First Edition Provenance
It was originally published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890.
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray. London: Messr. Ward, Lock & Co., 1916. (eBook format)
Introduction to the Selection from The Picture of Dorian Gray – by Justin Wadge
“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.” -Chapter 3, Paragraph 32
Oscar Wilde’s first and only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in a magazine in an edited format, attempting to smooth over the controversial homosexual undertones and references. When it was later released as a book, Wilde himself had the opportunity to edit the text, opting to add an additional seven chapters, developing a longer build up to the dramatic finale of the book. Even with considerable changes, the British public found the book distasteful and poorly written. The version from which the excerpt is taken features a poetic preface that announces his stance on the critiques and his role as an artist.
The book reflects both Oscar Wilde’s hellenistic and aesthetic interests. A key theme is the decay of beauty over time. Dorian Gray, the representation of beauty within the novel, is introduced as quite naive and ignorant. His beauty and innocence is very attractive to other members of high social class. Basil Hallward, a portrait painter who is very passionate for capturing Dorian’s beauty, introduces him to Lord Henry Wotton. Lord Henry, a witty and imposing character, unleashes countless philosophical attitudes that begin to sway Dorian’s innocence. It in these constant remarks that can be found much of Oscar Wilde’s attitudes towards beauty. With respect to this newfound perspective, Dorian is driven to say this regarding the final portrait:
“How sad it is!” murmured Dorian Gray, with his eyes fixed upon his own portrait. “I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day in June… If it were only the other way! If I were the one who was to be young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!” – Chapter 2, Paragraph 74
Another key theme within the novel is the tumultuous conflict that develops between Dorian’s guilt ridden conscious and his degrading soul. This is addressed in the physical realm through Dorian’s relationship with the painting. Often throughout the novel, Dorian’s conscious is employing tactics to avoid a confrontation with what he has actually become. The confrontations with the painting and internal reflection, along with a later trip to the opium den, are contrasted with his simultaneous participation in high class society of dinner party’s, evening clubs, and a retreat to the house in the country.
The separation of Dorian’s conscious and his soul becomes an interesting architectural problem. The beginning of the novel is heavily dialogue based, with the later portions being very internalized. Spotted through the book are key and vividly described architecturally scenes. Not surprisingly, Wilde capitalizes on the moments of confrontation between Dorian and the portrait as dramatic dialogues between his conscious and his sins. The sequence of events when Dorian is interacting with the portrait become long processes of unraveling the barriers in his mind to reach the carefully protected sins. This journey is emphasized with the dramatic use of elevational change, lighting, the curtain as a veil. This is seen in the discovery that the portrait reflects his soul (excerpt 1), the hiding of the portrait (excerpt 2), and the revealing of the portrait to Basil (excerpt 3). Later, Dorian can no longer hide the portrait from his conscious. In response to the growing need to confront his soul, Dorian digresses from his high class culture and indulges in the world of sin, here taking the form of a distant opium den (excerpt 4).
Excerpt 1: Chapter 7, Paragraph 39
Context: Lord Henry’s corrupt world views have finally had their effect on Dorian Gray. After witnessing her poor acting performance, Dorian ruthlessly leaves the (former) love of his life, Sibyl Vane. After a detailed description of the journey, Dorian arrives home to find the supposedly timeless beauty of the portrait to be slightly degraded from his sin. The dramatic turn in the plot signals the first significant architectural scene..
“…Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his chiseled lips curled in exquisite disdain. There is always something ridiculous about the emotions 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. 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. past 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 doorsteps, and heard shrieks and oaths from gloomy courts.
As the dawn was just breaking he found himself close to Covent Garden. The darkness lifted, and flushed with faint fires, the sky hollowed itself into a perfect pearl. Huge carts filled with faint fires, the sky hollowed itself into a perfect pearl. 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, and 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 grey sun-bleached pillars, loitered a troop of bareheaded girls, waiting for the auction to be over. Others crowded around the swinging doors of the coffee-house in the Piazza. The heavy cart-horses slipped and stamped upon the rough stones, shaking their bells and trappings. Some of the drivers were lying asleep on a pile of sacks. Iris-necked, and pink-footed, the pigeons ran about picking up seeds.
After a while, he hailed a hansom, and drove home. For a few moments he loitered upon the doorstep, looking round at the silent square with its blank, close-shuttered windows, and its staring blinds. The sky was pure opal now, and the roofs of the houses glistened like silver against it. From some chimney opposite a thin wreathe of smoke was rising. It curled a violet ribrand, through the nacre coloured air.
In the huge gilt venetian lantern, spoil of some Doge’s barge that hung from the ceiling of the great oak-panelled hall of entrance lights were still burning from three flickering jets: thin blue petals of flame they seemed, rimmed with white fire. He turned them out, and having thrown his hat and cape on the table, passed through the library towards the door of his bedroom, a large octagonal chamber on the ground floor that, in his newborn feeling for luxury, he had just declared for himself, and hung with some curious Renaissance tapestries that been discovered stored in a discussed attic at Selby Royal. As he was turning the handle of the door, his eye fell upon the portrait Basil Hallward had painted of him. He started back as if in surprise. Then he went on into his room, looking somewhat puzzled. After he had taken the buttonhole out of his coat, he seemed to hesitate. Finally, he came back, went over to the picture, and examined it. In the dim arrested light that struggled through the cream-coloured silk blinds, the face appeared to him to be a little changed. The expression looked different. One would have said there was a touch of cruelty in the mouth. It was certainly strange.
He turned around, and, walking toward the window, drew up the blind. The bright dawn flowed the room, and swept the fantastic shadows into the dusky corners, where they lay shuddering. But the strange expression that be 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 around the mouth as clearly as if it had been looking into a mirror after he had done something dreadful.
Excerpt 2: Chapter 10, Paragraph 26
Context: The painting is in the main space of his house covered in a drape. Dorian Gray is increasingly protective of the portrait; he does not want anyone to see his true complexion. In response to his, he gets the keys from his butler for an abandoned room and calls framers to move it there. Though a short selection, the architectural references are essential references to the way by which Dorian locks up the painting physically and psychologically.
He held the door open for them, and they passed out into the hall and began the ascent.
He had not entered the place for more than four years—not, indeed since he had used it first as a play-room when he was a child, and then as a study when he grew somewhat older. It was a large, well-proportioned room, which had been specially built by the last Lord Kelso for the use of the little grandson, whom, for his strange likeness to his mother, and also for other reasons, he had always hated and desired to keep at a distance. It appeared to Dorian to have but little changed. There was a huge Italian cassone, with its fantastically-painted panels and its tarnished guilt moldings, in which he had so often hidden himself as a boy. There the satinwood bookcase filled with his dog-eared schoolbooks. On the wall behind it was hanging some of the ragged flemish tapestry, where a faded king and queen were playing chess in the garden, while a company of hawkers rode by, carrying hooded birds on their gauntleted wrists. How well he remembered it all! Every moment of his lonely childhood came back as he looked round. He recalled stainless purity of his boyish life, and it seemed horrible to him that it was here the fatal portrait was to be hidden away. How little he had thought, in those days of all that was in store for him.
But there was no other place so secure from prying eyes as this. He had the key, and no one else could enter it. Beneath its purple pall, the face painted on the canvas could grow bestial, sodden, and unclean.
When the sound of footsteps had died away, Dorian locked the door, and put the key in his pocket. He felt safe now. No one would ever look upon the horrible thing. No eye but his would ever see his shame.
Excerpt 3: Chapter 13, Paragraph 1
Context: Basil is visiting Dorian and develops an intense curiosity for the whereabouts of the lovely portrait he produced many years ago. Having kept the painting locked up for some time, Dorian succumbs to the insurmountable temptation to share his horrifying secret. Just as the previous excerpt carefully explains the journey into Dorian’s subconscious when he locked it up, this sequence describes the ascent to open it once again.
He passed out of the room, and began the ascent, Basil Hallward following close behind. They would walk softly, as men do instinctively at night. The lamp cast fantastic shadows on the wall and staircase. A rising wind made some of the windows rattle.
When they reached the top landing. Dorian set the land down on the floor, and taking out the key turned it in the lock. “You insist on knowing, Basil?” he asked, in a low voice.
“I am delighted,” he answered, smiling. Then he added, somewhat harshly, “You are the one man in the world who is entitled to know everything about me. You have more to do with my life than you would think:” and taking up the lamp, he opened the door and went in. A cold current of air passed them, and the light shot up for a moment in a flame of murky orange. He shuddered. “Shut the door behind you,” he whispered, as he placed the lamp on the table.
Hallward glanced around him, with a puzzled expression. The room looked as if it had not been lived in for years. A faded flemish tapestry, a curtained picture, an old Italian cassone, and an almost empty bookcase— that was all that it seemed to contain, beside a chair and a table. As Dorian Gray was lighting a half-burned candle that was standing on the mantel-shelf, he saw that the whole place was covered with dust, and that the carpet was in holes. A mouse ran scuffling behind the wainscoting. There was a damp odor of mildew.
“So you think that it is only God who sees the soul, Basil? Draw that curtain back, and you will see mine.”
The voice that spoke was cold and cruel. “You are mad, Dorian, or playing a part,” muttered Hallward, frowning.
“You won’t? Then I must do it myself,” said the young man; and he tore the curtain from its rod, and flung it on the ground.
An exclamation of horror broke from the painter’s lips as he saw in the dim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning at him.”
Excerpt 4: Chapter 16, Paragraph 1
Context: Dorian Gray takes a long journey by carriage from the sophistication community where he lives to a shack in the country. He then walks some distance through the house before reaching an opium den. The frightening detail reveals how very corrupt and immoral his alter life has become.
A cold rain began to fall, and the blurred street-lamps looked ghastly in the dripping mist. The public-houses were just closing, and dim men and women were clustering in broken groups round their doors. From some of the bars came the sound of horrible laughter. In others, drunkards bawled and screamed.
Lying back in the hansom, with his hat pulled over his forehead, Dorian Gray watched with listless eyes the sordid shame of the great city, and now and then he repeated to himself the words that Lord Henry had said to him on the first day they had met, “To cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by the means of the soul.” Yes, that was the secret. He had often tried it, and would try it again now. There were opium-dens, where one could buy oblivion, dens of horror where the memory of old sins could be destroyed by the madness of sins that were new.
The moon hung low in the sky like a yellow skull. From time to time a huge misshapen cloud stretched a long across and hid it. The gas-lamps grew fewer, and the streets more narrow and gloomy. Once the man lost his way, and had to drive back half a mile. A stream rose from the orse as it splashed up the paddles. The side-windows of the hansom were clogged with grey-flannel mist.
The way seemed interminable, and the streets like the black web of some sprawling spider. The monotony became unbearable, and as the mist thickened, he felt afraid.
Then they passed by the lonely brickfields. The fog was lighter here, and he could see the strange bottle-shaped kilns with their orange fan-like tongues of fire. A dog barked as they went by, and far away in the darkness some wandering sea-gull screamed. the horse stumbled in a rut, then swerved aside, and broke into a gallop.
After some time they left the clay road, and rattled again over the high paven streets. Most of the windows were dark, but now and then fantastic shadows were silhouetted against some lamp-lit blind. He watched them curiously. They moved like monstrous marionettes, and made gestures like live things. He hated them. A dull rage was in his heart. As they turned a corner a woman yelled something at them from an open door, and two men ran after the hansom for about a hundred yards. The driver beat at them with his whop.
Suddenly the man drew up with a jerk at the top of a dark lane. Over the low roofs and jagged chimney stacks of the houses rose the black masts of ships. Wreaths of white mist clung like ghostly sails to the yards.
Dorian started, and peered out. “This will do,” he answered, and having got out hastily, and given the driver the extra fare he had promised him, he walked quickly in the direction of the quay. Here and there a lantern gleamed at the stern of some huge merchantman. The light shook and splintered in the puddles. A red glare came from an outward-bound streamer that was coaling. The slimy pavement looked like a wet mackintosh.
He hurried on towards the left, glancing back now and then to seek if he was being followed. In about seven or eight minutes he reached a small shabby house, that was wedged in between two giant factories. In one of the top-windows stood a lamp. he stopped, and gave a peculiar knock.
After a little time he heard steps in the passage, and the chain being unhooked. The door opened quietly, and he went in without saying a word to the squat misshapen figure that flattened itself in the shadow as he passed. A the end of the hall hung a tattered green curtain that swayed and shook in the gusty wind which had followed him in from the street. He shook in the gusty wind which had followed him in from the street. He dragged it aside, and entered a long, low room which looked as if it had been once a third-rate dance-saloon. Shrill flaring gas-jets, dulled and distorted in the fly-blown mirrors that faced them, were ranged round the walls. Greasy reflectors of ribbed tin backed them, making quivering discs of light. The floor was covered with ochre-coloured sawdust, trampled here and there into mud, and stained with dark rings of split liquor. Some of the Malays were crouching by a little charcoal stove playing with bone counters, and showing their white teeth as they chattered. In one corner, with his head buried in his arms, a sailer sprawled over a table, and by the tawdrily-painted bar that ran across one complete side stood two haggard women mocking an old man who was brushing his sleeves with his coat with an expression of digust. “He thinks he’s got red ants on him,” laughed one of them, as Dorian passed by. The man looked at her in terror and began to whimper.
At the end of the room there was a little staircase, leading to a darkened chamber, as Dorian hurried up its three ticket steps, the heavy odor of opium met him. He heaved a deep breath, and his nostrils quivered with pleasure. When he entered, a young man with smooth yellow hair, who was bending over a lamp, lighting a long thin pipe, looked at him, and nodded in a hesitating manner.