It was long past noon when he awoke. His valet had crept several times
on tiptoe into the room to see if he was stirring, and had wondered
what made his young master sleep so late. Finally his bell sounded,
and Victor came in softly with a cup of tea, and a pile of letters, on
a small tray of old Sevres china, and drew back the olive-satin
curtains, with their shimmering blue lining, that hung in front of the
three tall windows.
"Monsieur has well slept this morning," he said, smiling.
"What o'clock is it, Victor?" asked Dorian Gray drowsily.
"One hour and a quarter, Monsieur."
How late it was! He sat up, and having sipped some tea, turned over
his letters. One of them was from Lord Henry, and had been brought by
hand that morning. He hesitated for a moment, and then put it aside.
The others he opened listlessly. They contained the usual collection
of cards, invitations to dinner, tickets for private views, programmes
of charity concerts, and the like that are showered on fashionable
young men every morning during the season. There was a rather heavy
bill for a chased silver Louis-Quinze toilet-set that he had not yet
had the courage to send on to his guardians, who were extremely
old-fashioned people and did not realize that we live in an age when
unnecessary things are our only necessities; and there were several
very courteously worded communications from Jermyn Street money-lenders
offering to advance any sum of money at a moment's notice and at the
most reasonable rates of interest.
After about ten minutes he got up, and throwing on an elaborate
dressing-gown of silk-embroidered cashmere wool, passed into the
onyx-paved bathroom. The cool water refreshed him after his long
sleep. He seemed to have forgotten all that he had gone through. A
dim sense of having taken part in some strange tragedy came to him once
or twice, but there was the unreality of a dream about it.
As soon as he was dressed, he went into the library and sat down to a
light French breakfast that had been laid out for him on a small round
table close to the open window. It was an exquisite day. The warm air
seemed laden with spices. A bee flew in and buzzed round the
blue-dragon bowl that, filled with sulphur-yellow roses, stood before
him. He felt perfectly happy.
Suddenly his eye fell on the screen that he had placed in front of the
portrait, and he started.
"Too cold for Monsieur?" asked his valet, putting an omelette on the
table. "I shut the window?"
Dorian shook his head. "I am not cold," he murmured.
Was it all true? Had the portrait really changed? Or had it been
simply his own imagination that had made him see a look of evil where
there had been a look of joy? Surely a painted canvas could not alter?
The thing was absurd. It would serve as a tale to tell Basil some day.
It would make him smile.
And, yet, how vivid was his recollection of the whole thing! First in
the dim twilight, and then in the bright dawn, he had seen the touch of
cruelty round the warped lips. He almost dreaded his valet leaving the
room. He knew that when he was alone he would have to examine the
portrait. He was afraid of certainty. When the coffee and cigarettes
had been brought and the man turned to go, he felt a wild desire to
tell him to remain. As the door was closing behind him, he called him
back. The man stood waiting for his orders. Dorian looked at him for
a moment. "I am not at home to any one, Victor," he said with a sigh.
The man bowed and retired.
Then he rose from the table, lit a cigarette, and flung himself down on
a luxuriously cushioned couch that stood facing the screen. The screen
was an old one, of gilt Spanish leather, stamped and wrought with a
rather florid Louis-Quatorze pattern. He scanned it curiously,
wondering if ever before it had concealed the secret of a man's life.
Should he move it aside, after all? Why not let it stay there? What
was the use of knowing? If the thing was true, it was terrible. If it
was not true, why trouble about it? But what if, by some fate or
deadlier chance, eyes other than his spied behind and saw the horrible
change? What should he do if Basil Hallward came and asked to look at
his own picture? Basil would be sure to do that. No; the thing had to
be examined, and at once. Anything would be better than this dreadful
state of doubt.
He got up and locked both doors. At least he would be alone when he
looked upon the mask of his shame. Then he drew the screen aside and
saw himself face to face. It was perfectly true. The portrait had
As he often remembered afterwards, and always with no small wonder, he
found himself at first gazing at the portrait with a feeling of almost
scientific interest. That such a change should have taken place was
incredible to him. And yet it was a fact. Was there some subtle
affinity between the chemical atoms that shaped themselves into form
and colour on the canvas and the soul that was within him? Could it be
that what that soul thought, they realized?--that what it dreamed, they
made true? Or was there some other, more terrible reason? He
shuddered, and felt afraid, and, going back to the couch, lay there,
gazing at the picture in sickened horror.
One thing, however, he felt that it had done for him. It had made him
conscious how unjust, how cruel, he had been to Sibyl Vane. It was not
too late to make reparation for that. She could still be his wife.
His unreal and selfish love would yield to some higher influence, would
be transformed into some nobler passion, and the portrait that Basil
Hallward had painted of him would be a guide to him through life, would
be to him what holiness is to some, and conscience to others, and the
fear of God to us all. There were opiates for remorse, drugs that
could lull the moral sense to sleep. But here was a visible symbol of
the degradation of sin. Here was an ever-present sign of the ruin men
brought upon their souls.
Three o'clock struck, and four, and the half-hour rang its double
chime, but Dorian Gray did not stir. He was trying to gather up the
scarlet threads of life and to weave them into a pattern; to find his
way through the sanguine labyrinth of passion through which he was
wandering. He did not know what to do, or what to think. Finally, he
went over to the table and wrote a passionate letter to the girl he had
loved, imploring her forgiveness and accusing himself of madness. He
covered page after page with wild words of sorrow and wilder words of
pain. There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we
feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession,
not the priest, that gives us absolution. When Dorian had finished the
letter, he felt that he had been forgiven.
Suddenly there came a knock to the door, and he heard Lord Henry's
voice outside. "My dear boy, I must see you. Let me in at once. I
can't bear your shutting yourself up like this."
He made no answer at first, but remained quite still. The knocking
still continued and grew louder. Yes, it was better to let Lord Henry
in, and to explain to him the new life he was going to lead, to quarrel
with him if it became necessary to quarrel, to part if parting was
inevitable. He jumped up, drew the screen hastily across the picture,
and unlocked the door.
"I am so sorry for it all, Dorian," said Lord Henry as he entered.
"But you must not think too much about it."
"Do you mean about Sibyl Vane?" asked the lad.
"Yes, of course," answered Lord Henry, sinking into a chair and slowly
pulling off his yellow gloves. "It is dreadful, from one point of
view, but it was not your fault. Tell me, did you go behind and see
her, after the play was over?"
"I felt sure you had. Did you make a scene with her?"
"I was brutal, Harry--perfectly brutal. But it is all right now. I am
not sorry for anything that has happened. It has taught me to know
"Ah, Dorian, I am so glad you take it in that way! I was afraid I
would find you plunged in remorse and tearing that nice curly hair of
"I have got through all that," said Dorian, shaking his head and
smiling. "I am perfectly happy now. I know what conscience is, to
begin with. It is not what you told me it was. It is the divinest
thing in us. Don't sneer at it, Harry, any more--at least not before
me. I want to be good. I can't bear the idea of my soul being
"A very charming artistic basis for ethics, Dorian! I congratulate you
on it. But how are you going to begin?"
"By marrying Sibyl Vane."
"Marrying Sibyl Vane!" cried Lord Henry, standing up and looking at him
in perplexed amazement. "But, my dear Dorian--"
"Yes, Harry, I know what you are going to say. Something dreadful
about marriage. Don't say it. Don't ever say things of that kind to
me again. Two days ago I asked Sibyl to marry me. I am not going to
break my word to her. She is to be my wife."
"Your wife! Dorian! ... Didn't you get my letter? I wrote to you this
morning, and sent the note down by my own man."
"Your letter? Oh, yes, I remember. I have not read it yet, Harry. I
was afraid there might be something in it that I wouldn't like. You
cut life to pieces with your epigrams."
"You know nothing then?"
"What do you mean?"
Lord Henry walked across the room, and sitting down by Dorian Gray,
took both his hands in his own and held them tightly. "Dorian," he
said, "my letter--don't be frightened--was to tell you that Sibyl Vane
A cry of pain broke from the lad's lips, and he leaped to his feet,
tearing his hands away from Lord Henry's grasp. "Dead! Sibyl dead!
It is not true! It is a horrible lie! How dare you say it?"
"It is quite true, Dorian," said Lord Henry, gravely. "It is in all
the morning papers. I wrote down to you to ask you not to see any one
till I came. There will have to be an inquest, of course, and you must
not be mixed up in it. Things like that make a man fashionable in
Paris. But in London people are so prejudiced. Here, one should never
make one's debut with a scandal. One should reserve that to give an
interest to one's old age. I suppose they don't know your name at the
theatre? If they don't, it is all right. Did any one see you going
round to her room? That is an important point."
Dorian did not answer for a few moments. He was dazed with horror.
Finally he stammered, in a stifled voice, "Harry, did you say an
inquest? What did you mean by that? Did Sibyl--? Oh, Harry, I can't
bear it! But be quick. Tell me everything at once."
"I have no doubt it was not an accident, Dorian, though it must be put
in that way to the public. It seems that as she was leaving the
theatre with her mother, about half-past twelve or so, she said she had
forgotten something upstairs. They waited some time for her, but she
did not come down again. They ultimately found her lying dead on the
floor of her dressing-room. She had swallowed something by mistake,
some dreadful thing they use at theatres. I don't know what it was,
but it had either prussic acid or white lead in it. I should fancy it
was prussic acid, as she seems to have died instantaneously."
"Harry, Harry, it is terrible!" cried the lad.
"Yes; it is very tragic, of course, but you must not get yourself mixed
up in it. I see by The Standard that she was seventeen. I should have
thought she was almost younger than that. She looked such a child, and
seemed to know so little about acting. Dorian, you mustn't let this
thing get on your nerves. You must come and dine with me, and
afterwards we will look in at the opera. It is a Patti night, and
everybody will be there. You can come to my sister's box. She has got
some smart women with her."
"So I have murdered Sibyl Vane," said Dorian Gray, half to himself,
"murdered her as surely as if I had cut her little throat with a knife.
Yet 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. Can they feel, I wonder, those white silent
people we call the dead? Sibyl! Can she feel, or know, or listen?
Oh, Harry, how I loved her once! It seems years ago to me now. She
was everything to me. Then came that dreadful night--was it really
only last night?--when she played so badly, and my heart almost broke.
She explained it all to me. It was terribly pathetic. But I was not
moved a bit. I thought her shallow. Suddenly something happened that
made me afraid. I can't tell you what it was, but it was terrible. I
said I would go back to her. I felt I had done wrong. And now she is
dead. My God! My God! Harry, what shall I do? You don't know the
danger I am in, and there is nothing to keep me straight. She would
have done that for me. She had no right to kill herself. It was
selfish of her."
"My dear Dorian," answered Lord Henry, taking a cigarette from his case
and producing a gold-latten matchbox, "the only way a woman can ever
reform a man is by boring him so completely that he loses all possible
interest in life. If you had married this girl, you would have been
wretched. Of course, you would have treated her kindly. One can
always be kind to people about whom one cares nothing. 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, which
would have been abject--which, of course, I would not have allowed--but
I assure you that in any case the whole thing would have been an
"I suppose it would," muttered the lad, walking up and down the room
and looking horribly pale. "But I thought it was my duty. It is not
my fault that this terrible tragedy has prevented my doing what was
right. I remember your saying once that there is a fatality about good
resolutions--that they are always made too late. Mine certainly were."
"Good resolutions are useless attempts 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 the weak. That is all that can be said
for them. They are simply cheques that men draw on a bank where they
have no account."
"Harry," cried Dorian Gray, coming over and sitting down beside him,
"why is it that I cannot feel this tragedy as much as I want to? I
don't think I am heartless. Do you?"
"You have done too many foolish things during the last fortnight to be
entitled to give yourself that name, Dorian," answered Lord Henry with
his sweet melancholy smile.
The lad frowned. "I don't like that explanation, Harry," he rejoined,
"but I am glad you don't think I am heartless. I am nothing of the
kind. I know I am not. And yet I must admit that this thing that has
happened does not affect me as it should. It seems to me to be simply
like a wonderful ending to a wonderful play. It has all the terrible
beauty of a Greek tragedy, a tragedy in which I took a great part, but
by which I have not been wounded."
"It is an interesting question," said Lord Henry, who found an
exquisite pleasure in playing on the lad's unconscious egotism, "an
extremely interesting question. I fancy that the true 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 possesses 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 that 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 colour of life, but one
should never remember its details. Details are always vulgar."
"I must sow poppies in my garden," sighed Dorian.
"There is no necessity," rejoined his companion. "Life has always
poppies in her hands. Of course, now and then things linger. I once
wore nothing but violets all through one season, as a form of artistic
mourning for a romance that would not die. Ultimately, however, it did
die. I forget what killed it. I think it was her proposing to
sacrifice the whole world for me. That is always a dreadful moment.
It fills one with the terror of eternity. Well--would you believe
it?--a week ago, at Lady Hampshire's, I found myself seated at dinner
next the lady in question, and she insisted on going over the whole
thing again, and digging up the past, and raking up the future. I had
buried my romance in a bed of asphodel. She dragged it out again and
assured me that I had spoiled her life. I am bound to state that she
ate an enormous dinner, so I did not feel any anxiety. But what a lack
of taste she showed! The one charm of the past is that it is the past.
But women never know when the curtain has fallen. They always want a
sixth act, and as soon as the interest of the play is entirely over,
they propose to continue it. If they were allowed their own way, every
comedy would have a tragic ending, and every tragedy would culminate in
a farce. They are charmingly artificial, but they have no sense of
art. You are more fortunate than I am. I assure you, Dorian, that not
one of the women I have known would have done for me what Sibyl Vane
did for you. Ordinary women always console themselves. Some of them
do it by going in for sentimental colours. Never trust a woman who
wears mauve, whatever her age may be, or a woman over thirty-five who
is fond of pink ribbons. It always means that they have a history.
Others find a great consolation in suddenly discovering the good
qualities of their husbands. They flaunt their conjugal felicity in
one's face, as if it were the most fascinating of sins. Religion
consoles some. Its mysteries have all the charm of a flirtation, a
woman once told me, and I can quite understand it. Besides, nothing
makes one so vain as being told that one is a sinner. Conscience makes
egotists of us all. Yes; there is really no end to the consolations
that women find in modern life. Indeed, I have not mentioned the most
"What is that, Harry?" said the lad listlessly.
"Oh, the obvious consolation. Taking some one else's admirer when one
loses one's own. In good society that always whitewashes a woman. But
really, Dorian, how different Sibyl Vane must have been from all the
women one meets! There is something to me quite beautiful about her
death. I am glad I am living in a century when such wonders happen.
They make one believe in the reality of the things we all play with,
such as romance, passion, and love."
"I was terribly cruel to her. You forget that."
"I am afraid that women appreciate cruelty, downright 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 really and absolutely 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 holds the key
"What was that, Harry?"
"You said to me that Sibyl Vane represented to you all the heroines of
romance--that she was Desdemona one night, and Ophelia the other; that
if she died as Juliet, she came to life as Imogen."
"She will never come to life again now," muttered the lad, burying his
face in his hands.
"No, she will never come to life. She has played her last part. But
you must think of that lonely death in the tawdry dressing-room simply
as a strange lurid fragment from some Jacobean tragedy, as a wonderful
scene from Webster, or Ford, or Cyril Tourneur. The girl never really
lived, and so she has never really died. To you at least she was
always a dream, a phantom that flitted through Shakespeare's plays and
left them lovelier for its presence, a reed through which Shakespeare's
music sounded richer and more full of joy. The moment she touched
actual life, she marred it, and it marred her, and so she passed away.
Mourn for Ophelia, if you like. Put ashes on your head because
Cordelia was strangled. Cry out against Heaven because the daughter of
Brabantio died. But don't waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She was
less real than they are."
There was a silence. The evening darkened in the room. Noiselessly,
and with silver feet, the shadows crept in from the garden. The
colours faded wearily out of things.
After some time Dorian Gray looked up. "You have explained me to
myself, Harry," he murmured with something of a sigh of relief. "I
felt all that you have said, but somehow I was afraid of it, and I
could not express it to myself. How well you know me! But we will not
talk again of what has happened. It has been a marvellous experience.
That is all. I wonder if life has still in store for me anything as
"Life has everything in store for you, Dorian. There is nothing that
you, with your extraordinary good looks, will not be able to do."
"But suppose, Harry, I became haggard, and old, and wrinkled? What
"Ah, then," said Lord Henry, rising to go, "then, my dear Dorian, you
would have to fight for your victories. As it is, they are brought to
you. No, you must keep your good looks. We live in an age that reads
too much to be wise, and that thinks too much to be beautiful. We
cannot spare you. And now you had better dress and drive down to the
club. We are rather late, as it is."
"I think I shall join you at the opera, Harry. I feel too tired to eat
anything. What is the number of your sister's box?"
"Twenty-seven, I believe. It is on the grand tier. You will see her
name on the door. But I am sorry you won't come and dine."
"I don't feel up to it," said Dorian listlessly. "But I am awfully
obliged to you for all that you have said to me. You are certainly my
best friend. No one has ever understood me as you have."
"We are only at the beginning of our friendship, Dorian," answered Lord
Henry, shaking him by the hand. "Good-bye. I shall see you before
nine-thirty, I hope. Remember, Patti is singing."
As he closed the door behind him, Dorian Gray touched the bell, and in
a few minutes Victor appeared with the lamps and drew the blinds down.
He waited impatiently for him to go. The man seemed to take an
interminable time over everything.
As soon as he had left, he rushed to the screen and drew it back. No;
there was no further change in the picture. It had received the news
of Sibyl Vane's death before he had known of it himself. It was
conscious of the events of life as they occurred. The vicious cruelty
that marred the fine lines of the mouth had, no doubt, appeared at the
very moment that the girl had drunk the poison, whatever it was. Or
was it indifferent to results? Did it merely take cognizance of what
passed within the soul? He wondered, and hoped that some day he would
see the change taking place before his very eyes, shuddering as he
Poor Sibyl! What a romance it had all been! She had often mimicked
death on the stage. Then Death himself had touched her and taken her
with him. How had she played that dreadful last scene? Had she cursed
him, as she died? No; she had died for love of him, and love would
always be a sacrament to him now. She had atoned for everything by the
sacrifice she had made of her life. He would not think any more of
what she had made him go through, on that horrible night at the
theatre. When he thought of her, it would be as a wonderful tragic
figure sent on to the world's stage to show the supreme reality of
love. A wonderful tragic figure? Tears came to his eyes as he
remembered her childlike look, and winsome fanciful ways, and shy
tremulous grace. He brushed them away hastily and looked again at the
He felt that the time had really come for making his choice. Or had
his choice already been made? Yes, life had decided that for
him--life, and his own infinite curiosity about life. Eternal youth,
infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joys and wilder
sins--he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the
burden of his shame: that was all.
A feeling of pain crept over him as he thought of the desecration that
was in store for the fair face on the canvas. Once, in boyish mockery
of Narcissus, he had kissed, or feigned to kiss, those painted lips
that now smiled so cruelly at him. Morning after morning he had sat
before the portrait wondering at its beauty, almost enamoured of it, as
it seemed to him at times. Was it to alter now with every mood to
which he yielded? Was it to become a monstrous and loathsome thing, to
be hidden away in a locked room, to be shut out from the sunlight that
had so often touched to brighter gold the waving wonder of its hair?
The pity of it! the pity of it!
For a moment, he thought of praying that the horrible sympathy that
existed between him and the picture might cease. It had changed in
answer to a prayer; perhaps in answer to a prayer it might remain
unchanged. And yet, who, that knew anything about life, would
surrender the chance of remaining always young, however fantastic that
chance might be, or with what fateful consequences it might be fraught?
Besides, was it really under his control? Had it indeed been prayer
that had produced the substitution? Might there not be some curious
scientific reason for it all? If thought could exercise its influence
upon a living organism, might not thought exercise an influence upon
dead and inorganic things? Nay, without thought or conscious desire,
might not things external to ourselves vibrate in unison with our moods
and passions, atom calling to atom in secret love or strange affinity?
But the reason was of no importance. He would never again tempt by a
prayer any terrible power. If the picture was to alter, it was to
alter. That was all. Why inquire too closely into it?
For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able to
follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to him
the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body,
so it would reveal to him his own soul. And when winter came upon it,
he would still be standing where spring trembles on the verge of
summer. When the blood crept from its face, and left behind a pallid
mask of chalk with leaden eyes, he would keep the glamour of boyhood.
Not one blossom of his loveliness would ever fade. Not one pulse of
his life would ever weaken. Like the gods of the Greeks, he would be
strong, and fleet, and joyous. What did it matter what happened to the
coloured image on the canvas? He would be safe. That was everything.
He drew the screen back into its former place in front of the picture,
smiling as he did so, and passed into his bedroom, where his valet was
already waiting for him. An hour later he was at the opera, and Lord
Henry was leaning over his chair.