One of the three main character
s appearing in Oscar Wilde
's the Picture of Dorian Gray
Oscar Wilde publicly declared the character of Lord Henry to be a representation of the way the public saw him. On page 186 Dorian say of Lord Henry “His name is Prince Paradox,”.
Starting from the first page, Lord Henry is constantly using complex figures of speech and never misses a chance to demonstrate his wit. His conversations are always filled with a great amount of paradoxes, wordplay and puns.
On Page 42 Wilde clearly describes Lord Henry’s way of thinking while publicly speaking. “He played with the idea, and grew wilful; tossed it into the air and transformed it; let it escape and recaptured it; made it iridescent with fancy, and winged it with paradox.”
Although most of Lord Henry’s dialogs contain very dangerous and immoral ideas, the reader finds himself convinced or at least highly impressed by the ideas he presents. This later helps understand the reasons that led Dorian Gray to be easily corrupted by Lord Henry. “…that is one of the great secrets of life--to cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul. You are a wonderful creation. You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.” (pg. 23). When introduced, Lord Henry’s intelligence blinds the reader of his true nature. Passage such as that, regarding Lord Henry and other parts of the novel as well, made many of the critics of the time discard The Picture of Dorian Gray as immoral writing.
Lord Henry is respected by his many friends, even though they are aware of his corruptive nature and dangerous ideas. This is demonstrated early in the novel, on page 20 where Basil Hallward warns Dorian of Henry’s nature “…don’t move about too much, or pay any attention to what Lord Henry says. He has a very bad influence over all his friends, with the single exception of myself.”
Lord Henry was, in fact, a very bad influence on Dorian and was the one who put him on the wrong path in life, and kept him on it. This can be observed from the first time the two see each other, but the first strong indication of this corruptive relationship is seen on page 101, where, after a highly immoral conversation Dorian says: “I am awfully obliged to you for all that you have said to me. You are certainly my best friend. No one has ever understood me as you have.”
Lord Henry leads a unique life and has many theories, especially about youth, beauty and pleasure. On page 29, Lord Henry says “…I adore simple pleasures,” and on page 24 he claims that “Beauty is a form of Genius--is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation.” On page 42 Lord Henry expresses one of his many theories of youth: “To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies.” These may seem like wise and witty statements, and many young minds get attracted to them, their nature is evil.
“’A delightful theory!’ she exclaimed. ‘I must put it into practice.’
“A dangerous theory,” came from Sir Thomas’s tight lips.” (pg. 42)
Lord Henry’s views on loyalty are quite frightening, on page 49 he boldly states that “…the people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people”, encouraging young Dorian not to get involved in long lasting relationships.
Lord Henry enjoys studying and investigating people as seen in the thoughts he expresses on page 56: “Human life--that appeared to him the one thing worth investigating”. On page 57 he demonstrates that Dorian for him is nothing but a test subject for Henry’s theories “Dorian Gray was a subject made to his hand, and seemed to promise rich and fruitful results. His sudden mad love for Sibyl Vane was a psychological phenomenon of no small interest.”
Lord Henry acknowledges that influencing others is a sin since it does not allow them to make their own decisions, and at the same time he enjoys influencing his friends and especially Dorian Gray. “There was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. No other activity was like it. To project one’s soul into some gracious form, and let it tarry there for a moment; to hear one’s own intellectual views echoed back to one with all the added music of passion and youth; to convey one’s temperament into another as though it were a subtle fluid or a strange perfume: there was a real joy in that--perhaps the most satisfying joy left to us…” (Page 37).
Pages 97-99 describe a long and complex conversation about the death of Sybil Vane. During this conversation Lord Henry makes numerous comments on how the death of the young actress was not Dorian’s fault, and how he should not worry about it. “I am so sorry for it all, Dorian,” said Lord Henry, as he entered. “But you must not think too much about it.” These pages demonstrate quite clearly how little Lord Henry cares about the loss of the young woman, and how he tries to make Dorian feel the same way. Page 99 has another sentence of the same nature as he says “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.” Lord Henry says that even though he is aware of the fact that Dorian loves Sybil and that they could have lived a good life, instead Lord Henry offers a life of sins, pleasure that ends in misery and death.
Lord Henry sends Dorian a book that changes Dorian’s life forever. On page 121 Dorian thinks that “It was a poisonous book.” And yet it fascinates him so much that he later orders nine copies of it. This fascination is stated very well on page 123: "For years, Dorian Gray could not free himself from the influence of this book. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he never sought to free himself from it." This is the beginning of chapter eleven in which Lord Henry’s influence is finally shown to its full extent, and Dorian becomes a completely different person.
(the page numbers are those of the Penguin Books edition of year 2000)