The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Chapter 10 | Summary

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Summary

Basil leaves. Dorian tells his servant Victor to send in Mrs. Leaf, the housekeeper, and then to go fetch the frame maker, Mr. Hubbard. When Mrs. Leaf arrives, Dorian gets the key to the unused schoolroom from her. She objects because it is so dirty, but he insists. Once she leaves, Dorian wraps the painting in 17th-century Venetian satin. When the frame maker arrives, Dorian has the man and his assistant carry the painting to the schoolroom.

After the workmen leave, Dorian has tea and, as he does, he considers getting rid of his servant since the man might notice the missing painting. He then opens a note from Henry. Henry sent the evening paper over: it includes the results of the inquest into Sibyl's death. After a shudder over the ugliness of it all, Dorian reads the "yellow book," a volume Henry sent over. A stylized and plotless novel, it is a psychological study of a man who indulges in sensual experiences. Dorian is hypnotized, reading for hours. It's nearly nine before he meets Henry at the club for dinner.

Analysis

It is possible that the unused schoolroom is the only empty room in Dorian's house. However, for purposes of understanding this novel, it is more useful to see the room symbolically. Dorian has shown himself completely unwilling to learn from experience. His own psychic schoolroom is unused, dusty, and locked away. It makes perfect symbolic sense to store the painting there, along with all the lessons from childhood he never reviews. This symbol should also nudge readers to realize how little they know of Dorian's actual past. The only details Wilde provides are through Lord George Fermor, Henry's uncle, and they are details that make Dorian a more romantic figure, not less. The impulsiveness with which Dorian gave his heart to Sibyl may be seen as an inheritance from his mother: Margaret Devereux ran off with and married a penniless soldier—a romantic and impulsive gesture.

Dorian's decision to hide the painting supports two of the novel's themes: appearance versus reality and art versus life. This indicates an embrace of the painting's power to hide his sin and aging and a refusal to use it to guide his character. If he can't see the lessons it gives him, he can't learn from the painting. Hiding the portrait away shows that for Dorian his soul belongs with his unused past.

A distinct turning point in the chapter is Henry's gift of a "yellow book." Dorian puts away his school books, and he takes up this yellow book. Wilde never tells readers exactly what this book is, or if it is a specific book, but it is a work of French literature. Some scholars have stopped there, but others take the argument further, arguing it is the 1884 novel À Rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain) by Joris-Karl Huysmans. This novel focused on the last member of an aristocratic house doing increasingly perverted things just to avoid boredom.

Wilde read this novel, and it influenced his writing of The Picture of Dorian Gray. It then has a profound influence on Dorian in turn and foreshadows his own hedonistic life of pleasure seeking.

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