So I just started reading The Picture of Dorian Gray yesterday, and so far I’m loving it. The writer has introduced Basil Hallward- the guy who paints the infamous picture, later on, the man in question that is Mr Dorian Gray himself and their mutual friend Lord Henry Wotton (Harry).
I could realize that Lord Henry is an influencer kind of person because, in the beginning, itself, we see Basil hesitant to introduce him to Dorian because he was afraid that the young Lord would be a bad influence on his friend. And it is just as well, I think, because boy, does he have a way with words! I have been mesmerized by the way Lord Henry speaks; there is this paradoxical quality about him that I really like, and he is just a very good orator. Most of the lines that I have underlined in the book so far are from his speeches. I’ll put in a few examples here:
- Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as they are,—my fame, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray’s good looks,—we will all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly.
- I make a great difference between people. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their characters, and my enemies for their brains. A man can’t be too careful in the choice of his enemies. I have not got one who is a fool. They are all men of some intellectual power, and consequently they all appreciate me. Is that very vain of me? I think it is rather vain.
- Days in summer, Basil, are apt to linger.
- I think you will tire first, all the same. Some day you will look at Gray, and he will seem to you to be a little out of drawing, or you won’t like his tone of color, or something. You will bitterly reproach him in your own heart, and seriously think that he has behaved very badly to you. The next time he calls, you will be perfectly cold and indifferent. It will be a great pity, for it will alter you. The worst of having a romance is that it leaves one so unromantic.
- There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral,—immoral from the scientific point of view.
- Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one’s nature perfectly,—that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self.
- ‘I believe that if one man were to live his life out fully and completely, were to give form to every feeling, expression to every thought, reality to every dream,—I believe that the world would gain such a fresh impulse of joy that we would forget all the maladies of mediaevalism, and return to the Hellenic ideal,— to something finer, richer, than the Hellenic ideal, it may be…. You, Mr. Gray, you yourself, with your rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood, you have had passions that have made you afraid, thoughts that have filled you with terror, day-dreams and sleeping dreams whose mere memory might stain your cheek with shame—
- You are a wonderful creature. You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.
- Because you have now the most marvellous youth, and youth is the one thing worth having…Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly.
- And Beauty is a form of Genius,—is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation. It is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or spring-time, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it…To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible… ‘Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you. But what the gods give they quickly take away. You have only a few years in which really to live. When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats. Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful. Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed. You will suffer horribly. Realize your youth while you have it. Don’t squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar, which are the aims, the false ideals, of our age. Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing.
- Always! That is a dreadful word. It makes me shudder when I hear it. Women are so fond of using it. They spoil every romance by trying to make it last forever. It is a meaningless word, too. The only difference between a caprice and a life-long passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer.
- What a fuss people make about fidelity! … And, after all, it is purely a question for physiology. It has nothing to do with our own will. It is either an unfortunate accident, or an unpleasant result of temperament. Young men want to be faithful, and are not; old men want to be faithless, and cannot: that is all one can say.
- She behaves as if she was beautiful. Most American women do. It is the secret of their charm.
- Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity. It is their distinguishing characteristic.
- I can sympathize with everything, except suffering. I cannot sympathize with that. It is too ugly, too horrible, too distressing. There is something terribly morbid in the modern sympathy with pain. One should sympathize with the color, the beauty, the joy of life. The less said about life’s sores the better.
- Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the caveman had known how to laugh, history would have been different.
- To get back one’s youth, one has merely to repeat one’s follies.
- Nowadays, most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.
- Nowadays people know the price of everything, and the value of nothing.
- My dear boy, no woman is a genius: women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. They represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as we men represent the triumph of mind over morals.
- But you should not say the greatest romance of your life. You should say the first romance of your life. You will always be loved, and you will always be in love with love. There are exquisite things in store for you. This is merely the beginning.
- ‘My dear boy, people who only love once in their lives are really shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or the lack of imagination. Faithlessness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the intellectual life,—simply a confession of failure.
- When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls romance.
- To have ruined oneself over poetry is an honour.
- There is always something infinitely mean about other people’s tragedies.
- People are very fond of giving away what they need most themselves.
- A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.
- Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing, it is always from the noblest motives.
- ‘I never approve, or disapprove, of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take towards life. We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices. I never take any notice of what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do. If a personality fascinates me, whatever the personality chooses to do is absolutely delightful to me… The real drawback to marriage is that it makes one unselfish. And unselfish people are colorless. They lack individuality.
- The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror.
- Women are wonderfully practical, much more practical than we are. In situations of that kind we often forget to say anything about marriage, and they always remind us… I have a theory that it is always the women who propose to us, and not we who propose to the women, except, of course, in middle-class life. But then the middle classes are not modern.
- You will always like me, Dorian… I represent to you all the sins you have never had the courage to commit.
- I have known everything, but I am always ready for a new emotion. I am afraid that there is no such thing, for me at any rate.
- There are only two kinds of people who are really fascinating,—people who know absolutely everything, and people who know absolutely nothing. Good heavens, my dear boy, don’t look so tragic! The secret of remaining young is never to have an emotion that is unbecoming. Come to the club with Basil and myself. We will smoke cigarettes and drink to the beauty of Sibyl Vane. She is beautiful. What more can you want?
- But she would have soon found out that you were absolutely indifferent to her. And when a woman finds that out about her husband, she either becomes dreadfully dowdy, or wears very smart bonnets that some other woman’s husband has to pay for. I say nothing about the social mistake, but I assure you that in any case the whole thing would have been an absolute failure.
- Good resolutions are simply a useless attempt to interfere with scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil. They give us, now and then, some of those luxurious sterile emotions that have a certain charm for us. That is all that can be said for them.
- I fancy that the explanation is this. It often happens that the real tragedies of life occur in such an inartistic manner that they hurt us by their crude violence, their absolute incoherence, their absurd want of meaning, their entire lack of style. They affect us just as vulgarity affects us. They give us an impression of sheer brute force, and we revolt against that. Sometimes, however, a tragedy that has artistic elements of beauty crosses our lives. If these elements of beauty are real, the whole thing simply appeals to our sense of dramatic effect. Suddenly we find that we are no longer the actors, but the spectators of the play. Or rather we are both. We watch ourselves, and the mere wonder of the spectacle enthralls us. In the present case, what is it that has really happened? Some one has killed herself for love of you. I wish I had ever had such an experience. It would have made me in love with love for the rest of my life. The people who have adored me—there have not been very many, but there have been some— have always insisted on living on, long after I had ceased to care for them, or they to care for me. They have become stout and tedious, and when I meet them they go in at once for reminiscences. That awful memory of woman! What a fearful thing it is! And what an utter intellectual stagnation it reveals! One should absorb the color of life, but one should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar.
- I believe that women appreciate cruelty more than anything else. They have wonderfully primitive instincts. We have emancipated them, but they remain slaves looking for their masters, all the same. They love being dominated. I am sure you were splendid. I have never seen you angry, but I can fancy how delightful you looked. And, after all, you said something to me the day before yesterday that seemed to me at the time to be merely fanciful, but that I see now was absolutely true, and it explains everything.’
- We live in an age that reads too much to be wise, and that thinks too much to be beautiful.
Basil Hallward also has some amazing lines:
- When I like people immensely I never tell their names to any one. It seems like surrendering a part of them… It is the only thing that can make modern life wonderful or mysterious to us.
- You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing. Your cynicism is simply a pose.
- I had a strange feeling that Fate had in store for me exquisite joys and exquisite sorrows.
- You might see nothing in him. I see everything in him.
- I will not bare my soul to their shallow, prying eyes. My heart shall never be put under their microscope. There is too much of myself in the thing, Harry,—too much of myself!
- We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography.
- I have given away my whole soul to some one who treats it as if it were a flower to put in his coat, a bit of decoration to charm his vanity, an ornament for a summer’s day.
- Don’t spoil him for me. Don’t try to influence him. Your influence would be bad. The world is wide, and has many marvellous people in it. Don’t take away from me the one person that makes life absolutely lovely to me, and that gives to my art whatever wonder or charm it possesses. Mind, Harry, I trust you.
- He won’t like you better for keeping your promises. He always breaks his own.
Was it just me or does Dorian Gray not feel like the central character of the novel at all? Am I prejudiced towards Lord Henry Wotton a.k.a Harry? Dorian too has a few lines, short and profound, but nothing compared to what I think Harry has:
- I know, now, that when one loses one’s good looks, whatever they may be, one loses everything. Your picture has taught me that. Lord Henry is perfectly right. Youth is the only thing worth having. When I find that I am growing old, I will kill myself.
- I am in love with it, Basil. It is part of myself, I feel that.
- I felt that this gray, monstrous London of ours, with its myriads of people, its splendid sinners, and its sordid sins, as you once said, must have something in store for me. I fancied a thousand things… To the present day I can’t make out why I did so; and yet if I hadn’t!—my dear Harry, if I hadn’t, I would have missed the greatest romance of my life.
- But Juliet! Harry, imagine a girl, hardly seventeen years of age, with a little flower-like face, a small Greek head with plaited coils of dark-brown hair, eyes that were violet wells of passion, lips that were like the petals of a rose. She was the loveliest thing I had ever seen in my life. You said to me once that pathos left you unmoved, but that beauty, mere beauty, could fill your eyes with tears. I tell you, Harry, I could hardly see this girl for the mist of tears that came across me… Your voice and the voice of Sibyl Vane are two things that I shall never forget. When I close my eyes, I hear them, and each of them says something different. I don’t know which to follow. Why should I not love her? Harry, I do love her. She is everything to me in life. Night after night I go to see her play. One evening she is Rosalind, and the next evening she is Imogen. I have seen her die in the gloom of an Italian tomb, sucking the poison from her lover’s lips. I have watched her wandering through the forest of Arden, disguised as a pretty boy in hose and doublet and dainty cap. She has been mad, and has come into the presence of a guilty king, and given him rue to wear, and bitter herbs to taste of. She has been innocent, and the black hands of jealousy have crushed her reed-like throat. I have seen her in every age and in every costume. Ordinary women never appeal to one’s imagination… But an actress! How different an actress is! Why didn’t you tell me that the only thing worth loving is an actress?’ ‘Because I have loved so many of them, Dorian.’
- She is all the great heroines of the world in one. She is more than an individual. You laugh, but I tell you she has genius. I love her, and I must make her love me. You, who know all the secrets of life, tell me how to charm Sibyl Vane to love me! I want to make Romeo jealous. I want the dead lovers of the world to hear our laughter, and grow sad. I want a breath of our passion to stir their dust into consciousness, to wake their ashes into pain. My God, Harry, how I worship her!’
- She has not merely art, consummate art instinct, in her, but she has personality also; and you have often told me that it is personalities, not principles, that move the age.
- As we were sitting together, suddenly there came a look into her eyes that I had never seen there before. My lips moved towards hers. We kissed each other. I can’t describe to you what I felt at that moment. It seemed to me that all my life had been narrowed to one perfect point of rose-colored joy… I have been right, Basil, haven’t I, to take my love out of poetry, and to find my wife in Shakespeare’s plays? Lips that Shakespeare taught to speak have whispered their secret in my ear. I have had the arms of Rosalind around me, and kissed Juliet on the mouth.
- You used to stir my imagination. Now you don’t even stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because you were wonderful, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow and stupid. My God! how mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been! You are nothing to me now. I will never see you again. I will never think of you. I will never mention your name. You don’t know what you were to me, once. Why, once …. Oh, I can’t bear to think of it! I wish I had never laid eyes upon you! You have spoiled the romance of my life. How little you can know of love, if you say it mars your art! What are you without your art? Nothing. I would have made you famous, splendid, magnificent. The world would have worshipped you, and you would have belonged to me. What are you now? A third-rate actress with a pretty face.
- So I have murdered Sibyl Vane,’ said Dorian Gray, half to himself,— ‘murdered her as certainly as if I had cut her little throat with a knife. And the roses are not less lovely for all that. The birds sing just as happily in my garden. And to-night I am to dine with you, and then go on to the Opera, and sup somewhere, I suppose, afterwards. How extraordinarily dramatic life is! If I had read all this in a book, Harry, I think I would have wept over it. Somehow, now that it has happened actually, and to me, it seems far too wonderful for tears. Here is the first passionate love-letter I have ever written in my life. Strange, that my first passionate love letter should have been addressed to a dead girl.
- If one doesn’t talk about a thing, it has never happened. It is simply expression, as Harry says, that gives reality to things.
From whatever I’ve read so far, I can make out that the character of Lord Henry Wotton is quite shallow. He is a rake, very obviously. He seems to say a lot of things- wonderful things; he has a loud mouth. But it all seems like a façade to me. He must possibly be a lonely person trying to deny that, through all his antics. He is a person in denial of the fact that his life has no meaning so far. Nonetheless, I love his character. He has that whimsical quality about him that I like- he makes me think. He is a chauvinist when he gives his speech- “My dear boy, no woman is a genius: women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly. They represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as we men represent the triumph of mind over morals.”
One line Sibyl Vane has said that has left me unsettled was- “To be in love is to surpass oneself… he has preached me as a dogma; tonight he will announce me as a revelation. I feel it. And it is all his, his only, Prince Charming, my wonderful over, my god of graces.”
Another poignant line of hers is “You came,—oh, my beautiful love!—and you freed my soul from prison. You taught me what reality really is. To-night, for the first time in my life, I saw through the hollowness, the sham, the silliness, of the empty pageant in which I had always played… You had brought me something higher, something of which all art is but a reflection. You have made me understand what love really is. My love! my love! I am sick of shadows. You are more to me than all art can ever be. What have I to do with the puppets of a play? When I came on to-night, I could not understand how it was that everything had gone from me. Suddenly it dawned on my soul what it all meant. The knowledge was exquisite to me. I heard them hissing, and I smiled. What should they know of love? Take me away, Dorian— take me away with you, where we can be quite alone. I hate the stage. I might mimic a passion that I do not feel, but I cannot mimic one that burns me like fire. Oh, Dorian, Dorian, you understand now what it all means? Even if I could do it, it would be profanation for me to play at being in love.”
I thought that I’d put in every line that I liked from beginning till end, but I’ve realized how highly impractical that is; since I’m reading from an actual copy of the book, rather than an eBook. (Fun fact: I hate eBooks, and avoid them like the plague unless it is absolutely necessary)
The chapter of Sibyl Vane’s death is very significant, I feel. We see Dorian finally morph into someone else- the change in his portrait is proof of that as his innate humanity has lessened, no doubt from Harry’s (Lord Henry Wotton) influence and his own choices as well. Then we see his realization regarding this change when he refuses to let Basil remove the screen he had placed in front of the portrait to prevent anyone else from seeing it. We see him growing suspicious of everyone around him- from his valet, the loyal Victor- to even the frame-maker Mr Hubbard.
I got the word I was searching for- for Harry. His words are charming and clever- but they are cynical. He sends over The Yellow Book to Dorian which is similar to the poisonous influence he has on the younger man. The book is almost like an experiment he performs on Dorian, which turns out exceedingly to his liking. It fascinates Dorian as he sees aspects of his own life in the protagonist in this “novel without a plot, and with only one character, being, indeed, simply a psychological study of a certain young Parisian”.
I watched the 2009 version of Dorian Gray, starring Ben Barnes (Oh, how I love him!). The guy who plays Basil in the movie very eloquently said to Dorian, about Harry- “You’ll never meet a more eloquent philosopher of pure folly”. And I totally agree.
Things have really turned for the worst when Dorian stoops to murder and blackmail (to hide the fact that he has murdered a man). He has finally become an image of Harry, but much more dangerous and immoral in nature. He almost does not have a heart! He is so dedicated to his pursuit of pleasure that he no longer knows what happiness is. The irony of it all is that he knows what happiness and pleasure are, in terms of their lexical meanings, and that there is a huge difference between them.
Another lines of Harry I came across towards the end are:
- The only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian. That is the one sin for which there is no forgiveness.
- As for omens, there is no such thing as an omen. Destiny does not send us heralds. She is too wise or too cruel for that.
- The basis of every scandal is an immoral certainty.
- Knowledge would be fatal. It is the uncertainty that charms me. A mist makes things wonderful.
Anyway, I finished this book today. It was most possibly one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is a wonderful novel, hence an obvious classic and I am so glad that I have read this masterpiece of the ages. Dorian as a character who repents too late towards the end, teaches us that the pursuit of pleasure is no doubt an aphrodisiac to the senses but this pursuit must be done only within the moral limits set by society and not be obsessed over. Likewise, the fact that youth and beauty are transient and will fade away one day is a fact that we all need to accept.
Lord Henry is a cynic of the purest waters. He is charming with his words, delightful in his speeches. He is a bad influence, but I love him more for it. Basil on the other hand, is a very good friend who ultimately dies due to the madness of the person he was trying to help.
The plot in itself was an awesome journey over the years in Victorian Era England and we see a bleak picture of London of the times, with its unbridgeable gap between the rich and the poor. It was this London of vices that unfortunately trapped the young and impressionable Dorian with Lord Henry’s help.
Oscar Wilde has created a sensational masterpiece in this philosophical novel and makes us explore the interrelationships between art, life and the consequences of our actions. It beautifully plays with elements of sin, desire and personal growth in a period when this was an outrage to the Victorian establishment.
I rate it a solid 5/5 stars.