Dorian Gray (character)
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Dorian is the grandson of the late Lord Kelso. His mother, Lady Margaret Devereux, was portrayed as a beautiful and rich woman. Her grandfather had a strong dislike for Kelso, and in turn, Margaret received the entire Selby property. Dorian’s father, a subaltern in a foot regiment, was killed by a Belgian brute a few months after his marriage to Lady Margaret, who died soon after.
The novel's plot varies between each of the published versions. The summary below deals with the longest version, the 1891 novel. However, certain episodes describe in particular Dorian's encounter with (and subsequent murder of) James Vane. This does not appear in the version originally submitted by Wilde for publishing.
The Picture of Dorian Gray begins on a summer day in Victorian England, where Lord Henry Wotton, an opinionated man, is observing the sensitive artist Basil Hallward painting a portrait of Dorian Gray, a handsome young man, who is Basil's ultimate muse. While posing for the painting, Dorian listens to Lord Henry espousing his hedonistic worldview and begins to think that pursuits of pleasure are the only things in life worth pursuing. This prompts Dorian to wish that his painted image would age instead of himself.
Under the hedonistic influence of Lord Henry, Dorian fully explores his sensuality. He discovers the actress Sibyl Vane, who performs Shakespeare in a dingy working-class theatre. Dorian approaches and courts her and soon proposes marriage. The enamored Sibyl calls him "Prince Charming" and swoons with elation at the prospect of true love. However, her protective brother James warns that if "Prince Charming" harms her, he will murder him.
Dorian invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform, but she is too enamored with Dorian to act and performs poorly. This causes both Basil and Lord Henry to think that Dorian has fallen in love with Sibyl because of her beauty instead of her acting talent. Embarrassed, Dorian rejects Sibyl, telling her that acting was her beauty and without that, she no longer interests him. On returning home, Dorian notices that the portrait has changed; his wish has come true, and the man in the portrait bears a subtle sneer of cruelty.
Conscience-stricken and lonely, Dorian resolves to reconcile with Sibyl, but he is too late as Lord Henry informs him that Sibyl has committed suicide by swallowing prussic acid. Dorian then understands that, where his life is headed, lust and good looks will serve him well. He locks the portrait up, and over the following eighteen years, he experiments with every vice possible, influenced by a morally poisonous French novel that Lord Henry Wotton gave him.
(The narrative does not reveal the title of the French novel, but at trial, Wilde said that the novel referred to in Dorian Gray was À rebours (Against Nature, 1884) by Joris-Karl Huysmans, but then denied "the book is the one he intended to refer to.)
One night, before leaving for Paris, Basil visits Dorian's house to ask him about various rumors regarding his vulgar self-indulgence. Dorian does not deny his debauchery and takes Basil to see the portrait. The portrait has become so hideous that Basil is only able to identify it as his work by the signature that he affixes to all his portraits. Basil is horrified and beseeches Dorian to pray for salvation. In anger, Dorian blames his fate on Basil and stabs him to death. Dorian then calmly blackmails an old friend, the scientist Alan Campbell, into using his knowledge of chemistry to destroy the body. Alan later takes his own life as a result of the shameful collaboration.
To escape the guilt of his crime, Dorian goes to an opium den, where James Vane is unknowingly present. James had been seeking vengeance upon Dorian ever since Sibyl killed herself, but he had no leads to pursue; the only thing he knew about Dorian was the name Sibyl called him, "Prince Charming". In the opium den, however, he hears someone refer to Dorian as "Prince Charming", and he accosts Dorian. Dorian deceives James into believing he is too young to have known Sibyl, who killed herself eighteen years earlier, as his face is still that of a young man. James relents and releases Dorian, but is then approached by a woman from the opium den who reproaches James for not killing him. She confirms the man was Dorian Gray and explains that he has not aged in eighteen years. James runs after Dorian, but he has left.
James then begins to stalk Dorian, causing him to fear for his life. However, during a shooting party, one of its members accidentally kills James Vane, who was lurking in a thicket. On returning to London, Dorian tells Lord Henry that he will live righteously from then on. His new probity begins with a resolution not to break the heart of the naïve Hetty Merton, his current romantic interest. Dorian wonders if his new-found goodness has reverted the corruption in the picture, but when he looks, he sees only an even uglier image of himself. From that, Dorian understands that his true motives for moral reformation were, in fact, immoral, due to their being merely a means to a selfish end.
Deciding that only full confession will absolve him of his wrongdoing, Dorian decides to destroy the only piece of evidence remaining of his crimes – the picture. In a rage, he takes the knife with which he murdered Basil and stabs the picture. The servants of the house awaken on hearing a cry from the locked room; on the street, a passerby who also heard the cry calls the police. On entering the locked room, the servants find an unknown old man, stabbed in the heart, his face and figure withered and decrepit. The servants identify the disfigured corpse as Dorian by the rings on its fingers; beside him is the picture of Dorian Gray, restored to its original beauty.
Dorian Gray is described as an innocent young man at the beginning of the novel. His love for Sibyl Vane is true, but once he meets Henry, he is subjected to a hedonistic and immoral lifestyle. Henry encouraged him to indulge in various illegal or frowned-upon activities. This morality (or lack thereof) leads Dorian to reject Sibyl, who later commits suicide. Her death is a repeated agony for Dorian throughout his life, and as he ages, he continues to experiment with various sins and crimes in an effort to numb his conscience. These sinful deeds take their toll on Dorian's portrait, transforming its face into one of cruelty and ugliness. When his friend Basil sees the hideous transformation of the portrait, he begs Dorian to pray for salvation. In anger, Dorian murders his friend. Years later, after the accidental and tragic death of Sibyl's brother, Dorian vows to change his life for the better. In an effort to restore the former beauty of his portrait, he vows to end his hedonistic and thoughtless ways. However, after performing an act he considers good, he returns to the portrait to find it more hideous than ever, speculating that this is because he did his good deed for his own sense of self rather than a genuine desire to be good. In the end, Dorian decides to destroy the portrait and dies from a stab wound to the heart—the place where he struck the picture originally. He is discovered by his staff, apparently restored to his 'natural' age and identified by his rings, and the picture is returned to its original, beautiful state.
Depictions in film
- Wilson, Alan. "THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE" (PDF). classic.austlii.au. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
|1910||Dorian Gray's Portrait||Axel Storm|
|1945||The Picture of Dorian Gray||Albert Lewin||Filmed in black and white|
|1970||Dorian Gray (1970 film)||Massimo Dallamano|
|2003||The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen||Stuart Townsend||Gray is presented as having a past relationship with Mina Harker and possesses enhanced healing via his portrait, but loses his immortality when he actually looks upon the portrait directly.|
|2009||Dorian Gray||Oliver Parker||* Competed in Official Fantastic Competition
|2014–2016||Penny Dreadful||Showtime series|
|2019||Chilling Adventures of Sabrina||Netflix original|