As Basil Hallward artfully put the finishing touches on his full-length portrait of an extraordinarily beautiful young man, Lord Henry Wotton paid him a call. Lord Henry much 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 part 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.
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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 colour 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 – and 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 finery 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 day.
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 had created, the two could no longer be friends.
For years Dorian lived in cruel joy; yet he kept the look of one unspotted by the world. He derived pleasure from comparing his own virtuous face with the gruesome one appearing on the canvas. Dorian consorted both with the town’s thieves and its social elite. He collected jewels, fine clothing and art. And when he would appear on the street, “men would whisper to each other in corners, or pass him with a sneer, or look at him with cold searching eyes, as though they were determined to discover his secret.”
At age thirty-eight Dorian was again visited by his old friend Basil Hallward. It was on the eve of Hallward’s departure for an extended stay in Paris. He came in hopes of persuading Dorian to finally change his ways, hardly believing the rumors concerning the young man’s evil deeds.
By this time, Dorian had become totally corrupt, as vile and ugly as the figure in the portrait.
Through some strange quickening of inner life, the leprosies of sin were slowly eating the thing away. The rotting corpse in a watery grave was not so fearful.
One day, in spite, Dorian invited the elderly Hallward up to the room to see his filthy soul, face-to-face. As he drew back the curtain from the portrait, Hallward stood aghast at the hideous figure on the canvas; yes, there was his own signature, that onetimc stood out beneath the portrait of a handsome young lad. Basil immediately begged Dorian to pray and repent. Instead, Dorian seized a knife and plunged it again and again into the painter’s neck and back. Then, relocking the door, he left the slumping figure in the room, feeling sure that Basil would not be missed for months. After all, no one knew he had come to the house, and he was expected to be in Paris from that night forward.
A few days later, Dorian coerced a former acquaintance, a chemist, Alan Campbell, to destroy Basil’s body using chemicals and fire. He threatened to expose a past crime Campbell had committed if he refused. That night red blood stained the hands of the loathsome image on the portrait.
Late one evening, as Dorian was leaving an opium den, a drunken woman called him “Prince Charming.” A sailor standing nearby turned out to be Sibyl Vane’s brother, James. Overhearing this familiar nickname, James seized Dorian with the intent to kill him and avenge his sister’s death. But Dorian’s youthful appearance and smooth tongue saved him; when the crime had occurred Dorian could have been no more than a mere infant.
When James returned to the den, however, the woman swore before God that Dorian was indeed the ruinous Prince Charming. After destroying her life too, he had once boasted that he had sold his soul to the Devil years earlier in exchange for a beautiful face; and he had not changed in appearance since then.
For months Dorian imagined himself being hunted – tracked down by a vengeful sailor. His mask of youth had saved his life, but not his conscience.
Then, during a huiit at Dorian’s country home, an unknown man in sailor’s garb was accidentally killed. Dorian rushed to where the body was taken and there discovered James Vaiie, dead. At last, they were all dead: Sibyl; Alan Campbell – a mysterious suicide victim; and Basil Hallward, though, lately, people were inquiring about his strange disappearance. Only Dorian knew the truth. But now he would welcome death for himself; his only terror lay ill the waiting.
In his final, poignant visit with Lord Henry, Dorian admitted that, despite his unchanged features, he no longer thought himself handsome – his zest for life was shattered. “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” Lord Henry righteously quoted. Dorian begged Henry never to be the devil’s advocate again, never again to poison another soul with his book or his evil thoughts.
Disheartened, alone, and longing to be at peace with himself, Dorian contemplated his situation. Should he confess and atone for his evils? No, the only evidence against him was that horrid, hidden pictorial record of his debauchery. “A new life! That is what he wanted.”
Resolving to kill that “monstrous soul-life” in the portrait, Dorian hurried upstairs, seized the same knife he had used on poor Basil, and stabbed the picture. A horrible cry brought the house servants creeping up to the barred room. Finally gaining entrance, they found upon tile wall the splendid portrait of their master, as fresh and beautiful as the day it was painted. On the floor was a dead man, “a withered, wrinkled, and loathsome man,” with a knife in his heart. Only the rings on his fingers revealed his identify. It was Dorian Gray, who, in a miscarried struggle to kill his conscience, had killed himself.
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