The Picture of Dorian Gray | Study Guide

Oscar Wilde

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Chapter 9

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 9 of Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The Picture of Dorian Gray | Chapter 9 | Summary



The next morning Basil visits while Dorian is having breakfast. He's full of sympathy over Sibyl's death and doesn't believe what he was told the night before about Dorian going to the opera after Sibyl died. Dorian tells Basil he did go to the opera, and that Sibyl's death belongs to the past. Basil is stunned by this attitude and wishes for the Dorian he originally painted. Dorian tells him it is too late for that. Basil is again stunned to learn that Sibyl killed herself. Dorian responds with a long speech about the proper attitude one should take toward suffering: people should (as Henry taught him) become spectators in their own lives.

The conversation moves on. Dorian won't be involved in the inquest because Sibyl didn't know his real name. Basil wants to see his painting of Dorian, but Dorian begs him not to look. In fact he says that if Basil looks at the portrait Dorian will never speak to him again. Basil agrees not to look but says he wants to exhibit the painting. Dorian asks him not to. In response Basil asks if Dorian has noticed anything unusual about the painting. Dorian's reaction shows that he has noticed something (just not what Basil fears). Basil explains that, before this portrait, he'd sketched Dorian as various historic and mythical characters. When he painted Dorian as he really is, Basil believes he put much of his feelings about Dorian onto the canvas. He now is concerned that too much of his affection may be evident in the portrait. Basil ends up agreeing with Dorian that the portrait will not be exhibited. Dorian's pleased and can't imagine ever being influenced by someone else's personality the way Basil has admitted he was. However, he refuses to ever pose for Basil again, insisting they must now be just friends.


In his preface to this novel, Wilde evaluates people who find "ugly meanings in beautiful things" and those who find "beautiful meanings in beautiful things." Chapter 9 fills in the rest of that spectrum, for in this chapter Dorian shows himself to be someone who can refuse to see the meaning and ugliness in an ugly thing (Sibyl's death). Basil is rightly horrified at Dorian's response, which is cold and distant to the point of being inhuman. When Basil objects, Dorian explains further, trotting out a theory of self-mastery that is a distorted version of a spiritual perspective. Where a serene soul or enlightened person might be able to let a pain go more quickly than most people through lack of egoistic attachment, Dorian is severing his attachment from the pain of Sibyl's death with a knife of pure ego.

When Basil asks Dorian to pose for him again, Dorian's supposed self-mastery is exposed as false. He overreacts wildly and, when Basil asks to see the earlier portrait, he becomes quite terrified. As Basil continues talking about the portrait Dorian turns white with extreme anger. These are not the responses of a man who has mastered himself or one who can put pain behind him.

The conversation between Basil and Dorian plays masterfully with the plot element of suspense. Wilde teases the reader by having Basil ask Dorian if he's noticed anything "curious" about the painting. This ends up being a red herring, as what Basil's concerned about Dorian noticing might be embarrassing (Basil's attitude toward Dorian), but it is not the metaphysical strangeness of the actual painting, transforming as it does with Dorian's every sin. Their conversation shifts from a potential exposure of Dorian's inner nature to an exposure of Basil's inner nature. In that it shows the period's anxiety regarding homosexual attraction.

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