The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

This strange book influences Dorian for years. He buys multiple copies and binds them in different colors to match his moods. Years pass. Rumors circulate about Dorian, but since Dorian keeps his beauty people have trouble believing anything negative about him. He regularly takes a mirror to the schoolroom and compares his reflection to the face in his portrait. Periodically he hosts dinners for which he hires the greatest musicians to play. Dorian comes to treat life itself as an art form and lives a life of the senses. For the sake of pleasure, Dorian pursues a number of interests: Catholicism, Darwinism, perfumes, music, jewels, embroideries, ecclesiastical vestments, and other objects. He uses all of these to keep a profound fear at bay—the fear of his indulgences transforming the face in his portrait. Dorian stops traveling for fear someone might see the portrait while he is gone. Rationally, he knows there is nothing to be afraid of: even if someone saw the painting it wouldn't prove anything. At other times he is proud of the very degradation he feared, seeing it as a mark of individualism.

Over time Dorian's reputation becomes very dark. People whisper about him. One club denies him membership. There are rumors about Dorian's involvement in street brawls and a range of crimes. Women who had worshipped him now grow pale when he enters the room. This change in his reputation doesn't bother Dorian, and the rumors that hurt his reputation with some raise it with others. During this time Dorian wanders through picture-gallery of his country house and through literature, looking for literal and spiritual ancestors. Throughout all this, Dorian continues to read and reread the strange novel Henry had given him, concluding that the book has "poisoned" him.

Analysis

The chapter serves several functions. First, it documents Henry's inconsistency. Although he claims all influence is bad, he works in a focused fashion to influence Dorian. In this case he sends him a "yellow book" that is so well targeted it becomes a near obsession for Dorian. Second, the chapter documents Dorian's rather odd nature as far as influence. On one hand he seems to reject social conventions, living life as he chooses. This can be seen in his conspicuous consumption and display. On the other hand he is so influenced by this mysterious little book he has multiple copies of it.

Third, this chapter illustrates Dorian's complex relationship with his portrait. If the "yellow book" inspires him at all times, Basil's painting haunts him at all times. Any time he indulges himself with jewels or perfumes, he does so not just for his own pleasure but to keep his terror of the portrait at bay. At the same time, through his indulgences he is creating the very thing he fears (transformations in the portrait). In this way Wilde provides here a perfect illustration of addiction or obsession. Dorian is creating the very face he fears. Wilde also shows the reader how very different interests can serve the same function. On the surface there is little or no relationship among Catholicism, Darwinism, and, say, jewels. They seem like three distinct obsessions. By clustering them together Wilde shows how they all serve as escapes, and how all allow Dorian to indulge himself.

Wilde makes it clear that Dorian can act this way only because of his class. Only the wealthy can afford the sort of systematic self-indulgence shown here.

The chapter develops the theme of character versus reputation as well. For all that Dorian's magic painting keeps the results of his excesses from showing up on his face, he can't keep people from talking about him.

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