Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Dorian Gray, the title character of The Picture of Dorian Gray, is a decadent dandy of the Victorian era. Concerned with little but appearances, he lives a reckless, nonproductive existence. A crucial event in his life comes when Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton in the studio of Basil Hallward, an artist, who has painted a portrait of the breathtakingly beautiful Dorian, now in his early twenties. Lord Wotton intrigues Dorian with his talk of the New Hedonism, which is reflected in the novel by Lord Henry’s giving Dorian a copy of Joris-Karl Huysmans’s À rebours (1884; Against the Grain, 1922), a novel that articulates this philosophy, the basis of which is the achievement of a complete realization of one’s nature.
Dorian now utters a Faust-like proposition. He expresses a willingness to surrender his soul if he can maintain his youth and physical beauty and have his portrait age in his place. Dorian hardly expects to have his wish granted and thinks little more of it. He is busy courting Sybil Vane, a talented young actress, who falls in love with him.
Ironically, Sybil’s being in love with Dorian robs her of her ability to act. In time, the very ability that first drew Dorian to Sybil has disappeared, and he rejects her unfeelingly. Having lost Dorian and her acting ability simultaneously, Sybil kills herself. Lord Henry, Dorian’s Mephistopheles, convinces Dorian that, in line with the New Hedonism,...
(The entire section is 764 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
One day in his London studio, painter Basil Hallward is putting a few finishing touches on a portrait of his handsome young friend, Dorian Gray. Lord Henry Wotton, a caller, indolently watches the painter at work. When his friend admires the subject of the painting, the artist explains that Dorian is his ideal of youth and that he hopes Lord Henry will never meet him because the older man’s influence will be absolute and evil.
While Hallward and Lord Henry are talking, Dorian arrives at the studio and Hallward, much against his will, is forced to introduce the young man to Lord Henry. Hallward signs the portrait and announces that it is finished. When Lord Henry offers to buy the picture, the painter says it is not his property and that it belongs to Dorian, to whom he is presenting it. After listening to Lord Henry’s witty conversation, Dorian looks at his portrait and grows sad. He will become old and wrinkled, he says, while the picture will remain the same. Instead, he wishes that the portrait may grow old while he remains forever young. He says he would give his soul to keep his youth. There is, however, no overt Faustian bargain struck with Satan. Rather, Dorian’s powerful narcissism is sufficient to magically draw the portrait’s perpetual youth and beauty into himself.
Dorian and Lord Henry become close friends. One of the gifts Lord Henry gives the young man is a book about another young man who attempts to realize in his brief...
(The entire section is 1386 words.)
The Picture of Dorian Gray begins on an afternoon in London, in the studio of the artist Basil Hallward. Basil discusses his latest portrait, of an extremely handsome young man named Dorian Gray, with Lord Henry Wotton. Basil says he will not exhibit the painting because he has put too much of himself in it. After they go into the garden, Basil explains how captivated he has been by Dorian since he first met him a couple of months earlier. Lord Henry makes some witty, cynical remarks about life, and Basil chides him that he does not really believe what he is saying. Then Basil expands on how Dorian’s personality has suggested to him an entirely new manner in art; he sees and thinks differently now and envisions a new school of art, in which soul and body are in perfect harmony.
They return to the house, where Dorian is waiting. Basil puts the finishing touches to his painting as Lord Henry expounds his philosophy of how to live a full life, which is not to be afraid of passion and sensuality as a way to fulfillment of the soul. Dorian is moved by Henry’s words, and Henry goes on to speak of the beauty of youth and how it is destroyed by time. When Dorian looks at the finished portrait of himself, he is struck by his own beauty in a way he has never felt before. He feels sad that he will grow old and his beauty will be spoiled. He then says he would give everything, even his own soul, if he could always remain young, and...
(The entire section is 1256 words.)