The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
Basil Hallward, a painter, reluctantly introduces his jaded friend, Lord Henry Wotton, to the young man Basil is painting. Dorian Gray, at the age of twenty, is outstandingly beautiful, wealthy, and inexperienced. Lord Henry tells him that “beauty is a form of genius” and that he must live the wonderful life inside him, giving form to every feeling, expression to every thought, and reality to every dream. Lord Henry believes that this form of fulfillment results in an ideal life.
Dorian realizes with horror that he will grow old as the portrait stays young and beautiful. He states that he would give his soul to stay young while the portrait ages. Immediately, Dorian’s character changes; he cruelly taunts Basil as Basil gives him the painting.
Dorian flings himself into life. He falls in love with a young actress, Sibyl Vane, who plays Shakespearean roles in a seedy theater. They declare their love the afternoon before Basil and Harry first see her. That night, her performance is terrible; having felt real love, she can no longer pretend it as Juliet. Dorian, however, loves only the images; he coldly rejects the woman. On returning home, he sees that the portrait reflects his cruelty. Horrified, he resolves to marry Sibyl, but he cannot; she has committed suicide. At first, Dorian is shocked, but he soon rationalizes that Sibyl deserved her fate because she failed to live up to his expectations.
The day after Sibyl’s death,...
(The entire section is 540 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Mayfair. Richest district of London, lying to the east of Hyde Park, bounded on the north by Oxford Street and on the south by Piccadilly. Most of the significant locations featured in the novel are situated there. The exact location of Lord Henry Wotton’s house, with its oak-paneled library, furnished with Persian rugs, is left unspecified, but his uncle, Lord Fermor, lives in Berkeley Square, one of the most imposing addresses in London, and is a member of one of the most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs, the Albany. Even Alan Campbell, the chemistry expert blackmailed by Dorian into disposing of Basil Hallward’s body, lives in Mayfair, although Hertford Street is one of the least prepossessing thoroughfares in the district.
Dorian’s own town house, inherited from his grandfather, Lord Kelso, is situated in the other famous Mayfair square, Grosvenor Square. It is here that a study in contrasts is developed between the room in which Dorian hides the portrait, his old schoolroom, located at the very top of the house, and the rooms that he furnishes in an extraordinarily lavish fashion with all manner of tapestries, textiles, embroideries, and ecclesiastical vestments.
Schoolroom. Symbolizing Dorian’s lost innocence, the schoolroom is furnished with a satinwood bookcase, a Flemish tapestry featuring two monarchs playing chess while falconers hover nearby, and a cassone, a...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
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Topics for Further Study
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Ellmann, Richard, ed. Oscar Wilde: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. An anthology of essays on the works of Oscar Wilde, by a series of well-known authors. Includes two essays on The Picture of Dorian Gray, a contemporary (1891) review of the book by Walter Pater, “A Novel by Mr. Oscar Wilde,” and a 1947 treatment by Edouard Roditis, “Fiction as Allegory: The Picture of Dorian Gray.”
McCormack, Jerusha Hull. The Man Who Was Dorian Gray. New York: Palgrave, 2000. A scholarly scraping together of the life of Wilde’s model.
(The entire section is 289 words.)