Dorian Gray, a handsome young man who, while visiting the studio of an artist friend who is painting his portrait, idly wishes that the portrait would grow old while he himself remained young looking. Later, having treated a young woman cruelly, he notices the first sign of alteration in the portrait. Alarmed, he decides to repent and to marry her, but he learns that she has killed herself. He now gives himself over entirely to a life of corruption, under the tutelage of an evil friend. His crimes include murder. At last he decides to destroy the hideous portrait, which has been long locked away. He stabs it with a knife. Hearing a cry, the servants find lying before a portrait of their handsome master a withered, wrinkled body with a knife in its breast.
Lord Henry Wotton
Lord Henry Wotton, a witty, degenerate man who deliberately tempts Dorian into a life of debauchery.
Basil Hallward, Dorian’s artist friend, who paints his portrait. He asks Lord Wotton never to meet Dorian, saying that the older man’s influence would be evil; but Dorian comes to the studio while Lord Wotton is there, and the friendship begins. Hallward and Dorian become estranged; but on his thirty-eighth birthday, Dorian shows Hallward the altered portrait and then, angry because he has betrayed himself, kills Hallward.
Alan Campbell, a young chemist whom Dorian blackmails into disposing of Hallward’s body with fire and chemicals. Campbell later commits suicide under strange circumstances.
Sibyl Vane, a young actress who knows Dorian only as “Prince Charming.” Dorian treats her cruelly, and she kills herself.
James Vane, her brother. He has sworn revenge against “Prince Charming,” but he hesitates to kill Dorian, who looks years too young to be the man who ruined his sister eighteen years before. Assured that Dorian is in fact that man, he follows him to his country house and is accidentally shot and killed during a hunt on the estate.
Alan Campbell is a former close friend of Dorian Gray. The friendship lasted for eighteen months and ended for unknown reasons. After the split between the two men, Campbell became melancholy and gave up playing music, which had been his delight. After he murders Basil, Gray summons Campbell, who is an expert in chemistry, to dispose of the body. Campbell agrees to do it only after Gray indicates he will blackmail him if he does not cooperate. Campbell later commits suicide by shooting himself in his laboratory.
Lord Fermor is the uncle of Lord Henry Wotton. He is a bachelor and former diplomat who devotes himself to what the narrator describes as “the great aristocratic art of doing absolutely nothing.” He informs Lord Henry about Dorian Gray’s family background.
Dorian Gray is twenty years old when the novel begins. He is the grandson of Lord Kelso, and his mother was the beautiful Lady Margaret Devereux. Margaret married a man Lord Kelso did not approve of, and her father arranged for the man to be killed in a duel. Dorian’s mother died within a year, and Dorian was raised by his grandfather. When Dorian comes of age at twenty-one, he will inherit enough money to enable him to live comfortably.
Dorian possesses great physical beauty, and the artist Basil Hallward is infatuated with him. When Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, he falls under the influence of Henry’s new hedonism, in which the goal of immediate sensual pleasure is valued above ethics or morality. Soon after Dorian meets Lord Henry he falls in love with the actress Sibyl Vane but rejects her when she declares that since she has fallen in love with him, she no longer cares for creating art. It is Dorian’s callous response to Sibyl’s resulting suicide that produces the first change in the portrait that Basil painted of him: a distinctly cruel expression appears on the face. After this, Dorian pursues a life of pleasure in which he courts all manner of...
(The entire section is 1,705 words.)