Unformatted text preview: 1/26/2017 The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde THE PREFACE
The artist is the creator of beautiful things. To reveal art and conceal the artist is art's
aim. The critic is he who can translate into another manner or a new material his impression
of beautiful things.
The highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find
ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.
Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there
is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty.
There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly
written. That is all.
The nineteenth century dislike of realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a
The nineteenth century dislike of romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own
face in a glass. The moral life of man forms part of the subjectmatter of the artist, but the
morality of art consists in the perfect use of an imperfect medium. No artist desires to prove
anything. Even things that are true can be proved. No artist has ethical sympathies. An
ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style. No artist is ever
morbid. The artist can express everything. Thought and language are to the artist
instruments of an art. Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art. From the point of
view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician. From the point of view of
feeling, the actor's craft is the type. All art is at once surface and symbol. Those who go
beneath the surface do so at their peril. Those who read the symbol do so at their peril. It is
the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors. Diversity of opinion about a work of art
shows that the work is new, complex, and vital. When critics disagree, the artist is in accord
with himself. We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire
it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.
OSCAR WILDE CHAPTER 1
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 pinkflowering thorn.
From the corner of the divan of Persian saddlebags on which he was lying, smoking, as
was his custom, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of
the honeysweet and honeycoloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches
h/174h.htm 2/137 1/26/2017 The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs; and now and then
the fantastic shadows of birds in flight flitted across the long tussoresilk curtains that were
stretched in front of the huge window, producing a kind of momentary Japanese effect, and
making him think of those pallid, jadefaced painters of Tokyo who, through the medium of
an art that is necessarily immobile, seek to convey the sense of swiftness and motion. The
sullen murmur of the bees shouldering their way through the long unmown grass, or
circling with monotonous insistence round the dusty gilt horns of the straggling woodbine,
seemed to make the stillness more oppressive. The dim roar of London was like the
bourdon note of a distant organ.
In the centre of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the fulllength portrait of a
young man of extraordinary personal beauty, and in front of it, some little distance away,
was sitting the artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago
caused, at the time, such public excitement and gave rise to so many strange conjectures.
As the painter looked at the gracious and comely form he had so skilfully mirrored in
his art, a smile of pleasure passed across his face, and seemed about to linger there. But he
suddenly started up, and closing his eyes, placed his fingers upon the lids, as though he
sought to imprison within his brain some curious dream from which he feared he might
"It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done," said Lord Henry
languidly. "You must certainly send it next year to the Grosvenor. The Academy is too large
and too vulgar. Whenever I have gone there, there have been either so many people that I
have not been able to see the pictures, which was dreadful, or so many pictures that I have
not been able to see the people, which was worse. The Grosvenor is really the only place."
"I don't think I shall send it anywhere," he answered, tossing his head back in that odd
way that used to make his friends laugh at him at Oxford. "No, I won't send it anywhere."
Lord Henry elevated his eyebrows and looked at him in amazement through the thin
blue wreaths of smoke that curled up in such fanciful whorls from his heavy, opiumtainted
cigarette. "Not send it anywhere? My dear fellow, why? Have you any reason? What odd
chaps you painters are! You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. As soon as you
have one, you seem to want to throw it away. It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in
the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. A portrait like
this would set you far above all the young men in England, and make the old men quite
jealous, if old men are ever capable of any emotion."
"I know you will laugh at me," he replied, "but I really can't exhibit it. I have put too
much of myself into it."
Lord Henry stretched himself out on the divan and laughed.
"Yes, I knew you would; but it is quite true, all the same."
"Too much of yourself in it! Upon my word, Basil, I didn't know you were so vain; and I
really can't see any resemblance between you, with your rugged strong face and your coal
black hair, and this young Adonis, who looks as if he was made out of ivory and rose
leaves. Why, my dear Basil, he is a Narcissus, and you—well, of course you have an
intellectual expression and all that. But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual
expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of
any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or
something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How
perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they
h/174h.htm 3/137 1/26/2017 The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde don't think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he
was a boy of eighteen, and as a natural consequence he always looks absolutely delightful.
Your mysterious young friend, whose name you have never told me, but whose picture
really fascinates me, never thinks. I feel quite sure of that. He is some brainless beautiful
creature who should be always here in winter when we have no flowers to look at, and
always here in summer when we want something to chill our intelligence. Don't flatter
yourself, Basil: you are not in the least like him."
"You don't understand me, Harry," answered the artist. "Of course I am not like him. I
know that perfectly well. Indeed, I should be sorry to look like him. You shrug your
shoulders? I am telling you the truth. There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual
distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings.
It is better not to be different from one's fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it
in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory,
they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat. They live as we all should live—
undisturbed, indifferent, and without disquiet. They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever
receive it from alien hands. Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as they are—my
art, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray's good looks—we shall all suffer for what the
gods have given us, suffer terribly."
"Dorian Gray? Is that his name?" asked Lord Henry, walking across the studio towards
"Yes, that is his name. I didn't intend to tell it to you."
"But why not?"
"Oh, I can't explain. When I like people immensely, I never tell their names to any one.
It is like surrendering a part of them. I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one
thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvellous to us. The commonest thing is
delightful if one only hides it. When I leave town now I never tell my people where I am
going. If I did, I would lose all my pleasure. It is a silly habit, I dare say, but somehow it
seems to bring a great deal of romance into one's life. I suppose you think me awfully
foolish about it?"
"Not at all," answered Lord Henry, "not at all, my dear Basil. You seem to forget that I
am married, and the one charm of marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely
necessary for both parties. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I
am doing. When we meet—we do meet occasionally, when we dine out together, or go
down to the Duke's—we tell each other the most absurd stories with the most serious faces.
My wife is very good at it—much better, in fact, than I am. She never gets confused over
her dates, and I always do. But when she does find me out, she makes no row at all. I
sometimes wish she would; but she merely laughs at me."
"I hate the way you talk about your married life, Harry," said Basil Hallward, strolling
towards the door that led into the garden. "I believe that you are really a very good husband,
but that you are thoroughly ashamed of your own virtues. You are an extraordinary fellow.
You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing. Your cynicism is simply a
"Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know," cried Lord Henry,
laughing; and the two young men went out into the garden together and ensconced
themselves on a long bamboo seat that stood in the shade of a tall laurel bush. The sunlight
slipped over the polished leaves. In the grass, white daisies were tremulous.
h/174h.htm 4/137 1/26/2017 The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde After a pause, Lord Henry pulled out his watch. "I am afraid I must be going, Basil," he
murmured, "and before I go, I insist on your answering a question I put to you some time
"What is that?" said the painter, keeping his eyes fixed on the ground.
"You know quite well."
"I do not, Harry."
"Well, I will tell you what it is. I want you to explain to me why you won't exhibit
Dorian Gray's picture. I want the real reason."
"I told you the real reason."
"No, you did not. You said it was because there was too much of yourself in it. Now,
that is childish."
"Harry," said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, "every portrait that is
painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the
accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter
who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself. The reason I will not exhibit this picture is
that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul."
Lord Henry laughed. "And what is that?" he asked.
"I will tell you," said Hallward; but an expression of perplexity came over his face.
"I am all expectation, Basil," continued his companion, glancing at him.
"Oh, there is really very little to tell, Harry," answered the painter; "and I am afraid you
will hardly understand it. Perhaps you will hardly believe it."
Lord Henry smiled, and leaning down, plucked a pinkpetalled daisy from the grass and
examined it. "I am quite sure I shall understand it," he replied, gazing intently at the little
golden, whitefeathered disk, "and as for believing things, I can believe anything, provided
that it is quite incredible."
The wind shook some blossoms from the trees, and the heavy lilacblooms, with their
clustering stars, moved to and fro in the languid air. A grasshopper began to chirrup by the
wall, and like a blue thread a long thin dragonfly floated past on its brown gauze wings.
Lord Henry felt as if he could hear Basil Hallward's heart beating, and wondered what was
"The story is simply this," said the painter after some time. "Two months ago I went to a
crush at Lady Brandon's. You know we poor artists have to show ourselves in society from
time to time, just to remind the public that we are not savages. With an evening coat and a
white tie, as you told me once, anybody, even a stockbroker, can gain a reputation for being
civilized. Well, after I had been in the room about ten minutes, talking to huge overdressed
dowagers and tedious academicians, I suddenly became conscious that some one was
looking at me. I turned halfway round and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our
eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me. I knew
that I had come face to face with some one whose mere personality was so fascinating that,
if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself.
I did not want any external influence in my life. You know yourself, Harry, how
h/174h.htm 5/137 1/26/2017 The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde independent I am by nature. I have always been my own master; had at least always been
so, till I met Dorian Gray. Then—but I don't know how to explain it to you. Something
seemed to tell me that I was on the verge of a terrible crisis in my life. I had a strange
feeling that fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows. I grew afraid and
turned to quit the room. It was not conscience that made me do so: it was a sort of
cowardice. I take no credit to myself for trying to escape."
"Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Basil. Conscience is the trade
name of the firm. That is all."
"I don't believe that, Harry, and I don't believe you do either. However, whatever was
my motive—and it may have been pride, for I used to be very proud—I certainly struggled
to the door. There, of course, I stumbled against Lady Brandon. 'You are not going to run
away so soon, Mr. Hallward?' she screamed out. You know her curiously shrill voice?"
"Yes; she is a peacock in everything but beauty," said Lord Henry, pulling the daisy to
bits with his long nervous fingers.
"I could not get rid of her. She brought me up to royalties, and people with stars and
garters, and elderly ladies with gigantic tiaras and parrot noses. She spoke of me as her
dearest friend. I had only met her once before, but she took it into her head to lionize me. I
believe some picture of mine had made a great success at the time, at least had been
chattered about in the penny newspapers, which is the nineteenthcentury standard of
immortality. Suddenly I found myself face to face with the young man whose personality
had so strangely stirred me. We were quite close, almost touching. Our eyes met again. It
was reckless of me, but I asked Lady Brandon to introduce me to him. Perhaps it was not so
reckless, after all. It was simply inevitable. We would have spoken to each other without
any introduction. I am sure of that. Dorian told me so afterwards. He, too, felt that we were
destined to know each other."
"And how did Lady Brandon describe this wonderful young man?" asked his
companion. "I know she goes in for giving a rapid precis of all her guests. I remember her
bringing me up to a truculent and redfaced old gentleman covered all over with orders and
ribbons, and hissing into my ear, in a tragic whisper which must have been perfectly audible
to everybody in the room, the most astounding details. I simply fled. I like to find out
people for myself. But Lady Brandon treats her guests exactly as an auctioneer treats his
goods. She either explains them entirely away, or tells one everything about them except
what one wants to know."
"Poor Lady Brandon! You are hard on her, Harry!" said Hallward listlessly.
"My dear fellow, she tried to found a salon, and only succeeded in opening a restaurant.
How could I admire her? But tell me, what did she say about Mr. Dorian Gray?"
"Oh, something like, 'Charming boy—poor dear mother and I absolutely inseparable.
Quite forget what he does—afraid he—doesn't do anything—oh, yes, plays the piano—or is
it the violin, dear Mr. Gray?' Neither of us could help laughing, and we became friends at
"Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is far the best ending for
one," said the young lord, plucking another daisy.
Hallward shook his head. "You don't understand what friendship is, Harry," he
murmured—"or what enmity is, for that matter. You like every one; that is to say, you are
indifferent to every one."
h/174h.htm 6/137 1/26/2017 The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde "How horribly unjust of you!" cried Lord Henry, tilting his hat back and looking up at
the little clouds that, like ravelled skeins of glossy white silk, were drifting across the
hollowed turquoise of the summer sky. "Yes; horribly unjust of you. I make a great
difference between people. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for
their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful
in the choice of his enemies. I have not got one who is a fool. They are all men of some
intellectual power, and consequently they all appreciate me. Is that very vain of me? I think
it is rather vain."
"I should think it was, Harry. But according to your category I must be merely an
"My dear old Basil, you are much more than an acquaintance."
"And much less than a friend. A sort of brother, I suppose?"
"Oh, brothers! I don't care for brothers. My elder brother won't die, and my younger
brothers seem never to do anything else."
"Harry!" exclaimed Hallward, frowning.
"My dear fellow, I am not quite serious. But I can't help detesting my relations. I
suppose it comes from the fact that none of us can stand other people having the same faults
as ourselves. I quite sympathize with the rage of the English democracy against what they
call the vices of the upper orders. The masses feel that drunkenness, stupidity, and
immorality should be their own special property, and that if any one of us makes an ass of
himself, he is poaching on their preserves. When poor Southwark got into the divorce court,
their indignation was quite magnificent. And yet I don't suppose that ten per cent of the
proletariat live correctly."
"I don't agree with a single word that you have said, and, what is more, Harry, I feel sure
you don't either."
Lord Henry stroked his pointed brown beard and tapped the toe of his patentleather
boot with a tasselled ebony cane. "How English you are Basil! That is the second time you
have made that observation. If one puts forward an idea to a true Englishman—always a
rash thing to do—he never dreams of considering whether the idea is right or wrong. The
only thing he considers of any importance is whether one believes it oneself. Now, the value
of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it.
Indeed, the probabilities are that the more insincere the man is, the more purely intellectual
will the idea be, as in that case it will not be coloured by either his wants, his desires, or his
prejudices. However, I don't propose to discuss politics, sociology, or metaphysics with you.
I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than
anything else in the world. Tell me more about Mr. Dorian Gray. How often do you see
"Every day. I couldn't be hap...
View Full Document