The Picture of Dorian Gray
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- Chapters 4-9
- Chapters 10-16
- Chapters 17-20
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Chapter Summaries & Analyses
Chapter 1 Summary
Lord Henry Wotton (Harry) and the artist Basil Hallward sit in Hallward’s London studio and admire the artist’s recent painting: “In the centre of the room, clamped to an upright easel, [stands] the full-length portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty” (5). Lord Henry believes the painting is Hallward’s greatest work yet and encourages the artist to submit it to Grosvenor Academy. When Hallward refuses, the men discuss beauty versus intellect. Lord Henry sees Hallward as intellectual, and intellectual men are ugly, while ignorant men like the beauty in the painting are beautiful. Hallward would rather be unremarkable and blend in rather than being distinguished, be it intellectual or physical. Both he and Dorian stand out, however (his art and Dorian’s looks). Because of this, they’re both destined to suffer.
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By Oscar Wilde
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The Importance of Being Earnest
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The Picture of Dorian Gray
Table of contents, oscar wilde.
Written as a serialized novel in 1890 but heavily revised in 1891, The Picture of Dorian Gray tells the story of an attractive young man who becomes obsessed with his own beauty. After a friend paints a portrait of him that perfectly captures his beauty, Dorian utters the fateful wish that the portrait age instead of him. When this wish comes true, Dorian falls into a lavish life of vice and pleasure, remaining eternally young and attractive while his soul—trapped inside the portrait—withers away. The novel examines the value of art and beauty while also challenging the idea that unchecked pleasure leads to true happiness.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
- The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary
Dorian Gray meets Lord Henry Wotton at the studio of Basil Hallward , who is using Dorian as a model for his latest painting. Lord Henry tells Dorian about his epicurean views on life, and convinces him of the value of beauty above all other things. The young and impressionable Dorian is greatly moved by Lord Henry's words. When Basil shows them the newly completed painting, Dorian is flooded with awe at the sight of his own image, and is overwhelmed by his fear that his youth and beauty will fade. He becomes jealous that the picture will be beautiful forever while he is destined to wither and age. He passionately wishes that it could be the other way around. Lord Henry is fascinated with Dorian's innocence as much as Dorian is impressed by Henry's cynically sensual outlook on life. They become fast friends, to Basil's dismay. He fears that Henry will be a corrupting influence on the young, innocent Dorian, whom he adores.
Dorian and Lord Henry become fast friends, often dining together and attending the same social functions. Henry's influence has a profound effect on the young man, who soon adopts Henry's views as his own, abandoning ethical restraints and seeing life in terms of pleasure and sensuality. Dorian falls in love with the beautiful Sibyl Vane , a poor but talented young Shakespearean actress. They are engaged to be married until Dorian brings Henry and Basil to a performance, where her acting is uncharacteristically - and inexplicably - terrible. Dorian confronts Sibyl backstage, and she tells him that since she is now truly in love, she no longer believes in acting. Disgusted and offended, Dorian breaks off their engagement and leaves her sobbing on the floor. When he returns home, he discovers that the figure in his portrait now bears a slightly different, more contemptuous facial expression.
Dorian awakens late the next day feeling guilty for his treatment of Sibyl, and writes an impassioned love letter begging her forgiveness. Soon, however, Lord Henry arrives, and informs Dorian that Sibyl committed suicide last night. Dorian is shocked and wracked with guilt, but Henry convinces him to view the event artistically, saying that the superb melodrama of her death is a thing to be admired. Succumbing to the older man's suggestion, Dorian decides that he need not feel guilty, especially since his enchanted portrait will now bear his guilt for him. The picture will serve as his conscience, allowing him to live freely. When Basil visits Dorian to console him, he is appalled at his friend's apathy towards Sibyl's death. Dorian is unapologetic and annoyed by Basil's adulation of him.
Paranoid that someone might discover the secret of the painting, and therefore the true nature of his soul, Dorian hides the image in his attic. Over the next several years, Dorian's face remains young and innocent, despite his many selfish affairs and scandals. He is an extremely popular socialite, admired for his fine taste and revered as a fashionable trend-setter. The picture, however, continues to age, and grows more unattractive with each foul deed. Dorian cannot keep himself from looking at the picture periodically, but he is appalled by it, and is only truly happy when he manages to forget its existence. He immerses himself in various obsessions, studying mysticism, jewelry, music, and ancient tapestries. These interests, however, are all merely distractions that allow him to forget the hideousness of his true soul.
One night, Basil visits Dorian to confront him about all of the terrible rumors he has heard. The painter wants to believe that his friend is stll a good person. Dorian decides to show him the portrait so that he can see the true degradation of his soul, but when Basil sees it he is horrified, and urges his friend to repent for his sins. Basil's reaction enrages Dorian, and he murders the artist with a knife. To dispose of the body, he blackmails an estranged acquaintance, Alan Campbell , a chemist who is able to burn the body in the attic's fireplace. Alan has already been driven into isolation by Dorian's corrupting influence, and this action eventually compels him to commit suicide.
Not long after, Dorian visits an opium den and is attacked by James Vane , Sibyl's brother, who has sworn revenge on the man that drove his sister to suicide. 18 years have passed since the event, however, yet Dorian still looks like a 20-year-old youth. James thinks that he is mistaken, and Dorian escapes before his would-be murderer learns the truth. Over the next several days Dorian lives in fear, sure that James is searching for him. While hunting one day, Dorian's friend Geoffrey accidentally shoots a man hiding on Dorian's property. This stranger is revealed to be James Vane. Dorian is overcome with relief, but cannot escape the fact that four deaths now weigh on his conscience.
Deciding to change his life for the better, Dorian commits a good deed by refusing to corrupt a young girl who has fallen in love with him. He checks the portrait, hoping to find that it has changed for the better, but when he realizes that the only thing that has changed is the new, hypocritical smirk on the wrinkled face, he realizes that even his effort to save his soul was driven by vanity. In a fit of despair, he decides to destroy the picture with the same knife that he used to kill Basil, its creator. Downstairs, Dorian's servants hear a shriek, and rush upstairs to find their master dead on the floor, the knife plunged into his own chest. Dorian's youthful countenance is gone, and his servants are only able to recognize him by the jewelry on his fingers.
The Picture of Dorian Gray Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Picture of Dorian Gray is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
picture of dorian gray
I think that Basil knows what Henry is capable. He doesn't want Henry's influence to turn Dorian from good to evil.
List all the sensory experiences mentioned in the first two paragraphs.
From the text:
The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses , and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac , or the more delicate perfume of the...
Visual, olifactory, tactile
The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses , and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac , or the more delicate perfume of...
Study Guide for The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray study guide contains a biography of Oscar Wilde, literature essays, a complete e-text, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.
- About The Picture of Dorian Gray
- Character List
Essays for The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
- Morality and Immorality (The Picture of Dorian Gray and A Streetcar Named Desire)
- The Life of Secrecy
- Break On Through To the Other Side
- The Art of Immorality: Character Fate and Morality in Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray
- The Unconscious Image of the Conscious Mind
Lesson Plan for The Picture of Dorian Gray
- About the Author
- Study Objectives
- Common Core Standards
- Introduction to The Picture of Dorian Gray
- Relationship to Other Books
- Bringing in Technology
- Notes to the Teacher
- Related Links
- The Picture of Dorian Gray Bibliography
E-Text of The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray e-text contains the full text of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.
- Chapters 1-4
- Chapters 5-8
- Chapters 9-12
- Chapters 13-16
Wikipedia Entries for The Picture of Dorian Gray
- Publication and versions
The Picture of Dorian Gray
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The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary and Analysis
Home » Literature Explained – Literary Synopses and Book Summaries » The Picture of Dorian Gray » The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary and Analysis
Dorian Gray Introduction
The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel written by Oscar Wilde and published in 1890. Having been no stranger to scandal in his personal life, Wilde’s novel brought the philosophy of aestheticism to the public eye.
Dorian Gray is in part gothic fiction, but it is also a comedy of errors, following a young and attractive socialite as he trades his soul for eternal youth and beauty. His descent into sin and hedonism lead him to question where one finds the real source of beauty in life.
Dorian Gray Literary Elements
Type of Work: Novel
Genres : Gothic; comedy of manners
Published Date: 1890
Setting: Late nineteenth century in London, England.
Main Characters: Dorian Gray, Basil Hallward, Lord Henry Wotton, Sibyl Vane
Protagonist: Dorian Gray
Antagonist: Dorian Gray; James Vane
Major Thematic Elements: Art’s purpose; youth and beauty as vehicles of influence; superficiality of society; the dangers of social influence
Motifs: The picture of Dorian Gray; white colors; homoerotic relationships
Exposition: Celebrated artist Basil Hallward meets Dorian Gray and, enthralled by his beauty, asks Dorian to sit as a model for his paintings.
Plot: chronological, through the eyes of an anonymous third person omniscient narrator
Major Symbols: Opium dens, James Vane, the yellow book
Climax: Dorian kills Basil
Literary Significance of Dorian Gray
At this point in Victorian England, this sort of attitude towards art was unusual and somewhat revolutionary. Until this point, art was expected to uphold and reinforce morals and so stripping art of that responsibility was bold and uncomfortable. In many ways, aestheticism failed to really uphold its core purpose because it did influence a social and artistic movement.
One of the reasons why The Picture of Dorian Gray is so widely studied to this day is because it brings this puzzling aspect of aestheticism to light. The novel is partly gothic fiction, partly a comedy of manners, and partly a philosophical engagement. The is much to be picked apart from this novel and just as Victorian audiences felt confused, many literary scholars still find areas to continue to disagree about in terms of deeper meaning.
The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary
In chapter two, Dorian woos the guests of the party with his charm and beauty. Dorian is going to sit for another portrait for Basil and he invites Lord Henry to stay and keep him company while he models. Basil dislikes the idea, saying that Lord Henry will be a bad influence on him. While Dorian models and Basil paints, the three discuss their personal philosophies. After the portrait is finished, Lord Henry admires it, but Dorian feels sad looking at it, suddenly aware that his youth and beauty will not last forever.
In chapter three, Lord Henry does some sleuthing into Dorian’s background. He finds out that the young man has an unhappy past, coming from a family with a troublesome social background. Lord Henry realizes that he could probably have great influence over Dorian because of this. The two go on to develop a friendship and when, weeks later, Dorian falls in love with a beautiful young woman, he is eager to tell Lord Henry all about it. The young lady is named Sibyl Vane and she is an actress who does Shakespeare plays. Dorian and Sibyl waste no time before getting engaged.
As Sibyl continues her acting career, she finds that her acting is terrible now that she is in love. She feels that pretend emotions are no longer interesting to her now that she has the real thing. Despite her acting career taking a hit, she is still happy. Dorian is appalled and no longer feels that he is in love with Sibyl. Distressed, Dorian wanders the streets of London alone. At this point in chapter seven, Dorian returns home to find that the portrait that Basil painted of him has developed a faint sneer. Dorian feels ashamed of himself and goes to bed with plans to make amends with Sibyl the next day.
The next morning, Dorian finds that the face in the painting has started to look even crueler than before. Lord Henry arrives and informs Dorian that Sibyl committed suicide after Dorian left her the previous night. Dorian resolves to live a life of hedonistic values and that he will maintain his youth and beauty while his portrait bears the marks of age and experience instead. Basil is hurt to find that this change has come over Dorian and blames Lord Henry’s influence. Basil requests to show the portrait at an art show, but Dorian refuses to allow it, instead keeping it hidden for himself behind a screen. In chapter ten, Dorian’s madness starts to really show. He has some men help him move the portrait into an abandoned school room near his apartment so that it can be kept away from prying eyes.
As years pass, Dorian maintains his youth and beauty as he falls more and more down a rabbit hole of hedonism. Rumors develop that he engages in sinful and dark behaviors and has made a pact with the devil. In chapter eleven, Dorian notices with delight the growing contradiction between his dark and corrupted soul and his youthful and innocent appearance. Dorian becomes paranoid that someone will find and steal his portrait.
Chapter twelve sees Dorian about to turn 38. While he is out the evening before his birthday, he passes Basil on the street. Basil follows Dorian home and confronts him about his behaviors, warning him that nobody can escape their sins. Basil asks Dorian about the rumors that trail him and why all of his relationships end in disaster. It is revealed that one young man who Dorian befriended committed suicide and others had their entire careers ruined. Basil laments that he wishes he could see Dorian’s soul, which amuses Dorian. He takes Basil to the painting to show him how he has maintained his beauty. Basil begs Dorian to pray for forgiveness but instead Dorian murders Basil by stabbing him repeatedly.
Overwhelmed, Dorian begins to seek out solace in opium dens. He knows that he cannot be forgiven for his sins, so he opts to forget them instead. In chapter sixteen, James Vane, Sibyl’s brother, has tracked Dorian down and threatens him at gunpoint. Dorian tricks James into thinking that he is not the right person, since it has been eighteen years since Sibyl’s death, but Dorian is clearly not old enough to have been responsible all those years ago. James lets Dorian leave but soon discovers that he had the responsible person all along.
Over the next couple of chapters, Dorian falls more and more paranoid and miserable. Terrified that James will catch up with him and kill him, Dorian can hardly leave his house. When he finally does, he feels that he sees bad omens and realizes that he has lost any ability to love. He wishes that he could feel anything.
In chapter nineteen, Dorian has finally had enough. He wants to try and find a way to live a life of virtue. He tells Lord Henry that he murdered Basil, but Lord Henry laughs and says that Dorian is not a vulgar enough person to have committed a murder. Finally, utterly lost and feeling trapped by a life of sin, in the final chapter of the book, Dorian takes a knife to the painting. When noises are heard by servants, they enter the room finding the portrait showing a young a beautiful Dorian and an old, ugly man on the floor with a knife through his heart.
A Summary and Analysis of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde’s one novel, published originally in 1890 (as a serial) and then in book form the following year. The novel is at once an example of late Victorian Gothic horror and , in some ways, the greatest English-language novel about decadence and aestheticism, or ‘art for art’s sake’.
To show how these themes and movements find their way into the novel, it’s necessary to offer some words of analysis. But before we analyse The Picture of Dorian Gray , it might be worth summarising the plot of the novel.
The Picture of Dorian Gray : summary
The three main characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray are the title character (a beautiful young man), Basil Hallward (a painter), and Lord Henry Wotton (Basil Hallward’s friend).
The novel opens with Basil painting Dorian Gray’s portrait. Lord Henry Wotton takes a shine to the young man, and advises him to be constantly in search of new ‘sensations’ in life. He encourages Dorian to drink deep of life’s pleasures.
When the picture of Dorian is finished, Dorian marvels at how young and beautiful he looks, before wishing that he could always remain as young and attractive while his portrait is the one that ages and decays, rather than the other way around. When he proclaims that he would give his soul to have such a wish granted, it’s as if he has made a pact with the devil.
Basil’s finished portrait is sent to Dorian’s house, while Dorian himself goes out and follows Lord Henry’s advice. He falls head over heels in love with an actress, Sibyl Vane, but when she loses her ability to act well – because, she claims, now she has fallen in love for real she cannot imitate it on the stage – Dorian cruelly discards her. He had fallen in love with her art as an actress, and now she has lost that, she is meaningless to him.
Sibyl takes her own life before Dorian – who has observed a change in his portrait, which looks to have a slightly meaner expression than before – can apologise to her and beg her forgiveness. But Lord Henry consoles Dorian, arguing that Sibyl, in dying young, has given her last beautiful performance.
Dorian, shocked by the change in the portrait, locks it away at the top of his house, in his old schoolroom. Inspired by an immoral ‘yellow book’ which Lord Henry gives to him, Dorian continues to experience all manner of ‘sensations’, no matter how immoral they are. When he next takes a look at the portrait in his attic, he finds an old and evil face, disfigured by sin, staring out at him.
The novel moves forward some thirteen years. Dorian, of course, is still young and fresh-faced, but his portrait looks meaner and older than ever. When Dorian shows the portrait to Basil, who painted it, the artist – who had worshipped Dorian’s beauty when he painted the picture – is shocked and appalled. Dorian stabs Basil to death, before enlisting the help of someone to dispose of the body (this man, horrified by what he has done, will later take his own life).
Dorian slides further into sin and evil, until one day, the brother of the dead actress, Sibyl Vane, bumps into Dorian Gray and intends to exact revenge for his sister’s mistreatment at the hands of Dorian. But when he follows Dorian to the latter’s country estate, he is accidentally shot by one of Dorian’s shooting party.
Dorian becomes intent on reforming his character, hoping that the portrait will start to improve if he behaves better. But when he goes up to look at the painting, he finds that it shows the face of a hypocrite, because even his abstinence from vice was, in its own way, a quest for a new sensation to experience.
Horrified and angered, Dorian plunges a knife into the canvas, but when the servants walk in on him, they find the portrait as it was originally painted, showing Dorian Gray as a youthful man. Meanwhile, on the floor, there is the body of a wrinkled old man with a ‘loathsome’ face.
The Picture of Dorian Gray : analysis
The Picture of Dorian Gray has been analysed as an example of the Gothic horror novel, as a variation on the theme of the ‘double’, and as a narrative embodying some of the key aspects of late nineteenth-century aestheticism and decadence.
Wilde’s skill lies in how he manages to weave these various elements together, creating a modern take on the old Faust story (the German figure Faust sold his soul to the devil, via Mephistopheles) which also, in its depictions of late Victorian sin and vice, may remind readers of another work of fiction published just four years earlier: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which we’ve analysed here ).
Indeed, the discovery of the body of Dorian Gray as a wrinkled and horrifically ugly corpse at the end of the novel recalls the discovery of Jekyll/Hyde in Stevenson’s novella.
To find the novel’s value as a book of the aesthetic movement, we need look no further than Wilde’s preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray , in which he states, for instance, that ‘there is no such thing as a moral or immoral book’ (what matters is whether the book is written well or not) and ‘all art is quite useless’ (art shouldn’t change the world: art exists as, and for, itself, and no more).
Lord Henry Wotton is very much the voice of the aesthetic movement in the novel, and many of his pronouncements echo those made by the prominent art critic (under whom Wilde had studied at Oxford), Walter Pater. But whereas Pater talked of ‘new impressions’, Lord Henry (or Wilde, in his novel) took this up a notch, calling for new ‘sensations’.
We tend to speak conveniently of ‘periods’ or ‘movements’ or ‘eras’ in literary history, but these labels aren’t always useful. Both Oscar Wilde and Elizabeth Gaskell, the author of Mary Barton and North and South , were ‘Victorian’ in that they were both writing and publishing their work in Britain during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).
But whereas Gaskell, writing in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s, wrote ‘realist’ novels about the plight of factory workers in northern England, Wilde wrote a fantastical horror story about upper-class men who are able to stay forever young and spotless while their portraits decay in their attic. They’re a world away from each other.
Wilde’s novel is a good example of how later Victorian fiction often turned against the values and approaches favourited by earlier Victorian writers. It was Wilde who, famously, said of the sad ending of Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop , which Dickens’s original readers in the 1840s wept buckets over, ‘one must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without’ – what, crying? No. Wilde’s word was ‘laughing’. The overly sentimental style favoured by mid-century novelists like Dickens had given way to a more casual, poised, nonchalant, and detached mode of storytelling.
At the same time, we can overstate the extent to which Wilde’s novel turns its back on earlier Victorian attitudes and values. Despite his statement that there is no such thing as a moral or immoral book, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a highly moral work, as the tale of Faust was. Dorian’s life is destroyed by his commitment to a life of pleasure, even though it entails the destruction of other lives – most notably, Sibyl Vane’s.
Far from being a book that would be denounced from the pulpits by Anglican clergymen for being ‘immoral’, The Picture of Dorian Gray could make for a pretty good moral sermon in itself, albeit one that’s more witty and entertaining than most Christian sermons.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is, at bottom, a novel of surfaces and appearance. We say ‘at bottom’, but that is precisely the point: the novel is, as many critics have commented, all surface. Lord Henry is so taken by the beauty of Dorian Gray that he sets about being a bad influence on him.
Dorian is so taken by the painting of him – a two-dimensional representation of his outward appearance – that he makes his deal with the devil, trading his soul, that thing which represents inner meaning and inner depth, in exchange for remaining youthful on the outside.
Then, when Dorian falls in love, it’s with an actress, not because he loves her but because he loves her performance. When she loses her ability to act, he abandons her. Her name, Sibyl Vane, points up the vanity of acting and the pursuit of skin-deep appearance at the cost if something more substantial, but her first name also acts as a warning: in Greek mythology, the Sibyls made cryptic statements about future events.
But there’s probably a particular Sibyl that Wilde had in mind: the Sibyl at Cumae, who, in Petronius’ scurrilous Roman novel Satyricon (which Wilde would surely have known) and in other stories, was destined to live forever but to age and wither away. She had eternal life, but not eternal youth. Dorian’s own eternal youth comes at a horrible cost: without a soul, all he can do is go in pursuit of new sensations, forever chasing desire yet never attaining true fulfilment.
It will, in the end, destroy him: in lashing out and trying to destroy the truth that stares back at him from his portrait, much as he had destroyed the artist who held up a mirror to his corrupt self, Dorian Gray destroys himself. In the last analysis, as he and his portrait do not exist separately from each other, he must live with himself – and with his conscience – or must die in his vain attempt to close his eyes to who he has really become.
About Oscar Wilde
The life of the Irish novelist, poet, essayist, and playwright Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) is as famous as – perhaps even more famous than – his work. But in a career spanning some twenty years, Wilde created a body of work which continues to be read an enjoyed by people around the world: a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray ; short stories and fairy tales such as ‘ The Happy Prince ’ and ‘ The Selfish Giant ’; poems including The Ballad of Reading Gaol ; and essay-dialogues which were witty revivals of the Platonic philosophical dialogue.
But above all, it is Wilde’s plays that he continues to be known for, and these include witty drawing-room comedies such as Lady Windermere’s Fan , A Woman of No Importance , and The Importance of Being Earnest , as well as a Biblical drama, Salome (which was banned from performance in the UK and had to be staged abroad). Wilde is also often remembered for his witty quips and paradoxes and his conversational one-liners, which are legion.
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5 thoughts on “A Summary and Analysis of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray”
‘Genius lasts longer than beauty’ – a very appropriate quote from Chapter 1
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The “yellow book”, referred to is probably Huysmans’s A Rebours, which was sold in a yellow jacket. It is not the Yellow Book quarterly (a publication featuring poetry, prose and illustrations from followers of the Aesthetic movement), which came later, and which probably took its title from the reference in Wilde’s novel.
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The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary
1-Sentence-Summary: The Picture of Dorian Gray tells the story of a young, beautiful man who trades his soul for eternal youth, then descends further and further into a moral abyss — until he discovers there is, after all, a price to pay for his actions.
Favorite quote from the author:
When the time came to prepare for my German A-Levels, I was so glad I chose English as my third major next to biology and chemistry. Unlike for the other two, where, indeed, major studying was required, my preparation for the English exam consisted of just three things: reviewing my notes, brushing up on my vocabulary, and watching the 2009 movie adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray .
Published by Irish writer, playwright, and poet Oscar Wilde in 1891, this classic of English literature was initially denounced and criticized. The novel follows young Dorian Gray, a beautiful man who wishes to remain forever young. When his wish is granted, he finds himself torn between virtue and vice, at first not realizing that his choice will come at a price. The book deals with morals, sex, addiction, and other heavy topics — and that’s why it didn’t sit well with the literary society at the time.
Here are 3 lessons from the 3 acts of the novel to help you understand its core message and learn something new along the way:
- Pushing back repercussions works for a time, but never forever.
- It’s common to blame someone else for our worst failures. It’s also wrong.
- Acceptance helps even when a situation seems beyond helping.
Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most beautiful of them all? Dorian Gray, apparently — let’s see what that’s all about!
If you want to save this summary for later, download the free PDF and read it whenever you want.
Lesson 1: You can run from the consequences of your actions, but you can’t hide from them forever.
The book opens with artist Basil Hallward finishing a portrait of a young and beautiful Dorian Gray. Also-present Lord Henry Wotton talks about hedonism, a worldview that suggests only beauty is worth pursuing — because it never lasts. In response, Gray says he’d “give his soul” if only his portrait would age instead of him. Surprisingly, his wish comes true.
As Wotton keeps whispering unethical ideas into Dorian’s ear, he continues to absolve himself every time his moral compass fails. Gray wants to marry actress Sibyl, but when she performs poorly in a play , he claims without her art, she is uninteresting to him. Sybil commits suicide, but with Lord Henry’s guidance, Dorian brushes it off as “an artistic act of love.” And when Gray notices his painting is slowly developing an ugly sneer, he simply hides it in his attic.
The John Wick franchise is about the idea that “ consequences rule everything .” Every action former serial killer John commits is followed by a reaction, which forces him to kill even more people in his fight for his freedom.
Similarly, Dorian can run from the consequences of his actions, but he can’t hide from them forever — and neither can we. Sooner or later, the repercussions of our choices will catch up to us. Always think about the long-term effects of your decisions.
Lesson 2: Our initial response to failure is often to blame someone else — usually, we are wrong.
For the next 18 years, Dorian abandons all virtue and goes all in on beauty and vice, as Lord Henry suggested. He seduces countless women, attends lavish parties, and tries every drug under the sun, not aging a day through all of it.
One night, Basil visits Dorian, asking if all the nasty rumors about his immoral behavior are true. In response, Dorian shows Basil the painting, which has become twisted beyond recognition. Instead of owning up to his mistakes, however, Dorian doubles down on absolving himself — first by blaming Basil, claiming it is all his fault, and then by stabbing him to death.
When we are confronted with our worst failures, our first reaction is often denial . We don’t want to believe we have become corrupt, lost sight of what truly matters, or let down someone we love. To protect itself, our psyche points at everyone and everything but us, even when, deep down, we now it’s our fault.
We’re all human. It’s normal to not take it well when you hit rock bottom. It is, however, important to eventually realize when responsibility ultimately falls on us — and then to dust ourselves off, take that responsibility, and move on.
Lesson 3: Acceptance can resolve everything, even when it comes too late to change anything.
After murdering Basil, fate lets Dorian off the hook two more times. First, he bumps into Sibyl’s brother James, who wants vengeance for his sister’s death. But the young-looking Dorian convinces him he can’t possibly be Sibyl’s ex-fiancé, for that must be an older man. Second, when James remains suspicious and stalks Dorian, he is accidentally shot while Dorian is out hunting with a group of others.
Still, having ruined so many lives, Dorian has finally had enough. He vows to change his life and be virtuous again. Lord Henry, for what it’s worth, does not believe him — and neither does the painting, which turns even uglier. In a fit of rage, Dorian stabs the painting like he stabbed Basil. The next morning, his servants find an old, horrific-looking man dead on the floor, which they can identify as Dorian Gray by his rings. The painting, meanwhile, is as young and beautiful as it was when Basil first painted it.
In essence, Dorian is a character that refuses to change all throughout the book. Only in the very end does he finally, fully accept his past. Unfortunately, his first step on his new path — destroying the painting — ends up being his last.
Of course, acceptance is most fruitful when there’s still time to change things. But even after you’ve lost your company or broken up with someone, it can still bring peace to you and those you might have hurt. Plus, most of the time, for us, there is a next chapter to be written, and only once we’ve fully closed the last one can we start writing a new story .
The Picture of Dorian Gray Review
Like Dorian’s picture, great stories never get old. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of them. Update the language, change a few details, and you could have a modern bestseller or Hollywood blockbuster. The context around the book and Wilde’s life (it’s a rather autobiographical novel) is also worth exploring. Definitely a classic worth picking up!
Who would I recommend our The Picture of Dorian Gray summary summary to?
The 19-year-old English major who wants to expand her subject knowledge in a fun way, the 58-year-old CEO who knows he’s keeping his staff on too short of a leash, and anyone who enjoys books in the Gothic genre.
Niklas Göke is an author and writer whose work has attracted tens of millions of readers to date. He is also the founder and CEO of Four Minute Books, a collection of over 1,000 free book summaries teaching readers 3 valuable lessons in just 4 minutes each. Born and raised in Germany, Nik also holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration & Engineering from KIT Karlsruhe and a Master’s Degree in Management & Technology from the Technical University of Munich. He lives in Munich and enjoys a great slice of salami pizza almost as much as reading — or writing — the next book — or book summary, of course!
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More on The Picture of Dorian Gray
What is The Picture of Dorian Gray about? Read our Picture of Dorian Gray plot synopsis to learn about a guy who makes Instagram influencers look modest.
Introduction See All
Summary see all, themes see all.
- Good vs. Evil
- Art and Culture
- Morality and Ethics
- Sexuality and Sexual Identity
Characters See All
- Dorian Gray
- Lord Henry Wotton
- Basil Hallward
- The Duchess of Monmouth
- Alan Campbell
- Adrian Singleton
Analysis See All
- What's Up with the Title?
- What's Up With the Ending?
- What's Up with the Epigraph?
- Writing Style
- Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
- Narrator Point of View
- Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
- Plot Analysis
- Three Act Plot Analysis
Quotes See All
- For Teachers
The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the story of one beautiful, innocent young man's seduction, moral corruption, and eventual downfall.
And, oh yeah: it's also the story of a really creepy painting.
We meet our three central characters at the beginning of the book, when painter Basil Hallward and his close friend, Lord Henry Wotton, are discussing the subject of Basil's newest painting, a gorgeous young thing named Dorian Gray. Basil and Henry discuss just how perfectly perfect Dorian is—he's totally innocent and completely good, as well as being the most beautiful guy ever to walk the earth. Lord Henry wants to meet this mysterious boy, but Basil doesn't want him to; for some reason, he's afraid of what will happen to Dorian if Lord Henry digs his claws into him. However, Lord Henry gets his wish—Dorian shows up that very afternoon, and, over the course of the day, Henry manages to totally change Dorian's perspective on the world. From that point on, Dorian's previously innocent point of view is dramatically different—he begins to see life as Lord Henry does, as a succession of pleasures in which questions of good and evil are irrelevant. Basil finishes his portrait of Dorian, and gives it to the young man, who keeps it in his home, where he can admire his own beauty. Lord Henry continues to exert his influence over Dorian, to Basil's dismay. Dorian grows more and more distant from Basil, his former best friend, and develops his own interests. One of these interests is Sybil Vane, a young, exceptionally beautiful, exceptionally talented—and exceptionally poor—actress. Though she's stuck performing in a terrible, third-rate theatre, she's a truly remarkable artist, and her talent and beauty win over Dorian. He falls dramatically in love with her, and she with him.
For a moment, it seems like everything will turn out wonderfully. However, this is just the beginning of Dorian's story. Once he and Sybil are engaged, her talent suddenly disappears—she's so overcome with her passionate love for Dorian that none of her roles on stage seem important to her anymore. This destroys Dorian's love for her, and he brutally dumps her. Back home, he notices a something different in his portrait—it looks somehow crueler. In the meanwhile, the distraught Sybil commits suicide, just as Dorian decides to return to her and take back his terrible words. Sybil's suicide changes everything. At first, Dorian feels horrible... but he rather quickly changes his tune. On Lord Henry's suggestion, Dorian reads a mysterious "yellow book," a decadent French novel that makes him reevaluate his whole belief system. The protagonist of the book lives his life in pursuit of sensual pleasures, which intrigues Dorian. From this moment on, Dorian is a changed man. Dorian starts to live as hedonistically as his wicked mentor, Lord Henry, does. The only thing that documents this turn for the worst is the portrait, which alarmingly begins to exhibit the inward corruption of Dorian's soul; the beautiful image changes, revealing new scars and physical flaws with each of Dorian's dastardly actions. As years pass, the man in the picture grows more and more hideous, as Dorian himself stays unnaturally young and beautiful. Rumors start to spread about the various people whose lives Dorian has ruined, and his formerly good reputation is destroyed. On Dorian's 38th birthday, he encounters Basil, who desperately asks his former friend if all the horrifying rumors about him are true. Dorian finally snaps and shows Basil the portrait, in which the horrible truth about his wicked nature is revealed. Basil recoils, and begs Dorian to pray for forgiveness. In response, Dorian murders Basil, stabbing him brutally. He blackmails another of his former friends into disposing of the body. Dorian retreats to an opium den after dealing with all of the evidence, where he encounters an enemy he didn't know he had—Sybil Vane's brother, James. Through a rather complicated turn of events, James (who's on a mission to punish Dorian for his mistreatment of Sybil) ends up dead. Dorian isn't directly responsible, but it's yet another death to add to Dorian's tally of life-wrecking disasters. Dorian is relieved that his enemy is out of the way, but this event sparks a kind of mid-life crisis: he begins to wonder if his vile but enjoyable lifestyle is worth it. He actually does a good(ish) deed, by deciding not to corrupt a young girl he's got the hots for, which makes him question his past actions even more. Seeking some kind of reassurance, Dorian talks to Lord Henry, who's not any help at all, unsurprisingly. Dorian even practically admits to murdering Basil, but Henry laughs it off and doesn't believe him. That night, Dorian returns home in a pensive mood. Catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror, he hates his own beauty and breaks the mirror. Again, he vows to be good, but we find out that his various crimes don't really haunt him, because he doesn't consider them his fault. Instead, he selfishly wants to be good so that the painting will become beautiful again. Heartened by this thought, he goes up to see if his recent good deed has improved the painting. In fact, it only looks worse. Frustrated, Dorian decides to destroy the picture, the visible evidence of his dreadful crimes, and the closest thing to a conscience he has. Dorian slashes at the painting with the same knife that killed Basil, trying to destroy the work as he did the artist. A tremendous crash and a terrible cry alert the servants that something very, very bad has happened— it's even audible outside the house. Finally, they go upstairs to check it out, and are horrified by what they find: a portrait of their master, as beautiful as ever, hangs on the wall, and a mysterious, grotesquely hideous dead man is lying on the floor with a knife in his heart. Upon close examination, the rings on the dead man's hand identify him as Dorian Gray.
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The Picture of Dorian Gray Chapter Abstracts for Teachers
Preface - Chapter 2
● The Preface is a series of epigrams that summarize Oscar Wilde’s aesthetic philosophy.
● Chapter One opens in the beautiful London home of Basil Hallward. He discusses his latest portrait with Lord Henry Wotton.
● Lord Henry admires the painting and says it is Basil’s greatest work, insisting he put it in an exhibit. Basil refuses, claiming he has put too much of himself in it.
● Basil explains how he came to meet and paint Dorian Gray. Lord Henry remembers when he first heard that name, just as the butler announces that Dorian has arrived. Lord Henry insists on meeting him.
● In Chapter Two, Basil introduces Lord Henry to Dorian, and Dorian asks Lord Henry to stay and talk while Dorian sits for Basil. Basil warns Dorian that Lord Henry is a bad influence, which intrigues Dorian.
● When the portrait is complete, it is beautiful...
(read more Chapter Abstracts)
Late 19th Century British Literature & Culture
Aesthetes, Libertines, & Dandies
The Picture of Dorian Gray… And Lord Henry?
The portrait of Dorian Gray, reflecting every year that goes by and every sin committed, could also be interpreted as a reflection of Lord Henry’s corruption of Dorian. Further, Lord Henry is reflected in this portrait, as he is also a physicalization of Dorian’s greed and negativity. After all, he is the one that imparted these views onto Dorian. Additionally, the portrait of Dorian seems to fill Dorian with negative thoughts and feelings in a similar manner to Lord Henry. There is a particular moment, right before Dorian kills Basil in the room where the painting hangs, that “Dorian Gray glanced at the picture, and suddenly an uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Hallward came over him, as though it had been suggested to him by the image on the canvas” (151). In this moment, Dorian is being influenced in a manner very similar to how he was influenced by Lord Henry. Additionally, the portrait is only the way it is because of Lord Henry’s influence on Dorian, therefore the emotions and thoughts Dorian derives from being around the painting are still a result of Lord Henry. Therefore, in a roundabout way, Lord Henry had a part in the murder of Basil Hallward, but that is neither here nor there – what is important is that the portrait is as much of a reflection of Lord Henry as it is Dorian, and when the painting is influencing Dorian’s actions and feelings, it is inadvertently Lord Henry influencing Dorian.
Just as the portrait is a physicalization of Dorian’s sins, so is Lord Henry. After all, Lord Henry’s life is what influenced Dorian in the first place to follow the treacherous path that led to the committing of so many sins. Lord Henry is the one constantly whispering in Dorian’s ear, whether literally or metaphorically through that odd French novel, influencing his every move in life. This is eerily similar to the way that is influenced by the painting when he is near it, whether that influence be paranoia, guilt, or murderous intent. Additionally, many if not all of the actions Dorian has taken in life that have led to the painting looking the way it does are actions that have been endorsed, encouraged, or inspired by Lord Henry. In fact, although it is not explicitly said, it can be inferred that many of those horrid actions were committed alongside Lord Henry. Therefore, even though the portrait may be a painting of Dorian, each sin committed that alters the appearance of the painting is a reflection of Lord Henry as well as it is Dorian, with their darkest actions intermingling on the canvas.
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