The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Oscar Wilde
It was long past noon when he awoke. His valet had crept
several times on tiptoe into the room 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 Sevres 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 drowsily.
"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 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 unnecessary things are our only necessities;
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 rates.
After about ten minutes he got up, and throwing on an elaborate dressing-gown
of silk-embroidered cashmere wool, passed into the onyx-paved bathroom.
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 the 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 that,
filled with sulphur-yellow roses, stood before him. He felt
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,"
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
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 round 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 wild desire
to tell him to remain. As the door was closing 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
Then 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 ever before it had 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, eyes other 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?
Basil would be sure to do that. No; the thing had to be examined,
and at once. Anything would be better than this dreadful state
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 between the chemical atoms that
shaped themselves into form and colour 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 is 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
Three o'clock struck, and four, and the half-hour rang its double chime,
but Dorian Gray 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 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 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
"My dear boy, 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, Dorian,"
said Lord Henry as he entered.
"But you must not think too much about it."
"Do you mean about Sibyl Vane?"
asked the lad.
"Yes, of course,"
answered Lord Henry, sinking into a chair
and slowly pulling off his yellow gloves.
"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?"
"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
"Ah, Dorian, I am so glad you take it in that way! I was afraid I
would find you plunged in remorse and tearing that nice curly 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--"
"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
"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.
You cut life to pieces with your epigrams."
"You know nothing then?"
"What do you mean?"
Lord Henry walked across the room, and sitting down by Dorian Gray,
took both his hands in his own and held them tightly.
"my letter--don't be frightened--was to tell you that Sibyl Vane
A cry of pain broke 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! How dare you say it?"
"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 make one's debut with a scandal.
One should reserve that to give an interest to one's old age.
I suppose they don't 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 stammered, 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. It seems that as she
was leaving the theatre with her mother, about half-past
twelve or so, she said she had forgotten something upstairs.
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
"Harry, Harry, it is terrible!"
cried the lad.
"Yes; 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.
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
"So I have murdered Sibyl Vane,"
said Dorian Gray, half to himself,
"murdered her as surely as if I had cut her little throat
with a knife. Yet 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 broke.
She explained it all to me. It was terribly pathetic.
But I was not moved a bit. I thought her shallow.
Suddenly something happened that made me afraid.
I can't tell you what it was, but it was terrible."
"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
"My dear Dorian,"
answered Lord Henry, taking a cigarette
from his case and producing a gold-latten matchbox
"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, which would have
been abject--which, of course, I would not have allowed--
but I assure you that in any case the whole thing would have been an
"I suppose it would,"
muttered the lad, walking up and down the room and looking horribly pale.
"But I thought 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 useless attempts 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 the weak. That is all that can be said for them.
They are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they have
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 during the last fortnight
to be entitled to give yourself that name, Dorian,"
Henry with his sweet melancholy
The lad frowned.
"I don't like that explanation, Harry,"
"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 terrible beauty
of a Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I took a great part, but by which I
have not been wounded."
"It is an interesting question,"
said Lord Henry, who found an exquisite pleasure in playing on the lad's unconscious egotism
"an extremely interesting question. I fancy that the true
explanation is this: It often happens that the real tragedies
of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt
us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence,
their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style."
"They affect us just as vulgarity affects us. They give us
an impression of sheer brute force, and we revolt against that.
Sometimes, however, a tragedy that possesses artistic elements
of beauty crosses our lives. If these elements of beauty are real,
the whole thing simply appeals to our sense of dramatic effect."
"Suddenly we find that we are no longer the actors,
but the spectators of the play. Or rather we are both.
We watch ourselves, and the mere wonder of the spectacle
enthralls us. In the present case, what is it that has
really happened? Some one has killed herself for love of you."
"I wish that I had ever had such an experience. It would
have made me in love with love for the rest of my life.
The people who have adored me--there have not been very many,
but there have been some--have always insisted on living on,
long after I had ceased to care for them, or they to care for me."
"They have become stout and tedious, and when I meet them,
they go in at once for reminiscences. That awful memory of woman!
What a fearful thing it is! And what an utter intellectual
stagnation it reveals! One should absorb the colour of life,
but one should never remember its details. Details are always
"I must sow poppies in my garden,"
"There is no necessity,"
rejoined his companion.
"Life has always
poppies in her hands. Of course, now and then things linger.
I once wore nothing but violets all through one season,
as a form of artistic mourning for a romance that would not die.
Ultimately, however, it did die. I forget what killed it.
I think it was her proposing to sacrifice the whole world for me."
"That is always a dreadful moment. It fills one with the terror
of eternity. Well--would you believe it?--a week ago,
at Lady Hampshire's, I found myself seated at dinner next
the lady in question, and she insisted on going over the whole
thing again, and digging up the past, and raking up the future.
I had buried my romance in a bed of asphodel."
"She dragged it out again and assured me that I had spoiled her life.
I am bound to state that she ate an enormous dinner, so I did
not feel any anxiety. But what a lack of taste she showed!
The one charm of the past is that it is the past.
But women never know when the curtain has fallen."
"They always want a sixth act, and as soon as the interest
of the play is entirely over, they propose to continue it.
If they were allowed their own way, every comedy would have
a tragic ending, and every tragedy would culminate in a farce."
"They are charmingly artificial, but they have no sense of art.
You are more fortunate than I am. I assure you, Dorian, that not
one of the women I have known would have done for me what Sibyl
Vane did for you."
"Ordinary women always console themselves.
Some of them do it by going in for sentimental colours.
Never trust a woman who wears mauve, whatever her age may be,
or a woman over thirty-five who is fond of pink ribbons.
It always means that they have a history."
"Others find a great consolation in suddenly discovering the good qualities of their husbands. They flaunt their conjugal felicity
in one's face, as if it were the most fascinating of sins.
Religion consoles some. Its mysteries have all the charm
of a flirtation, a woman once told me, and I can quite
"Besides, nothing makes one so vain as being told
that one is a sinner. Conscience makes egotists of us all.
Yes; there is really no end to the consolations that women find
in modern life. Indeed, I have not mentioned the most important
"What is that, Harry?"
said the lad listlessly.
"Oh, the obvious consolation. Taking some one else's admirer when one loses one's own. In good society that always whitewashes a woman.
But really, Dorian, how different Sibyl Vane must have been from all the women
"There is something to me quite beautiful about her death.
I am glad I am living in a century when such wonders happen.
They make one believe in the reality of the things we all play with,
such as romance, passion, and love."
"I was terribly cruel to her. You forget that."
"I am afraid that women appreciate cruelty, downright cruelty,
more than anything else. They have wonderfully primitive instincts.
We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters,
all the same. They love being dominated. I am sure you were splendid."
"I have never seen you really and absolutely angry, but I can fancy how delightful you looked. And, after all, you said something to me the day
before yesterday that seemed to me at the time to be merely fanciful,
but that I see now was absolutely true, and it holds the key
"What was that, Harry?"
"You said to me that Sibyl Vane represented to you all the heroines
of romance--that she was Desdemona one night, and Ophelia the other;
that if she died as Juliet, she came to life as Imogen."
"She will never come to life again now,"
muttered the lad,
burying his face in his hands.
"No, she will never come to life. She has played her last part.
But you must think of that lonely death in the tawdry dressing-room
simply as a strange lurid fragment from some Jacobean tragedy,
as a wonderful scene from Webster, or Ford, or Cyril Tourneur.
The girl never really lived, and so she has never really died."
"To you at least she was always a dream, a phantom that flitted
through Shakespeare's plays and left them lovelier for its presence,
a reed through which Shakespeare's music sounded richer and more
full of joy."
The moment she touched actual life, she marred it,
and it marred her, and so she passed away. Mourn for Ophelia,
if you like. Put ashes on your head because Cordelia was strangled.
Cry out against Heaven because the daughter of Brabantio died.
But don't waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She was less real than they
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