Dorian's "Love" and Loss: Ch. 3-5 of The Picture of Dorian Gray
Hello! Here I am, a little over 2 months after my last post about this book, and I've explained in a little more detail why that is in a post from earlier today. For now, here's the short version:
I went to Salt Lake City to visit family at the start of May, which was why I didn't get to reading these chapters right away. Trip planning is always stressful for me, so there wasn't much else I could focus on. However, I'm actually glad I didn't try to read these chapters while I was gone since the material is getting even denser and requiring more careful analysis and summary from me. I also started a new job which is part of the reason this post took so long to go up. Either way, I'm excited about this since it allows me to explore deeper themes and expand upon the themes first brought up at the beginning of the story.
Let's get started with a summary of these three chapters!
Chapter three jumps in time a month, and Dorian is sitting in Lord Henry's parlor, waiting for Henry to arrive. His thoughts are interrupted by Lady Henry, who seems to be awkward around Dorian as if she knows something scandalous about his relationship with her husband. Lord Henry finally arrives, giving Lady Henry the opportunity to leave and reset the status quo set by her and her husband--making sure their schedules never coincide. Lord Henry listens as Dorian raves about his new infatuation with an actress: Sybil Vane. She is performing in Romeo and Juliet, playing multiple parts, and her acting has captivated Dorian in such a way that he believes he is in love. Henry is skeptical, but Dorian is adamant that he is in love with Sybil, even stating his intentions to get her away from her current employer to free her and help her become a star. Dorian ropes Henry (who promises to rope Basil) into his plan, agreeing to meet the next night to watch Sybil's performance before Dorian runs away with her. Dorian leaves Lord Henry to watch Sybil's performance, and this gives Henry the chance to muse about Dorian's "love" and naivete for the world. Henry leaves on an outing, and when he returns home late that night, he finds a note from Dorian announcing his engagement to Sybil.
Chapter four is a relatively short chapter, serving as a prelude to the chaos in the next chapter. Basil and Henry discuss Dorian's engagement, Henry showing a cavalier indifference while Basil shows serious concern for Dorian's well-being. Dorian arrives and we are told the story of how he "proposed" to Sybil. Dorian had met Sybil after her show, and they shared a passionate kiss, which Dorian interprets as a confirmation of Sybil's intention to marry him. He doesn't actually propose, skipping over this question in favor of planning his and Sybil's future without much say from her. Henry and Basil are wary of the legitimacy of this engagement, but Dorian insists that they will understand when they see her perform. The men leave for the theatre, with Dorian and Henry in one carriage while Basil rides separately, giving us the chance to see his heartbreak over the entire situation.
Chapter five opens with the three men arriving at the theatre, and they begin to watch Sybil's performance as Juliet. Instead of the genius performer that Dorian described her to be, Lord Henry and Basil observe a stilted and lifeless performance, leaving an embarrassed, angry, and confused Dorian to watch the rest of the show. After the play is over Dorian meets Sybil backstage, demanding an explanation from her for her terrible acting. She is confused by his reaction, showing a kind of relief in her explanation. She tells Dorian that the only thing in her life was acting before she met him. His love has shown her that she can be more than just an actress for the rest of her life. This offends Dorian, and he breaks off the engagement, leaving Sybil weeping and begging on the floor of her dressing room. He finds his way home, in a daze, contemplating his ideas of love and his life. When he eventually enters his house, he is drawn to Basil's portrait of him. There is cruelty in the face that was not there before, and he recalls his wish that the painting would age while he would stay young. He concludes that this also means his cruel and unfair actions will be reflected in the painting as well, and it terrifies them. He thinks about his actions toward Sybil, finding them excessively cruel, and he resolves to make amends with her and marry her.
Alright, that was a lot, and there were a lot of complex emotions within these three chapters as we see the naivete begin to chip away from Dorian's character. He's becoming more aware of how his actions affect those around him. More importantly, though, he cares, seeing his cruelty reflected back at him through his portrait. Whether this care is more for himself or the effect he has on others, I'm not sure at this point, but I do see his character changing from the young and careless boy from the beginning of the story.
There are even more tableaus in these few chapters, using detail to really paint a picture of where the story and characters are at in any given moment. One of these moments I found very interesting despite its brevity was in Chapter 3. Dorian has arrived at Lord Henry's house to visit him, but he runs into his wife instead. There is an awkward exchange where Lady Henry seems to be evaluating why Lord Henry finds Dorian fascinating, and this is where Lord Henry finally enters. There is a brief exchange of words between the spouses, and Lady Henry says, "I have promised to drive with the Duchess. Good-bye, Mr. Gray. Good-bye, Harry. You are dining out, I suppose? So am I. Perhaps I shall see you at Lady Thornbury's." As she leaves, she is described as "[flitting] out of the room, looking like a bird-of- paradise that had been out in the rain, and leaving a faint odour of patchouli behind her" (Chapter 3, pg. 90). What I find interesting about this brief encounter is how much is said about the state of Lord and Lady Henry's relationship in only a few words. Though we have seen Henry's perspective on his marriage, and marriage in general, this felt like a real, unfiltered moment between two people who may have loved each other once but are going through the motions.
Oscar Wilde also further explores themes of real love vs. superficial or aesthetic love when it comes to Dorian's relationship with Sybil. He counters Lord Henry's cynicism about love and marriage with his own idealism and childish awe at the feelings Sybil inspires in him. Henry describes women as "a decorative sex" who "never have anything to say, [but say] it charmingly" (pg. 91). Dorian, on the other hand, is infatuated with an idea of Sybil, though he does not understand that the actress is separate from the woman. He sees his love of her talents as a sign of some sort of fate or true love, paralleling Basil's obsession with him from earlier in the story. Where Basil saw Dorian as his muse and only worthwhile subject for his art, Dorian sees Sybil as the characters she plays and misconstrues it as knowing her completely. He says, "I have seen her in every age and in every costume. Ordinary women never appeal to one's imagination. They are limited to their century...But an actress! How different an actress is!" (pg. 95). As his relationship quickly progresses with Sybil, he doesn't seem to understand the facade of acting that is not necessarily linked with the real life person. This happens to such a degree that when Sybil purposely fails onstage in order to show Dorian how he inspired her to be more, he can't comprehend what more she could possibly want to offer outside of acting. He recoils from her and chastises her for not being the version of her that he wanted her to be.
This is further highlighted by the end of chapter 5, when Dorian sees the effect his cruelty has had on the portrait of himself. This is where, in my opinion, the first cracks appear in Dorian's naive and sheltered personality. He contends with the effect his actions have on others, though to me it is unclear whether or not he is thinking about how it will come back to haunt him or if he is truly remorseful for how he treated Sybil. showing that his love for her was conditional, dependent on the perpetuation of the image he had built up of her: a genius actress.
The changing of the painting at this point also seems to be beginning of the addition of more horror or supernatural elements, which I'm excited to see more of. The changing of the painting is all I really knew about this story going into it. Reading about this and seeing the subtle horror of Dorian's sins being reflected back to him really shows how Oscar Wilde wanted Dorian's progression as a character to be. Wilde, as dense as some of the text is, also knew how to give the impression of a slower arc for Dorian within such a short story. I'm excited to explore more of Dorian's character development in the rest of the novella.
That's all I have for now, and as I said before, there will be no promises about when the next one is coming out. I will do my best to make it happen by late this month or early next month, and that's as concrete as I can be. I do hope you are enjoying this analysis as much as I enjoy writing it, because this is a story that I've wanted to explore for so long. I wanted to really think about it and do it justice for myself and those of you reading this.
I hope you all have a good day/night, and I will be back soon!