The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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The Picture of Dorian Gray | Chapter 15 | Summary

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Summary

The evening following the body's disposal, Dorian attends a party hosted by Lady Narborough. He's nervous but appears calm and graceful. Dorian finds the party boring until Henry arrives. Dorian doesn't eat anything at dinner, and Henry wonders what is wrong with him. Lady Narborough speculates he must be in love. Dorian denies it, saying he hasn't been in love since Madame de Ferrol left town, and that's been a whole week. This leads to gossip about Madame de Ferrol. At one point Henry offers one of his witticisms, about the most beautiful wives belonging to "the criminal classes." Lady Narborough comments on how everyone says Henry is wicked, and Henry follows with a comment about it being "monstrous" how people repeat things that are completely true about others. Dorian laughs about Henry's character.

A bit later Dorian wishes it were the end of the world because he's exhausted and disappointed by life. This leads to Lady Narborough claiming Dorian should marry. Henry agrees but begins a cynical but amusing discourse on marriage. After the conversation shifts, Henry and Dorian get a chance to talk more privately. Henry asks what Dorian did after leaving Henry's house the night before. When Dorian answers, he fumbles. He starts to say he'd gone to his club, then changes his story and said he had gone for a walk. Flustered, he suggests Henry can contact his servant for evidence if he needs to. Henry waves the offer away, wondering why he would care so much.

Dorian makes excuses for his mood and leaves. As he goes home, his earlier terror returns. Once he's home, he takes Basil's coat and suitcase from where he hid them and throws them in the fire. After they burn, Dorian is overcome by a powerful longing. He goes to an ornate cabinet and takes out an Asian lacquered box, which he opens. After staring fixedly at the opium paste it contains, he returns the box to the cabinet drawer, leaves his home, and calls a hansom cab. When he gives the driver the address, the man at first refuses to go, saying it is too far. Dorian pays him generously, promising more after, and the man agrees to take him.

Analysis

Dorian slept so well immediately after killing Basil that readers might think he lacks a conscience or is completely at ease with his actions. This chapter shows how his actions affect him and how he's beset by anxiety and fear. What he has done gnaws at him so much that first he cannot eat and then is visibly upset. He follows this by offering Henry clumsy alibis his friend had not asked for, and then finally, by putting a lot of time and effort into getting drugs.

The discussion between Lady Narborough and Henry offers a good example of how people see Dorian and the dramatic irony between his appearance and reality. Because he is so beautiful, people associate him with love. They assume any emotional upset on Dorian's part comes from romance. In fact his uneasiness comes from killing someone (Basil). This gives Henry's comments about the wives of the criminal classes a particular edge: he thinks he's talking about other people, but he's talking about his beloved Dorian. Like many events in the novel, this underscores the theme of the tension between appearance and reality.

Finally, though this is not a major theme for the novel it is worth noting here how many of the key plot points depend on wealth. Surely any poor person under stress would want to be able to escape. Few, however, have the money to hire a cab late at night to ride across London in search of opium. Fewer store drugs in an elaborate ebony "Florentine cabinet." As much space as Wilde gives Henry to articulate a philosophy of aestheticism, Wilde continually complicates and undercuts this philosophy in a number of ways. In this chapter he undercuts it by showing that living the kind of life Henry champions costs a lot of money. This path is an option for only the wealthy.

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