the bar.

85 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘What a place to find one’s divinity in!’ said Lord Henry.

‘Yes!’ answered Dorian Gray. ‘It was here I found her, and she is divine beyond all living things. When she acts you will forget everything. These common people here, with their coarse faces and brutal gestures, become quite different when she is on the stage. They sit silently and watch her. They weep and laugh as she wills them to do.

She makes them as responsive as a violin. She spiritualizes them, and one feels that they are of the same flesh and blood as one’s self.’

‘Oh, I hope not!’ murmured Lord Henry, who was scanning the occupants of the gallery through his opera-glass.

‘Don’t pay any attention to him, Dorian,’ said Hallward. ‘I understand what you mean, and I believe in this girl. Any one you love must be marvellous, and any girl that has the effect you describe must be fine and noble. To spiritualize one’s age,—that is something worth doing. If this girl can give a soul to those who have lived without one, if she can create the sense of beauty in people whose lives have been sordid and ugly, if she can strip them of their selfishness and lend them tears for sorrows that are not their own, she is worthy of all your 86 of 250

eBook brought to you by

Create, view, and edit PDF. Download the free trial version.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

adoration, worthy of the adoration of the world. This marriage is quite right. I did not think so at first, but I admit it now. God made Sibyl Vane for you. Without her you would have been incomplete.’

‘Thanks, Basil,’ answered Dorian Gray, pressing his hand. ‘I knew that you would understand me. Harry is so cynical, he terrifies me. But here is the orchestra. It is quite dreadful, but it only lasts for about five minutes.

Then the curtain rises, and you will see the girl to whom I am going to give all my life, to whom I have given everything that is good in me.’

A quarter of an hour afterwards, amidst an extraordinary turmoil of applause, Sibyl Vane stepped on to the stage. Yes, she was certainly lovely to look at,—one of the loveliest creatures, Lord Henry thought, that he had ever seen. There was something of the fawn in her shy grace and startled eyes. A faint blush, like the shadow of a rose in a mirror of silver, came to her cheeks as she glanced at the crowded, enthusiastic house. She stepped back a few paces, and her lips seemed to tremble. Basil Hallward leaped to his feet and began to applaud. Dorian Gray sat motionless, gazing on her, like a man in a dream.

Lord Henry peered through his opera-glass, murmuring,

‘Charming! charming!’

87 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The scene was the hall of Capulet’s house, and Romeo in his pilgrim’s dress had entered with Mercutio and his friends. The band, such as it was, struck up a few bars of music, and the dance began. Through the crowd of ungainly, shabbily-dressed actors, Sibyl Vane moved like a creature from a finer world. Her body swayed, as she danced, as a plant sways in the water. The curves of her throat were like the curves of a white lily. Her hands seemed to be made of cool ivory.

Yet she was curiously listless. She showed no sign of joy when her eyes rested on Romeo. The few lines she had to speak,—

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this; For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss,—

with the brief dialogue that follows, were spoken in a thoroughly artificial manner. The voice was exquisite, but from the point of view of tone it was absolutely false. It was wrong in color. It took away all the life from the verse. It made the passion unreal.

Dorian Gray grew pale as he watched her. Neither of his friends dared to say anything to him. She seemed to 88 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

them to be absolutely incompetent. They were horribly disappointed.

Yet they felt that the true test of any Juliet is the balcony scene of the second act. They waited for that. If she failed there, there was nothing in her.

She looked charming as she came out in the moonlight.

That could not be denied. But the staginess of her acting was unbearable, and grew worse as she went on. Her gestures became absurdly artificial. She over-emphasized everything that she had to say. The beautiful passage,—

Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face, Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night,—

was declaimed with the painful precision of a school-girl who has been taught to recite by some second-rate professor of elocution. When she leaned over the balcony and came to those wonderful lines,—

Although I joy in thee,

I have no joy of this contract to-night: It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden; Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be Ere one can say, ‘It lightens.’ Sweet, good-night!

This bud of love by summer’s ripening breath May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet,—

89 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

she spoke the words as if they conveyed no meaning to her. It was not nervousness. Indeed, so far from being nervous, she seemed absolutely self-contained. It was simply bad art. She was a complete failure.

Even the common uneducated audience of the pit and gallery lost their interest in the play. They got restless, and began to talk loudly and to whistle. The Jew manager, who was standing at the back of the dress-circle, stamped and swore with rage. The only person unmoved was the girl herself.

When the second act was over there came a storm of hisses, and Lord Henry got up from his chair and put on his coat. ‘She is quite beautiful, Dorian,’ he said, ‘but she can’t act. Let us go.’

‘I am going to see the play through,’ answered the lad, in a hard, bitter voice. ‘I am awfully sorry that I have made you waste an evening, Harry. I apologize to both of you.’

‘My dear Dorian, I should think Miss Vane was ill,’

interrupted Hallward. ‘We will come some other night.’

‘I wish she was ill,’ he rejoined. ‘But she seems to me to be simply callous and cold. She has entirely altered. Last night she was a great artist. To-night she is merely a commonplace, mediocre actress.’

90 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘Don’t talk like that about any one you love, Dorian.

Love is a more wonderful thing than art.’

‘They are both simply forms of imitation,’ murmured Lord Henry. ‘But do let us go. Dorian, you must not stay here any longer. It is not good for one’s morals to see bad acting. Besides, I don’t suppose you will want your wife to act. So what does it matter if she plays Juliet like a wooden doll? She is very lovely, and if she knows as little about life as she does about acting, she will be a delightful experience. There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating,—people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing.

Good heavens, my dear boy, don’t look so tragic! The secret of remaining young is never to have an emotion that is unbecoming. Come to the club with Basil and myself. We will smoke cigarettes and drink to the beauty of Sibyl Vane. She is beautiful. What more can you want?’

‘Please go away, Harry,’ cried the lad. ‘I really want to be alone.Basil, you don’t mind my asking you to go? Ah!

can’t you see that my heart is breaking?’ The hot tears came to his eyes. His lips trembled, and, rushing to the back of the box, he leaned up against the wall, hiding his face in his hands.

91 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘Let us go, Basil,’ said Lord Henry, with a strange tenderness in his voice; and the two young men passed out together.

A few moments afterwards the footlights flared up, and the curtain rose on the third act. Dorian Gray went back to his seat. He looked pale, and proud, and indifferent.

The play dragged on, and seemed interminable. Half of the audience went out, tramping in heavy boots, and laughing. The whole thing was a fiasco. The last act was played to almost empty benches.

As soon as it was over, Dorian Gray rushed behind the scenes into the greenroom. The girl was standing alone there, with a look of triumph on her face. Her eyes were lit with an exquisite fire. There was a radiance about her.

Her parted lips were smiling over some secret of their own.

When he entered, she looked at him, and an expression of infinite joy came over her. ‘How badly I acted to-night, Dorian!’ she cried.

‘Horribly!’ he answered, gazing at her in amazement,—

‘horribly! It was dreadful. Are you ill? You have no idea what it was. You have no idea what I suffered.’

The girl smiled. ‘Dorian,’ she answered, lingering over his name with long-drawn music in her voice, as though it 92 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

were sweeter than honey to the red petals of her lips,—

‘Dorian, you should have understood. But you understand now, don’t you?’

‘Understand what?’ he asked, angrily.

‘Why I was so bad to-night. Why I shall always be bad.

Why I shall never act well again.’

He shrugged his shoulders. ‘You are ill, I suppose.

When you are ill you shouldn’t act. You make yourself ridiculous. My friends were bored. I was bored.’

She seemed not to listen to him. She was transfigured with joy. An ecstasy of happiness dominated her.

‘Dorian, Dorian,’ she cried, ‘before I knew you, acting was the one reality of my life. It was only in the theatre that I lived. I thought that it was all true. I was Rosalind one night, and Portia the other. The joy of Beatrice was my joy, and the sorrows of Cordelia were mine also. I believed in everything. The common people who acted with me seemed to me to be godlike. The painted scenes were my world. I knew nothing but shadows, and I thought them real. You came,—oh, my beautiful love!—

and you freed my soul from prison. You taught me what reality really is. To-night, for the first time in my life, I saw through the hollowness, the sham, the silliness, of the empty pageant in which I had always played. To- night, 93 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

for the first time, I became conscious that the Romeo was hideous, and old, and painted, that the moonlight in the orchard was false, that the scenery was vulgar, and that the words I had to speak were unreal, were not my words, not what I wanted to say. You had brought me something higher, something of which all art is but a reflection. You have made me understand what love really is. My love!

my love! I am sick of shadows. You are more to me than all art can ever be. What have I to do with the puppets of a play? When I came on to-night, I could not understand how it was that everything had gone from me. Suddenly it dawned on my soul what it all meant. The knowledge was exquisite to me. I heard them hissing, and I smiled. What should they know of love? Take me away, Dorian— take me away with you, where we can be quite alone. I hate the stage. I might mimic a passion that I do not feel, but I cannot mimic one that burns me like fire. Oh, Dorian, Dorian, you understand now what it all means? Even if I could do it, it would be profanation for me to play at being in love. You have made me see that.’

He flung himself down on the sofa, and turned away his face. ‘You have killed my love,’ he muttered.

She looked at him in wonder, and laughed. He made no answer. She came across to him, and stroked his hair 94 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

with her little fingers. She knelt down and pressed his hands to her lips. He drew them away, and a shudder ran through him.

Then he leaped up, and went to the door. ‘Yes,’ he cried, ‘you have killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were wonderful, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid. My God! how mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been! You are nothing to me now. I will never see you again. I will never think of you. I will never mention your name. You don’t know what you were to me, once. Why, once ….

Oh, I can’t bear to think of it! I wish I had never laid eyes upon you! You have spoiled the romance of my life. How little you can know of love, if you say it mars your art!

What are you without your art? Nothing. I would have made you famous, splendid, magnificent. The world would have worshipped you, and you would have belonged to me. What are you now? A third-rate actress with a pretty face.’

95 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The girl grew white, and trembled. She clinched her hands together, and her voice seemed to catch in her throat. ‘You are not serious, Dorian?’ she murmured.

‘You are acting.’

‘Acting! I leave that to you. You do it so well,’ he answered, bitterly.

She rose from her knees, and, with a piteous expression of pain in her face, came across the room to him. She put her hand upon his arm, and looked into his eyes. He thrust her back. ‘Don’t touch me!’ he cried.

A low moan broke from her, and she flung herself at his feet, and lay there like a trampled flower. ‘Dorian, Dorian, don’t leave me!’ she whispered. ‘I am so sorry I didn’t act well. I was thinking of you all the time. But I will try,—indeed, I will try. It came so suddenly across me, my love for you. I think I should never have known it if you had not kissed me,—if we had not kissed each other. Kiss me again, my love. Don’t go away from me. I couldn’t bear it. Can’t you forgive me for to-night? I will work so hard, and try to improve. Don’t be cruel to me because I love you better than anything in the world.

After all, it is only once that I have not pleased you. But you are quite right, Dorian. I should have shown myself more of an artist. It was foolish of me; and yet I couldn’t 96 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

help it. Oh, don’t leave me, don’t leave me.’ A fit of passionate sobbing choked her. She crouched on the floor like a wounded thing, and Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his chiselled lips curled in exquisite disdain. There is always something ridiculous about the passions of people whom one has ceased to love.

Sibyl Vane seemed to him to be absurdly melodramatic.

Her tears and sobs annoyed him.

‘I am going,’ he said at last, in his calm, clear voice. ‘I don’t wish to be unkind, but I can’t see you again. You have disappointed me.’

She wept silently, and made no answer, but crept nearer to him. Her little hands stretched blindly out, and appeared to be seeking for him. He turned on his heel, and left the room. In a few moments he was out of the theatre.

Where he went to, he hardly knew. He remembered wandering through dimly-lit streets with gaunt black-shadowed archways and evil-looking houses. Women with hoarse voices and harsh laughter had called after him.

Drunkards had reeled by cursing, and chattering to themselves like monstrous apes. He had seen grotesque children huddled upon door-steps, and had heard shrieks and oaths from gloomy courts.

97 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

When the dawn was just breaking he found himself at Covent Garden. Huge carts filled with nodding lilies rumbled slowly down the polished empty street. The air was heavy with the perfume of the flowers, and their beauty seemed to bring him an anodyne for his pain. He followed into the market, and watched the men unloading their wagons. A white-smocked carter offered him some cherries. He thanked him, wondered why he refused to accept any money for them, and began to eat them listlessly. They had been plucked at midnight, and the coldness of the moon had entered into them. A long line of boys carrying crates of striped tulips, and of yellow and red roses, defiled in front of him, threading their way through the huge jade- green piles of vegetables. Under the portico, with its gray sun- bleached pillars, loitered a troop of draggled bareheaded girls, waiting for the auction to be over. After some time he hailed a hansom and drove home. The sky was pure opal now, and the roofs of the houses glistened like silver against it. As he was passing through the library towards the door of his bedroom, his eye fell upon the portrait Basil Hallward had painted of him. He started back in surprise, and then went over to it and examined it. In the dim arrested light that struggled through the cream-colored silk blinds, the face seemed to 98 of 250

eBook brought to you by

Create, view, and edit PDF. Download the free trial version.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

him to be a little changed. The expression looked different. One would have said that there was a touch of cruelty in the mouth. It was certainly curious.

He turned round, and, walking to the window, drew the blinds up. The bright dawn flooded the room, and swept the fantastic shadows into dusky corners, where they lay shuddering. But the strange expression that he had noticed in the face of the portrait seemed to linger there, to be more intensified even. The quivering, ardent sunlight showed him the lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had been looking into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing.

He winced, and, taking up from the table an oval glass framed in ivory Cupids, that Lord Henry had given him, he glanced hurriedly into it. No line like that warped his red lips. What did it mean?

He rubbed his eyes, and came close to the picture, and examined it again. There were no signs of any change when he looked into the actual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expression had altered. It was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing was horribly apparent.

He threw himself into a chair, and began to think.

Suddenly there flashed across his mind what he had said in Basil Hallward’s studio the day the picture had been 99 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

finished. Yes, he remembered it perfectly. He had uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain young, and the portrait grow old; that his own beauty might be untarnished, and the face on the canvas bear the burden of his passions and his sins; that the painted image might be seared with the lines of suffering and thought, and that he might keep all the delicate bloom and loveliness of his then just conscious boyhood. Surely his prayer had not been answered? Such things were impossible. It seemed monstrous even to think of them. And, yet, there was the picture before him, with the touch of cruelty in the mouth.

Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It was the girl’s fault, not his. He had dreamed of her as a great artist, had given his love to her because he had thought her great. Then she had disappointed him. She had been shallow and unworthy. And, yet, a feeling of infinite regret came over him, as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing like a little child. He remembered with what callousness he had watched her. Why had he been made like that? Why had such a soul been given to him? But he had suffered also.

During the three terrible hours that the play had lasted, he had lived centuries of pain, aeon upon aeon of torture. His life was well worth hers. She had marred him for a 100 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

moment, if he had wounded her for an age. Besides, women were better suited to bear sorrow than men. They lived on their emotions. They only thought of their emotions. When they took lovers, it was merely to have some one with whom they could have scenes. Lord Henry had told him that, and Lord Henry knew what women were. Why should he trouble about Sibyl Vane? She was nothing to him now.

But the picture? What was he to say of that? It held the secret of his life, and told his story. It had taught him to love his own beauty. Would it teach him to loathe his own soul? Would he ever look at it again?

No; it was merely an illusion wrought on the troubled senses. The horrible night that he had passed had left phantoms behind it. Suddenly there had fallen upon his brain that tiny scarlet speck that makes men mad. The picture had not changed. It was folly to think so.

Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruel smile. Its bright hair gleamed in the early sunlight. Its blue eyes met his own. A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the painted image of himself, came over him. It had altered already, and would alter more. Its gold would wither into gray. Its red and white roses would die. For every sin that he committed, a stain 101 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

would fleck and wreck its fairness. But he would not sin.

The picture, changed or unchanged, would be to him the visible emblem of conscience. He would resist temptation.

He would not see Lord Henry any more,—would not, at any rate, listen to those subtle poisonous theories that in Basil Hallward’s garden had first stirred within him the passion for impossible things. He would go back to Sibyl Vane, make her amends, marry her, try to love her again.

Yes, it was his duty to do so. She must have suffered more than he had. Poor child! He had been selfish and cruel to her. The fascination that she had exercised over him would return. They would be happy together. His life with her would be beautiful and pure.

He got up from his chair, and drew a large screen right in front of the portrait, shuddering as he glanced at it.

‘How horrible!’ he murmured to himself, and he walked across to the window and opened it. When he stepped out on the grass, he drew a deep breath. The fresh morning air seemed to drive away all his sombre passions. He thought only of Sibyl Vane. A faint echo of his love came back to him. He repeated her name over and over again. The birds that were singing in the dew-drenched garden seemed to be telling the flowers about her.

102 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Chapter VI

It was long past noon when he awoke. His valet had crept several times into the room on tiptoe to see if he was stirring, and had wondered what made his young master sleep so late. Finally his bell sounded, and Victor came in softly with a cup of tea, and a pile of letters, on a small tray of old Sèvres china, and drew back the olive-satin curtains, with their shimmering blue lining, that hung in front of the three tall windows.

‘Monsieur has well slept this morning,’ he said, smiling.

‘What o’clock is it, Victor?’ asked Dorian Gray, sleepily.

‘One hour and a quarter, monsieur.’

How late it was! He sat up, and, having sipped some tea, turned over his letters. One of them was from Lord Henry, and had been brought by hand that morning. He hesitated for a moment, and then put it aside. The others he opened listlessly. They contained the usual collection of cards, invitations to dinner, tickets for private views, programmes of charity concerts, and the like, that are showered on fashionable young men every morning during the season. There was a rather heavy bill, for a 103 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

chased silver Louis-Quinze toilet-set, that he had not yet had the courage to send on to his guardians, who were extremely old-fashioned people and did not realize that we live in an age when only unnecessary things are absolutely necessary to us; and there were several very courteously worded communications from Jermyn Street money-lenders offering to advance any sum of money at a moment’s notice and at the most reasonable rates of interest.

After about ten minutes he got up, and, throwing on an elaborate dressing-gown, passed into the onyx-paved bath-room. The cool water refreshed him after his long sleep. He seemed to have forgotten all that he had gone through. A dim sense of having taken part in some strange tragedy came to him once or twice, but there was the unreality of a dream about it.

As soon as he was dressed, he went into the library and sat down to a light French breakfast, that had been laid out for him on a small round table close to an open window.

It was an exquisite day. The warm air seemed laden with spices. A bee flew in, and buzzed round the blue-dragon bowl, filled with sulphur-yellow roses, that stood in front of him. He felt perfectly happy.

104 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Suddenly his eye fell on the screen that he had placed in front of the portrait, and he started.

‘Too cold for Monsieur?’ asked his valet, putting an omelette on the table. ‘I shut the window?’

Dorian shook his head. ‘I am not cold,’ he murmured.

Was it all true? Had the portrait really changed? Or had it been simply his own imagination that had made him see a look of evil where there had been a look of joy? Surely a painted canvas could not alter? The thing was absurd. It would serve as a tale to tell Basil some day. It would make him smile.

And, yet, how vivid was his recollection of the whole thing! First in the dim twilight, and then in the bright dawn, he had seen the touch of cruelty in the warped lips.

He almost dreaded his valet leaving the room. He knew that when he was alone he would have to examine the portrait. He was afraid of certainty. When the coffee and cigarettes had been brought and the man turned to go, he felt a mad desire to tell him to remain. As the door closed behind him he called him back. The man stood waiting for his orders. Dorian looked at him for a moment. ‘I am not at home to any one, Victor,’ he said, with a sigh. The man bowed and retired.

105 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

He rose from the table, lit a cigarette, and flung himself down on a luxuriously-cushioned couch that stood facing the screen. The screen was an old one of gilt Spanish leather, stamped and wrought with a rather florid Louis-Quatorze pattern. He scanned it curiously, wondering if it had ever before concealed the secret of a man’s life.

Should he move it aside, after all? Why not let it stay there? What was the use of knowing? If the thing was true, it was terrible. If it was not true, why trouble about it? But what if, by some fate or deadlier chance, other eyes than his spied behind, and saw the horrible change? What should he do if Basil Hallward came and asked to look at his own picture? He would be sure to do that. No; the thing had to be examined, and at once. Anything would be better than this dreadful state of doubt.

He got up, and locked both doors. At least he would be alone when he looked upon the mask of his shame.

Then he drew the screen aside, and saw himself face to face. It was perfectly true. The portrait had altered.

As he often remembered afterwards, and always with no small wonder, he found himself at first gazing at the portrait with a feeling of almost scientific interest. That such a change should have taken place was incredible to him. And yet it was a fact. Was there some subtle affinity 106 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

between the chemical atoms, that shaped themselves into form and color on the canvas, and the soul that was within him? Could it be that what that soul thought, they realized?—that what it dreamed, they made true? Or was there some other, more terrible reason? He shuddered, and felt afraid, and, going back to the couch, lay there, gazing at the picture in sickened horror.

One thing, however, he felt that it had done for him. It had made him conscious how unjust, how cruel, he had been to Sibyl Vane. It was not too late to make reparation for that. She could still be his wife. His unreal and selfish love would yield to some higher influence, would be transformed into some nobler passion, and the portrait that Basil Hallward had painted of him would be a guide to him through life, would be to him what holiness was to some, and conscience to others, and the fear of God to us all. There were opiates for remorse, drugs that could lull the moral sense to sleep. But here was a visible symbol of the degradation of sin. Here was an ever-present sign of the ruin men brought upon their souls.

Three o’clock struck, and four, and half-past four, but he did not stir. He was trying to gather up the scarlet threads of life, and to weave them into a pattern; to find his way through the sanguine labyrinth of passion through 107 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

which he was wandering. He did not know what to do, or what to think. Finally, he went over to the table and wrote a passionate letter to the girl he had loved, imploring her forgiveness, and accusing himself of madness. He covered page after page with wild words of sorrow, and wilder words of pain. There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution. When Dorian Gray had finished the letter, he felt that he had been forgiven.

Suddenly there came a knock to the door, and he heard Lord Henry’s voice outside. ‘My dear Dorian, I must see you. Let me in at once. I can’t bear your shutting yourself up like this.’

He made no answer at first, but remained quite still.

The knocking still continued, and grew louder. Yes, it was better to let Lord Henry in, and to explain to him the new life he was going to lead, to quarrel with him if it became necessary to quarrel, to part if parting was inevitable. He jumped up, drew the screen hastily across the picture, and unlocked the door.

‘I am so sorry for it all, my dear boy,’ said Lord Henry, coming in. ‘But you must not think about it too much.’

‘Do you mean about Sibyl Vane?’ asked Dorian.

108 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘Yes, of course,’ answered Lord Henry, sinking into a chair, and slowly pulling his gloves off. ‘It is dreadful, from one point of view, but it was not your fault. Tell me, did you go behind and see her after the play was over?’

‘Yes.’

‘I felt sure you had. Did you make a scene with her?’

‘I was brutal, Harry,—perfectly brutal. But it is all right now. I am not sorry for anything that has happened. It has taught me to know myself better.’

‘Ah, Dorian, I am so glad you take it in that way! I was afraid I would find you plunged in remorse, and tearing your nice hair.’

‘I have got through all that,’ said Dorian, shaking his head, and smiling. ‘I am perfectly happy now. I know what conscience is, to begin with. It is not what you told me it was. It is the divinest thing in us. Don’t sneer at it, Harry, any more,—at least not before me. I want to be good. I can’t bear the idea of my soul being hideous.’

‘A very charming artistic basis for ethics, Dorian! I congratulate you on it. But how are you going to begin?’

‘By marrying Sibyl Vane.’

‘Marrying Sibyl Vane!’ cried Lord Henry, standing up, and looking at him in perplexed amazement. ‘But, my dear Dorian—‘

109 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

‘Yes, Harry, I know what you are going to say.

Something dreadful about marriage. Don’t say it. Don’t ever say things of that kind to me again. Two days ago I asked Sibyl to marry me. I am not going to break my word to her. She is to be my wife.’

‘Your wife! Dorian! … Didn’t you get my letter? I wrote to you this morning, and sent the note down, by my own man.’

‘Your letter? Oh, yes, I remember. I have not read it yet, Harry. I was afraid there might be something in it that I wouldn’t like.’

Lord Henry walked across the room, and, sitting down by Dorian Gray, took both his hands in his, and held them tightly. ‘Dorian,’ he said, ‘my letter—don’t be frightened—was to tell you that Sibyl Vane is dead.’

A cry of pain rose from the lad’s lips, and he leaped to his feet, tearing his hands away from Lord Henry’s grasp.

‘Dead! Sibyl dead! It is not true! It is a horrible lie!’

‘It is quite true, Dorian,’ said Lord Henry, gravely. ‘It is in all the morning papers. I wrote down to you to ask you not to see any one till I came. There will have to be an inquest, of course, and you must not be mixed up in it.

Things like that make a man fashionable in Paris. But in London people are so prejudiced. Here, one should never 110 of 250

eBook brought to you by

Create, view, and edit PDF. Download the free trial version.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

make one’s début with a scandal. One should reserve that to give an interest to one’s old age. I don’t suppose they know your name at the theatre. If they don’t, it is all right.

Did any one see you going round to her room? That is an important point.’

Dorian did not answer for a few moments. He was dazed with horror. Finally he murmured, in a stifled voice,

‘Harry, did you say an inquest? What did you mean by that? Did Sibyl—? Oh, Harry, I can’t bear it! But be quick. Tell me everything at once.’

‘I have no doubt it was not an accident, Dorian, though it must be put in that way to the public. As she was leaving the theatre with her mother, about half-past twelve or so, she said she had forgotten something up-stairs. They waited some time for her, but she did not come down again. They ultimately found her lying dead on the floor of her dressing-room. She had swallowed something by mistake, some dreadful thing they use at theatres. I don’t know what it was, but it had either prussic acid or white lead in it. I should fancy it was prussic acid, as she seems to have died instantaneously. It is very tragic, of course, but you must not get yourself mixed up in it. I see by the Standard that she was seventeen. I should have thought she was almost younger than that.

111 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

She looked such a child, and seemed to know so little about acting. Dorian, you mustn’t let this thing get on your nerves. You must come and dine with me, and afterwards we will look in at the Opera. It is a Patti night, and everybody will be there. You can come to my sister’s box. She has got some smart women with her.’

‘So I have murdered Sibyl Vane,’ said Dorian Gray, half to himself,— ‘murdered her as certainly as if I had cut her little throat with a knife. And the roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds sing just as happily in my garden.

And to-night I am to dine with you, and then go on to the Opera, and sup somewhere, I suppose, afterwards.

How extraordinarily dramatic life is! If I had read all this in a book, Harry, I think I would have wept over it.

Somehow, now that it has happened actually, and to me, it seems far too wonderful for tears. Here is the first passionate love-letter I have ever written in my life.

Strange, that my first passionate love- letter should have been addressed to a dead girl. Can they feel, I wonder, those white silent people we call the dead? Sibyl! Can she feel, or know, or listen? Oh, Harry, how I loved her once!

It seems years ago to me now. She was everything to me.

Then came that dreadful night—was it really only last night?—when she played so badly, and my heart almost 112 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

broke. She explained it all to me. It was terribly pathetic.

But I was not moved a bit. I thought her shallow. Then something happened that made me afraid. I can’t tell you what it was, but it was awful. I said I would go back to her. I felt I had done wrong. And now she is dead. My God! my God! Harry, what shall I do? You don’t know the danger I am in, and there is nothing to keep me straight. She would have done that for me. She had no right to kill herself. It was selfish of her.’

‘My dear Dorian, the only way a woman can ever reform a man is by boring him so completely that he loses all possible interest in life. If you had married this girl you would have been wretched. Of course you would have treated her kindly. One can always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing. But she would have soon found out that you were absolutely indifferent to her. And when a woman finds that out about her husband, she either becomes dreadfully dowdy, or wears very smart bonnets that some other woman’s husband has to pay for.

I say nothing about the social mistake, but I assure you that in any case the whole thing would have been an absolute failure.’

‘I suppose it would,’ muttered the lad, walking up and down the room, and looking horribly pale. ‘But I thought 113 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

it was my duty. It is not my fault that this terrible tragedy has prevented my doing what was right. I remember your saying once that there is a fatality about good resolutions,—that they are always made too late. Mine certainly were.’

‘Good resolutions are simply a useless attempt to interfere with scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity.

Their result is absolutely nil. They give us, now and then, some of those luxurious sterile emotions that have a certain charm for us. That is all that can be said for them.’

‘Harry,’ cried Dorian Gray, coming over and sitting down beside him, ‘why is it that I cannot feel this tragedy as much as I want to? I don’t think I am heartless. Do you?’

‘You have done too many foolish things in your life to be entitled to give yourself that name, Dorian,’ answered Lord Henry, with his sweet, melancholy smile.

The lad frowned. ‘I don’t like that explanation, Harry,’

he rejoined, ‘but I am glad you don’t think I am heartless.

I am nothing of the kind. I know I am not. And yet I must admit that this thing that has happened does not affect me as it should. It seems to me to be simply like a wonderful ending to a wonderful play. It has all the 114 of 250

The Picture of Dorian Gray

terrible beauty of a great tragedy, a tragedy in which I took part, but by which I have not been wounded.’