Stage 4 (Sage): The Picture of Dorian Gray, chapter 20

CHAPTER 20

It was a lovely night, so warm that he threw his coat over his arm and did not even put his silk scarf round his throat. As he strolled home, smoking his cigarette, two young men in evening dress passed him. He heard one of them whisper to the other, “That is Dorian Gray.” He remembered how pleased he used to be when he was pointed out, or stared at, or talked about. He was tired of hearing his own name now. Half the charm of the little village where he had been so often lately was that no one knew who he was.

When he reached home, he found his servant waiting up for him. He sent him to bed, and threw himself down on the sofa in the library.

Was it really true that one could never change?  He knew that he had tarnished(1) himself, filled his mind with corruption(2) and given horror to his fancy. But was it all irretrievable(3)? Was there no hope for him?

Ah! in what a monstrous moment of pride and passion he had prayed that the portrait should bear the burden of his days. All his failure had been due to that. There was purification(4) in punishment.

Dorian picked up a mirror and examined his reflection. He loathed his own beauty, and flinging the mirror on the floor, crushed it into silver splinters(5) beneath his heel.

It was better not to think of the past. Nothing could alter that. It was of himself, and of his own future, that he had to think. James Vane was hidden in a nameless grave in Selby churchyard. Alan Campbell had shot himself one night in his laboratory, but had not revealed the secret that he had been forced to know. The excitement, such as it was, over Basil Hallward’s disappearance would soon pass away.

A new life! That was what Dorian wanted. That was what he was waiting for. Surely he had begun it already. He had spared one innocent thing, at any rate. He would be good.

As he thought of Hetty Merton, he began to wonder if the portrait in the locked room had changed. Surely it was not still so horrible as it had been? Perhaps if his life became pure, he would be able to expel(6) every sign of evil passion from the face. Perhaps the signs of evil had already gone away. He would go and look.

When he did, a cry of pain and indignation(7) broke from him. He could see no change, save that in the eyes there was a look of cunning and in the mouth the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite(8). The thing was still loathsome.

Had it been merely vanity that had made him do his one good deed? Or the desire for a new sensation, as Lord Henry had hinted, with his mocking laugh? Or that passion to act a part that sometimes makes us do things finer than we are ourselves? Or, perhaps, all these? And why was the red stain larger than it had been? Did it mean that he was to confess? To give himself up and be put to death? He laughed. He felt that the idea was monstrous. Besides, even if he did confess, who would believe him? There was no trace of the murdered man anywhere. Everything belonging to him had been destroyed. He himself had burned what had been below-stairs. The world would simply say that he was mad.

Yet it was his duty to confess. There was a God who called upon men to tell their sins to earth as well as to heaven. Nothing that he could do would cleanse him till he had told his own sin. His sin? He shrugged his shoulders. The death of Basil Hallward seemed very little to him. He was thinking of Hetty Merton. For it was an unjust mirror, this mirror of his soul that he was looking at. Vanity? Curiosity? Hypocrisy? Had there been nothing more in his renunciation(9) than that? There had been something more. At least he thought so. But who could tell? … No. There had been nothing more.

But this murder—was it to dog him all his life? Was he always to be burdened by his past? Was he really to confess? Never. There was only one bit of evidence left against him. The picture itself—that was evidence. He would destroy it. Why had he kept it so long? Once it had given him pleasure to watch it changing and growing old. Of late he had felt no such pleasure. It had kept him awake at night. He would destroy it.

He looked round and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward.. It was bright, and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter’s work, and all that that meant. It would kill the past, and when that was dead, he would be free. It would kill this monstrous soul-life, and without its hideous warnings, he would be at peace. He seized the thing, and stabbed the picture with it.

There was a cry heard, and a crash. The cry was so horrible in its agony that the frightened servants woke and crept out of their rooms. Two gentlemen, who were passing in the square below, stopped and looked up at the great house. They walked on till they met a policeman and brought him back.

“Whose house is that, Constable(10)?” asked the elder of the two gentlemen.

“Mr. Dorian Gray’s, sir,” answered the policeman.

They looked at each other, as they walked away, and sneered.

Everything was still. Finally, after vainly trying to force the door, the policeman and Dorian’s servants got on the roof and dropped down on to the balcony.

When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage(11). It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was.


+GLOSSARY

  1. tarnished (adj): corroded, discolored; discredited, disgraced
  2. corruption (n): the decay of people’s values
  3. irretrievable (adj): impossible to recover or regain
  4. purification (n): the act of cleaning to remove anything that pollutes or contaminates
  5. splinter (n): a small, sharp, broken piece of wood, glass, plastic, or similar material
  6. expel (v): to send out or away
  7. indignation (n): anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment
  8. hypocrite (n): a person who claims to be what he/she is not
  9. renunciation (n): rejection; refusal to acknowledge
  10. constable (n): a public officer of lower rank than a sheriff
  11. visage (n): appearance, aspect

 

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