The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Chapter 12 | Summary

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Summary

On the foggy evening before Dorian's 38th birthday, he passes Basil on the street. Dorian hopes Basil hasn't seen him, but he has. They talk. Basil is about to go to Paris for six months to paint. The friends go to Dorian's house to talk. A blazing fire in the library fireplace makes the room cheerful and welcoming. Once the two men are settled, Basil introduces the serious topic he wants to talk about: people are saying terrible things about Dorian. Dorian dismisses Basil's concern, but Basil explains at length how important reputation is and raises specific questions. Dorian answers some of the questions but mostly dismisses them. Basil carries on, however, with more specific—and damning—stories about Dorian.

After relating these dire stories that paint Dorian as some sort of fiend, Basis wonders aloud if he truly knows Dorian and declares that to know his friend he would have "to see [his] soul" and concludes, "But only God can do that."

Dorian laughs, but agrees. He says Basil can see his soul. Basil is horrified, and says such thoughts are blasphemy. Dorian insists, though. He says he keeps a daily diary of his soul, and he takes a lamp to lead Basil upstairs to see it.

Analysis

This chapter blends some fairly casual plotting with some essential thematic developments. Given the social circles in which Henry, Basil, and Dorian move, it is not impossible for Basil and Dorian to run into each other on the street. However, it is less likely for them to do it just before Basil conveniently leaves the country, or, given how dense fog can be in London, on a foggy night. That fog is literal, but it is also symbolic, indicating how both men think they are in control of their lives but are in reality moving through a hazy world where neither sees as clearly as he thinks he does.

Dorian displays this lack of clarity when he rejects the issue of his reputation. Even someone with a magic portrait can be damaged by the persistent circulation of nasty stories, particularly when those stories are true. Basil displays this lack of clarity when he brings up the idea of seeing Dorian's soul. Though the concept that artists can see the soul is not uncommon in romanticism, few people think they can do it on demand. Both men seem to claim more control over their lives than they actually have.

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