There are many scenes which may be considered essential for the understanding of a novel, and after the reading of which we have a full view of the author’s intentions in relation to the plot. In The Picture of Dorian Gray ,the fragment which I’m
going to analyse it is, in my opinion, fundamental for the novel, for it representes the first encouter of the main characters.
I consider that this is one of the most important parts of the book, for it reveals the personalities of the characters ,it shows what effect words can have on a person, and is the key for the whole novel.
The action is set in the urban surroundings of London , around 1890’s, on a day of June, in Basil Hallward’s studio, a well-known artist, who is preparing to paint the portrait of a most beautiful young man, Dorian Gray. Basil is the one who introduces Lord Henry Wotton, an old gentleman, to Dorian Gray. The moment of their encounter announces a turbulance not only in Dorian Gray’s behaviour in that precise instant, but also the change Lord Henry will produce in his life: ”When he caught sight of Lord Henry, a faint blush coloured his cheeks for a moment, and he started up.” Lord Henry is immediately interested in the young boy, he is impressed by his purity, his candour of youth: ”There was something in his face that made one trust him at once.All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth’s passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world.” From this moment Lord Henry felt an attraction towards him, but his feelings for Dorian were entirely different from what Basil felt . Whereas Basil wanted to keep Dorian away from all cruelties of this world, Henry became interested in his naivite, purity, innocence, only to satisfy his own curiosity.
Dorian is presented as a very beautiful person, he has blue eyes – symbol of idealism; red lips – shows a touch of sensuality; golden hair – all these give him the appearance of an angel, a romantic character. The author used colored words to describe the human body, he is constantly observing the character’s expressions: the curves and expressions which are formed with the lips ”parted lips”, ”a faint smile passed across his lips”, ”he bite his lip.” The face and he cheeks are under Wilde’s close observation: white, flushed cheeks.
Lord Henry is the one who steps forward and extends his hand, he is the one to make the first step, he has the initiative, and not only does he manipulate the conversation in the direction he chooses, but also Dorian Gray’s thoughts. Being a great man of words, he began talking to Dorian at once, on a serious tone, with clarity, expressing an opinion that would arouse the young boy’s interest in him: ”You are too charming to go in for philanthropy, Mr. Gray – far too charming.” At this remark, Basil glanced at him, hesitated, and asked him to leave, because he knew Lord Henry’s temper better than anyone. But this attempt, came too late, for Dorian was already charmed by the new comer, because he was so unlike Basil, and took his side. When Henry asked, smiling, ”Am I to go, Mr. Gray?”, he was confident that the boy’s answer would be in his favour. This explains Lord’s Henry’s strategy. He tells Dorian many life theories but Dorian has the impression that those ideas came from himself, so he wouldn’t blame Lord Henry, but instead would be thankful.When Dorian got on the platform for Basilto draw his picture, he looked like a Greek martyr. It is known that in the tragedies, the main characters suffered and usually died at the end of a play. Mostly because they commited hybris ;in this case, we might consider Dorian’s desire to live his life fully and also his beauty as a hybris for which he is to be punished. For Dorian, Basil and Lord Henry made a delightful contrast because they were so different. Basil warned him not to listen, or to pay attention to what Henry says, because he had a bad influence over all Basil’s friends. Basil’s words had another effect upon him, and he begun to inquire Henry about his influence being bad. In his defense Lord Henry responded that there was no such thing as a good influence, ”all influence is immoral – immoral from the scientific point of view.” Only one question came from the lips of the young boy ”Why?”, and Lord Henry had the perfect occasion to pour his ”wise” ideeas into the boy’s mind.
While Basil coordinates him in the physical way ( he tells him how to turn his head, how to stand), Lord Henry indoctrinates him with his radical theories. He induces the hedonistic idea that if a man was to live his life fully and completly, every dream would come true, he would give form to every expression, feeling to every thought, so the world would gain a fresh impulse of joy – the return to the Hellenic ideal (to see things as they really are, in their beauty). ”But the bravest man amongst us is afraid of himself…Courage has gone out of the race” – saying this he challenged Dorian Gray. Henry proposes a return to the Hellenic ideal, to the sensibilities of ancient Greek where the appreciation of beauty reigned. He thinks that the present mode of living is marked by a morality that demands self – denial. He also says that if we denie ourselves something, this brings only a stronger desire for what has been denied. Another theory is that the body is free from sin. He says that the greatest sins take place only in the brain so the body is not expose to them.
”You have had passions, that had made you afraid, thoughts that had fined you with terror, day – dreams and sleeping dreams whose mere memory might stain your cheek with shame.” Hearing these, Dorian feels that he can stand it no more and shouts „Stop. Let me think, or rather let me try not to think” – from now on he can think of nothing else but Lord Henry’s words. Motionless, with parted lips and eyes, he stood there. In all this time Basil was creating his portrait, and he realized that it was the best expression Dorian could have, he even thinks that it was going to be his life’s masterpiece. But he was not aware of what mecanism had brought it to surface. Basil admits that Dorian had had ”some subtle influence over him”, and it is this influence that Basil is certain that his painting reveals.
Despite all his attempts to get distance from what he was hearing, Dorian Gray is bewildered by what Henry says, for a moment he trys to resist, to oppose, he struggles within himself. He had never thought of such things before, and all of a sudden those words, ideas made sense for him, and such an intensity had Henry’s words, that he even had the impression that they have come really from himself. His words troubled him, they seemed to him to aquire a form of themselves. From this moment life became to him fiery – coloured, ”it seemed to him that he had been walking in fire. Why had he not know it? Why had it been left for a stranger to reveal him to himself?”He had a revelation, and felt that he had been blind , that he lived in darkness and now a whole new world opened to him.
Voice and silence are two words which are outstanding. Characteristic to Lord Henry is voice: with his beautiful, low, musical voice he has captured Dorian’s atention. Characteristic to Dorian is silence, he seems to be particularly sensitive to the effect of the human voice. Silence is suggestive , Wilde watches his characters while they are speaking, and describes their behaviour. Lord Henry’s words awake wild passions and mad desires in Dorian, and he cannot resist them.
All this time Lord Henry was watching with a subtle smile his every move, every change that took place within himself; he knew what storm he had created within him and knew the precise psychological moment when to say nothing. He was amazed at the sudden impression that his words produced, ”how fascinated the lad was.” Henry’s words meant to him everything, even if they were said at chance, ”and with wilful paradox in them.” He had only made an experiment. To Wilde, words were material and real:”Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear,and vivid, and cruel!One could not escape of them.And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?”
In a letter, Wilde stated that the main characters of The Picture of Dorian Gray are in different ways reflections of himself: “Basil Hallward is what I think I am; Lord Henry what the world thinks me; Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.” In this scene, Lord Henry seems to play the role of Mephistophel, he is an evil counsel, and the moment when he is attentive to Dorian, that smile on his face showed that he too was delighted by what was happening, by the force he had on the boy. We are given the impression that we have two artists: Lord Henry,the artist, who modeled his living material: ”to a large extent the lad was his own creation.”On the other hand , we have Basil,who pictures Dorian’s portrait. Basil, however, did not work with his mind, but with his body, he modeled him not directly, and at any rate, Lord Henry’s modelation had brought his inner change, the picture was only a way of seeing the state of degradation of his soul. While Lord Henry exercises influence over other characters primarily through his skillful use of language, it is Dorian’s beauty that seduces the characters with whom he associates.
The principal exponents of the dialogue and the plot are Lord Henry and Dorian Gray.The mental things are much in the foreground. From this scene we can observe that the relation between Henry and Dorian dominates, and the one between him and Basil is put on a second step.This is the way in which the action continues throughout the book, Dorian Gray remains haunted by Lord Henry’s words, surrounded by an atmosphere of moral corruption.
All in all, this scene is representative for the novel, and it stands as one of the most relevant for the relations between characters. It presents the inner world of soul and mind, and the impact words have on an influencible person, how they can change one’s life completly.
1. Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray. London: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994
2. Andrew Sanders. The Short History of English Literature.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993
3. Aatos Ojala. Aestheticism and Oscar Wilde( Part II: Literary Style).Helsinki, 1995