For years, Dorian Gray could not free himself from the influence of this book. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he never sought to free himself from it. He procured from Paris no less than nine large-paper copies of the first edition, and had them bound in different colours, so that they might suit his various moods and the changing fancies of a nature over which he seemed, at times, to have almost entirely lost control. The hero, the wonderful young Parisian in whom the romantic and the scientific temperaments were so strangely blended, became to him a kind of version of himself. And, indeed, the whole book seemed to him to contain the story of his own life, written before he had lived it.
In one point he was more fortunate than the novel’s fantastic hero. He never knew—never, indeed, had any cause to know—that somewhat grotesque dread of mirrors, and polished metal surfaces, and still water which came upon the young Parisian so early in his life, and was occasioned by the sudden decay of a beau that had once, apparently, been so remarkable. It was with an almost cruel joy—and perhaps in nearly every joy, as certainly in every pleasure, cruelty has its place—that he used to read the latter part of the book, with its really tragic, if somewhat overemphasized, account of the sorrow and despair of one who had himself lost what in others, and the world, he had most dearly valued.
For the wonderful beauty that had so fascinated Basil Hallward, and many others besides him, seemed never to leave him. Even those who had heard the most evil things against him—and from time to time strange rumours about his mode of life crept through London and became the chatter of the clubs—could not believe anything to his dishonour when they saw him. He had always the look of one who had kept himself unspotted from the world. Men who talked grossly became silent when Dorian Gray entered the room. There was something in the purity of his face that rebuked them. His mere presence seemed to recall to them the memory of the innocence that they had tarnished(1). They wondered how one so charming and graceful as he was could have escaped the stain of an age that was at once sordid and sensual.
Often, on returning home from one of those mysterious and prolonged absences that gave rise to such strange conjecture(2) among those who were his friends, or thought that they were so, he himself would creep upstairs to the locked room, open the door with the key that never left him now, and stand, with a mirror, in front of the portrait that Basil Hallward had painted of him, looking now at the evil and aging face on the canvas, and now at the fair young face that laughed back at him from the polished glass. The very sharpness of the contrast used to quicken his sense of pleasure. He grew more and more enamoured of his own beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his own soul. He would examine with minute care, and sometimes with a monstrous and terrible delight, the hideous lines that seared the wrinkling forehead or crawled around the heavy sensual mouth, wondering sometimes which were the more horrible, the signs of sin or the signs of age. He would place his white hands beside the coarse bloated(3) hands of the picture, and smile. He mocked the misshapen(4) body and the failing limbs.
The more he knew, the more he desired to know. He had mad hungers that grew more ravenous(5) as he fed them.
Indeed, there were many, especially among the very young men, who saw in Dorian Gray the true realization of a type of which they had often dreamed in Eton or Oxford days, a type that was to combine something of the real culture of the scholar with all the grace and distinction and perfect manner of a citizen of the world.
And, certainly, to him life itself was the first, the greatest, of the arts, and for it all the other arts seemed to be but a preparation. The worship of the senses has often, and with much justice, been decried(6), men feeling a natural instinct of terror about passions and sensations that seem stronger than themselves.. As he looked back upon man moving through history, he was haunted by a feeling of loss. There had been mad wilful rejections, monstrous forms of self-torture and self-denial.
Dorian was determined not to deny himself anything. He wanted to experience and know all the senses of the world. He read about perfumes and the secrets of their manufacture. He wondered about the relationship between certain fragrances and the emotions that they were known to have elicited(7). At another time he devoted himself entirely to music. He used to give curious concerts in which mad gipsies(8) tore wild music from little graves, while grinning Negroes(9) beat monotonously upon copper drums and slim turbaned(10) Indians charmed great hooded snakes. He collected together from all parts of the world the strangest instruments that could be found, either in the tombs of dead nations or among the few savage tribes that have survived contact with Western civilizations, and loved to touch and try them. The fantastic character of these instruments fascinated him. Yet, after some time, he wearied of them.
Then, he took up the study of jewels. He loved the red gold of the sunstone, and the moonstone’s pearly whiteness, and the broken rainbow of the milky opal. Then he turned his attention to embroideries and tapestries(11). As he investigated the subject he was saddened by the reflection of the ruin that time brought on beautiful and wonderful things. He, at any rate, had escaped that. No winter marred his face or stained his flowerlike bloom.
Upon the walls of the lonely locked room where he had spent so much of his boyhood, he had hung with his own hands the terrible portrait whose changing features showed him the real degradation of his life.
After a few years he could not endure to be long out of England. He hated to be separated from the picture that was such a part of his life, and was also afraid that during his absence some one might gain access to the room.
He was quite conscious that this would tell them nothing. They would not even believe that it was his own portrait.
Yet he was afraid. What if it should be stolen? The mere thought made him cold with horror. Surely the world would know his secret then. Perhaps the world already suspected it. It was remarked that some of those who had been most intimate(12) with him appeared, after a time, to shun him. Women who had wildly adored him were seen to grow pallid with shame or horror if Dorian Gray entered the room.Yet these whispered scandals only increased in the eyes of many his strange and dangerous charm.
Only Dorian Gray himself knew the truth. He had been poisoned by a book. There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception(13) of the beautiful.
1/tarnish(v): stain, make something less pure
3/bloat(v)-bloated(adj): make or become swollen with fluid or gas
5/ravenous(Adj): extremely hungry, voracious
6/decry(v): publicly denounce
7/elicit(v): evoke or draw out
8/gypsy(n): a member of a traveling people with dark skin and hair who speak Romany and traditionally live by seasonal work and fortune-telling. Gypsies are now found mostly in Europe, parts of North Africa, and North America, but are believed to have originated in South Asia.
9/Negro(n): a member of a dark-skinned group of peoples originally native to Africa south of the Sahara
10/turban(n)-turbaned(Adj): n: a man’s headdress, consisting of a long length of cotton or silk wound around a cap or the head, worn especially by Muslims and Sikhs
v: dressed in such an item
11/tapestry(n): a piece of thick textile fabric with pictures or designs formed by weaving colored weft threads or by embroidering on canvas, used as a wall hanging or furniture covering
13/conception(n): the way in which something is perceived or regarded