Literapedia Book Notes for

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Characters

  • Basil Hallward (ch 1)—a soulful artist who becomes enamored with Dorian Gray and paints a portrait of him
  • Lord Henry "Harry"(ch 1)—a witty conversationalist who spends a great deal of time at the Opera. Harry, as he is called by his friends, is fascinated by Dorian Gray and imparts his opinions upon him
  • Dorian Gray (ch 2)—a timid and sweet youth who develops into a vain and selfish adult, in large part due to the influence of Lord Henry's views
  • Lady Henry (ch 4)—Lord Henry's wife
  • Sibyl Vane (ch 4)—a young actress who fascinates Dorian Gray
  • Mrs. Vane (ch 5)—Sibyl's uneasy mother
  • James Vane (ch 5) —Sibyl's overprotective younger brother, who takes a job as a sailor in Australia
  • Victor (ch 8)—Dorian’s valet
  • Mrs. Leaf (ch 10)—Dorian’s housekeeper
  • Alan Campbell (ch 14)—a scientist who was friends with Dorian
  • Adrian Singleton (ch 16)—a young man influenced by Dorian
  • Duchess of Monmouth (ch 17)—a friend of Dorian’s and Lord Henry’s with whom Dorian flirts

Chapter Summaries

  1. Lord Henry and Basil discuss Basil's portrait of a young man named Dorian Gray. Lord Henry admires the portrait as Basil's finest work, yet Basil refuses to exhibit, claming he promised it to Dorian Gray himself. Lord Henry wishes to meet Gray, but Basil is hestiant, fearing Harry's amoral influence on the young boy.
  2. Dorian Gray and Lord Henry meet for the first time in Basil's studio and Harry's strong opinions on the capriciousness of youth and beauty make Dorian uncomfortable. He poses and chats with Lord Henry as Basil finishes the portrait. Dorian is upset by the portrait, as it reflects the fact that he will grow old while the picture stays young. Lord Henry and Gray agree to go to the opera together later.
  3. Harry visits his Uncle Fermor in order to learn more about Dorian Gray and his ancestry. Harry sits in on a lunch party with several notable personnages, imparting his views on Americans, the East End, and youth.
  4. While Dorian Gray waits for Lord Henry in his house, Lady Henry enters. They discuss music and Lady Henry probes Gray, trying to discover information about her husband through her his young friend. When Lord Henry arrives, Gray informs him of his love for Sibyl Vane, a young actress. The chapter closes when Harry recieves a telegram from Dorian informing him of his engagement with Sibyl.
  5. Mrs. Vane and Sibyl argue about Dorian Gray and Sibyl's impending engagement. James arrives and Sibyl agrees to walk with him when James threatens to kill Dorian if he hurts Sibyl. James asks his mother the truth about his father and she reveals that they were not married.
  6. Basil learns of Dorian's engagemetn with Sibyl and is upset that he was not informed. He, however, supports Dorian's passion while Lord Henry simply berates and demeans him. Both Basil and Lord Henry agree to accompany Dorian to Sibyl's presentation of Romeo and Juliet that evening.
  7. All three men attend the play where Sibyl greatly disappoints the audience. She is listless, and half of the audience leaves before the play closes. Dorian, distraught, visits her after the play and she informs him that she can no longer act becuase she has encountered the reality of love. Dorian yells at her, saying she is nothing to him any longer and leaves her crying on the ground. Dorian returns home and fancies he sees a mark of cruelty in the smile of his portrait.
  8. Dorian wakes up late and is reluctant to face the portrait. Eventually, he observes it and sees that it has markedly altered. Dorian resolves to return to Sibyl and forgive her. Lord Henry arrives, informing Dorian that Sibyl Vane committed suicide the night before. Dorian is upset at first, but Lord Henry assures him that Vane only ever existed in his dreams and was no more real than a character in a play.
  9. Basil visits Dorian in order to comfort him, but he is apathetic having accepted Henry’s advice to treat Sibyl’s death as a work of beautiful tragedy. Dorian requests that Basil create a portrait of Sibyl for his memories, and Basil agrees, hoping to convince Dorian to pose for him again. Basil attempts to look at Dorian’s portrait, but Dorian refuses and resolves to hide the picture when Basil leaves.
  10. Dorian orders Victor and Mrs. Leaf to summon two men from the frame-worker store and to unlock the schoolroom in the attic of Dorian’s house. Dorian hides the portrait under a satin cloth and stores it in the schoolroom. He is fascinated by a book that Lord Henry sends to him.
  11. Dorian is obsessed with the book given to him by Lord Henry and orders several copies. Eighteen years pass and Dorian grows increasingly corrupt while his exterior remains beautiful. He devotes his life to the study of aestheticism and beautiful things. Dorian watches the portrait change to reflect his corruption.
  12. The night before his thirty-eighth birthday, Dorian runs into Basil in a street. Basil warns Dorian about the rumors circulating about him and they discuss Dorian’s recent unfortunate friendships. Basil wonders about the nature of Dorian’s soul and Dorian offers to show it to him.
  13. Dorian shows Basil his portrait, and Basil is horrified by the grotesqueness of the picture. Basil begs Dorian to pray for forgiveness after Dorian reminds Basil that he pledged his soul for eternal youth and beauty. Dorian is enraged and picks up a knife, stabbing Basil repeatedly.
  14. Dorian wakes up and calls for his friend Alan Campbell as a matter of life and death. When Campbell arrives, Dorian tells him that there is a body upstairs and that he needs Campbell to dispose of it. Dorian blackmails Campbell, saying he will reveal his darkest secret so Campbell destroys the body. Dorian observes that the hand on the portrait has turned red.
  15. Dorian goes to a dinner party hosted by Lady Narborough, where he is bored with the attendees. Gray’s spirits brighten when Lord Henry arrives, but he erupts in anger when Harry asks what he did the night before. Dorian returns home and burns Basil’s belongings.
  16. Dorian goes to an opium den and encounters Adrian Singleton. Someone refers to him as “Prince Charming” and James Vane follows him out of the den, holding him at gunpoint. Dorian tricks Vane into letting him escape, but Vane realizes his mistake and resolves to hunt Dorian again.
  17. Dorian hosts a party and discusses beauty with Lord Henry and the Duchess of Monmouth. Dorian faints when he sees James Vane’s face in a window.
  18. Dorian remains in his house for several days, fearing James Vane’s vengeance. He finally leaves the house, eats with the Duchess, and then goes hunting where a man is accidentally shot. Gray later realizes that the man killed was James Vane.
  19. After a couple weeks, Lord Henry goes to visit Dorian and they discuss Alan Campbell’s suicide as well as the disappearance of Basil. Dorian explains that he wants to become more virtuous, but Lord Henry mocks him and delights in his ability to stay young and beautiful. Dorian requests that Lord Henry never loan anyone else the book.
  20. Dorian examines the painting, hoping it altered when he resolved to be virtuous. The portrait has not changed other than to reveal Dorian’s hypocrisy. Dorian drives the same knife he used to kill Basil into the painting. Servants hear a crash and go upstairs to see the portrait unharmed, portraying a young Dorian Gray with a withered old man lying on the ground.

Book Note Creator


Anna Mohan, '08