For some reason or other, the house was crowded that night, and the fat
Jew manager who met them at the door was beaming from ear to ear with
an oily tremulous smile. He escorted them to their box with a sort of
pompous humility, waving his fat jewelled hands and talking at the top
of his voice. Dorian Gray loathed him more than ever. He felt as if
he had come to look for Miranda and had been met by Caliban. Lord
Henry, upon the other hand, rather liked him. At least he declared he
did, and insisted on shaking him by the hand and assuring him that he
was proud to meet a man who had discovered a real genius and gone
bankrupt over a poet. Hallward amused himself with watching the faces
in the pit. The heat was terribly oppressive, and the huge sunlight
flamed like a monstrous dahlia with petals of yellow fire. The youths
in the gallery had taken off their coats and waistcoats and hung them
over the side. They talked to each other across the theatre and shared
their oranges with the tawdry girls who sat beside them. Some women
were laughing in the pit. Their voices were horribly shrill and
discordant. The sound of the popping of corks came from the bar.
"What a place to find one's divinity in!" said Lord Henry.
"Yes!" answered Dorian Gray. "It was here I found her, and she is
divine beyond all living things. When she acts, you will forget
everything. These common rough people, with their coarse faces and
brutal gestures, become quite different when she is on the stage. They
sit silently and watch her. They weep and laugh as she wills them to
do. She makes them as responsive as a violin. She spiritualizes them,
and one feels that they are of the same flesh and blood as one's self."
"The same flesh and blood as one's self! Oh, I hope not!" exclaimed
Lord Henry, who was scanning the occupants of the gallery through his
"Don't pay any attention to him, Dorian," said the painter. "I
understand what you mean, and I believe in this girl. Any one you love
must be marvellous, and any girl who has the effect you describe must
be fine and noble. To spiritualize one's age--that is something worth
doing. If this girl can give a soul to those who have lived without
one, if she can create the sense of beauty in people whose lives have
been sordid and ugly, if she can strip them of their selfishness and
lend them tears for sorrows that are not their own, she is worthy of
all your adoration, worthy of the adoration of the world. This
marriage is quite right. I did not think so at first, but I admit it
now. The gods made Sibyl Vane for you. Without her you would have
"Thanks, Basil," answered Dorian Gray, pressing his hand. "I knew that
you would understand me. Harry is so cynical, he terrifies me. But
here is the orchestra. It is quite dreadful, but it only lasts for
about five minutes. Then the curtain rises, and you will see the girl
to whom I am going to give all my life, to whom I have given everything
that is good in me."
A quarter of an hour afterwards, amidst an extraordinary turmoil of
applause, Sibyl Vane stepped on to the stage. Yes, she was certainly
lovely to look at--one of the loveliest creatures, Lord Henry thought,
that he had ever seen. There was something of the fawn in her shy
grace and startled eyes. A faint blush, like the shadow of a rose in a
mirror of silver, came to her cheeks as she glanced at the crowded
enthusiastic house. She stepped back a few paces and her lips seemed
to tremble. Basil Hallward leaped to his feet and began to applaud.
Motionless, and as one in a dream, sat Dorian Gray, gazing at her.
Lord Henry peered through his glasses, murmuring, "Charming! charming!"
The scene was the hall of Capulet's house, and Romeo in his pilgrim's
dress had entered with Mercutio and his other friends. The band, such
as it was, struck up a few bars of music, and the dance began. Through
the crowd of ungainly, shabbily dressed actors, Sibyl Vane moved like a
creature from a finer world. Her body swayed, while she danced, as a
plant sways in the water. The curves of her throat were the curves of
a white lily. Her hands seemed to be made of cool ivory.
Yet she was curiously listless. She showed no sign of joy when her
eyes rested on Romeo. The few words she had to speak--
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss--
with the brief dialogue that follows, were spoken in a thoroughly
artificial manner. The voice was exquisite, but from the point of view
of tone it was absolutely false. It was wrong in colour. It took away
all the life from the verse. It made the passion unreal.
Dorian Gray grew pale as he watched her. He was puzzled and anxious.
Neither of his friends dared to say anything to him. She seemed to
them to be absolutely incompetent. They were horribly disappointed.
Yet they felt that the true test of any Juliet is the balcony scene of
the second act. They waited for that. If she failed there, there was
nothing in her.
She looked charming as she came out in the moonlight. That could not
be denied. But the staginess of her acting was unbearable, and grew
worse as she went on. Her gestures became absurdly artificial. She
overemphasized everything that she had to say. The beautiful passage--
Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face,
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night--
was declaimed with the painful precision of a schoolgirl who has been
taught to recite by some second-rate professor of elocution. When she
leaned over the balcony and came to those wonderful lines--
Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract to-night:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say, "It lightens." Sweet, good-night!
This bud of love by summer's ripening breath
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet--
she spoke the words as though they conveyed no meaning to her. It was
not nervousness. Indeed, so far from being nervous, she was absolutely
self-contained. It was simply bad art. She was a complete failure.
Even the common uneducated audience of the pit and gallery lost their
interest in the play. They got restless, and began to talk loudly and
to whistle. The Jew manager, who was standing at the back of the
dress-circle, stamped and swore with rage. The only person unmoved was
the girl herself.
When the second act was over, there came a storm of hisses, and Lord
Henry got up from his chair and put on his coat. "She is quite
beautiful, Dorian," he said, "but she can't act. Let us go."
"I am going to see the play through," answered the lad, in a hard
bitter voice. "I am awfully sorry that I have made you waste an
evening, Harry. I apologize to you both."
"My dear Dorian, I should think Miss Vane was ill," interrupted
Hallward. "We will come some other night."
"I wish she were ill," he rejoined. "But she seems to me to be simply
callous and cold. She has entirely altered. Last night she was a
great artist. This evening she is merely a commonplace mediocre
"Don't talk like that about any one you love, Dorian. Love is a more
wonderful thing than art."
"They are both simply forms of imitation," remarked Lord Henry. "But
do let us go. Dorian, you must not stay here any longer. It is not
good for one's morals to see bad acting. Besides, I don't suppose you
will want your wife to act, so what does it matter if she plays Juliet
like a wooden doll? She is very lovely, and if she knows as little
about life as she does about acting, she will be a delightful
experience. 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?"
"Go away, Harry," cried the lad. "I want to be alone. Basil, you must
go. Ah! can't you see that my heart is breaking?" The hot tears came
to his eyes. His lips trembled, and rushing to the back of the box, he
leaned up against the wall, hiding his face in his hands.
"Let us go, Basil," said Lord Henry with a strange tenderness in his
voice, and the two young men passed out together.
A few moments afterwards the footlights flared up and the curtain rose
on the third act. Dorian Gray went back to his seat. He looked pale,
and proud, and indifferent. The play dragged on, and seemed
interminable. Half of the audience went out, tramping in heavy boots
and laughing. The whole thing was a fiasco. The last act was played
to almost empty benches. The curtain went down on a titter and some
As soon as it was over, Dorian Gray rushed behind the scenes into the
greenroom. The girl was standing there alone, with a look of triumph
on her face. Her eyes were lit with an exquisite fire. There was a
radiance about her. Her parted lips were smiling over some secret of
When he entered, she looked at him, and an expression of infinite joy
came over her. "How badly I acted to-night, Dorian!" she cried.
"Horribly!" he answered, gazing at her in amazement. "Horribly! It
was dreadful. Are you ill? You have no idea what it was. You have no
idea what I suffered."
The girl smiled. "Dorian," she answered, lingering over his name with
long-drawn music in her voice, as though it were sweeter than honey to
the red petals of her mouth. "Dorian, you should have understood. But
you understand now, don't you?"
"Understand what?" he asked, angrily.
"Why I was so bad to-night. Why I shall always be bad. Why I shall
never act well again."
He shrugged his shoulders. "You are ill, I suppose. When you are ill
you shouldn't act. You make yourself ridiculous. My friends were
bored. I was bored."
She seemed not to listen to him. She was transfigured with joy. An
ecstasy of happiness dominated her.
"Dorian, Dorian," she cried, "before I knew you, acting was the one
reality of my life. It was only in the theatre that I lived. I
thought that it was all true. I was Rosalind one night and Portia the
other. The joy of Beatrice was my joy, and the sorrows of Cordelia
were mine also. I believed in everything. The common people who acted
with me seemed to me to be godlike. The painted scenes were my world.
I knew nothing but shadows, and I thought them real. 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. To-night, for the first time, I became
conscious that the Romeo was hideous, and old, and painted, that the
moonlight in the orchard was false, that the scenery was vulgar, and
that the words I had to speak were unreal, were not my words, were not
what I wanted to say. You had brought me something higher, something
of which all art is but a reflection. You had made me understand what
love really is. My love! My love! Prince Charming! Prince of life!
I have grown 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. I thought that I was going to be wonderful. I found that I
could do nothing. Suddenly it dawned on my soul what it all meant.
The knowledge was exquisite to me. I heard them hissing, and I smiled.
What could they know of love such as ours? 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
signifies? Even if I could do it, it would be profanation for me to
play at being in love. You have made me see that."
He flung himself down on the sofa and turned away his face. "You have
killed my love," he muttered.
She looked at him in wonder and laughed. He made no answer. She came
across to him, and with her little fingers stroked his hair. She knelt
down and pressed his hands to her lips. He drew them away, and a
shudder ran through him.
Then he leaped up and went to the door. "Yes," he cried, "you have
killed my love. 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 marvellous, 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!
Without your art, you are nothing. I would have made you famous,
splendid, magnificent. The world would have worshipped you, and you
would have borne my name. What are you now? A third-rate actress with
a pretty face."
The girl grew white, and trembled. She clenched her hands together,
and her voice seemed to catch in her throat. "You are not serious,
Dorian?" she murmured. "You are acting."
"Acting! I leave that to you. You do it so well," he answered
She rose from her knees and, with a piteous expression of pain in her
face, came across the room to him. She put her hand upon his arm and
looked into his eyes. He thrust her back. "Don't touch me!" he cried.
A low moan broke from her, and she flung herself at his feet and lay
there like a trampled flower. "Dorian, Dorian, don't leave me!" she
whispered. "I am so sorry I didn't act well. I was thinking of you
all the time. But I will try--indeed, I will try. It came so suddenly
across me, my love for you. I think I should never have known it if
you had not kissed me--if we had not kissed each other. Kiss me again,
my love. Don't go away from me. I couldn't bear it. Oh! don't go
away from me. My brother ... No; never mind. He didn't mean it. He
was in jest.... But you, oh! can't you forgive me for to-night? I will
work so hard and try to improve. Don't be cruel to me, because I love
you better than anything in the world. After all, it is only once that
I have not pleased you. But you are quite right, Dorian. I should
have shown myself more of an artist. It was foolish of me, and yet I
couldn't help it. Oh, don't leave me, don't leave me." A fit of
passionate sobbing choked her. She crouched on the floor like a
wounded thing, and Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at
her, and his chiselled lips curled in exquisite disdain. There is
always something ridiculous about the emotions of people whom one has
ceased to love. Sibyl Vane seemed to him to be absurdly melodramatic.
Her tears and sobs annoyed him.
"I am going," he said at last in his calm clear voice. "I don't wish
to be unkind, but I can't see you again. You have disappointed me."
She wept silently, and made no answer, but crept nearer. Her little
hands stretched blindly out, and appeared to be seeking for him. He
turned on his heel and left the room. In a few moments he was out of
Where he went to he hardly knew. He remembered wandering through dimly
lit streets, past gaunt, black-shadowed archways and evil-looking
houses. Women with hoarse voices and harsh laughter had called after
him. Drunkards had reeled by, cursing and chattering to themselves
like monstrous apes. He had seen grotesque children huddled upon
door-steps, and heard shrieks and oaths from gloomy courts.
As the dawn was just breaking, he found himself close to Covent Garden.
The darkness lifted, and, flushed with faint fires, the sky hollowed
itself into a perfect pearl. Huge carts filled with nodding lilies
rumbled slowly down the polished empty street. The air was heavy with
the perfume of the flowers, and their beauty seemed to bring him an
anodyne for his pain. He followed into the market and watched the men
unloading their waggons. A white-smocked carter offered him some
cherries. He thanked him, wondered why he refused to accept any money
for them, and began to eat them listlessly. They had been plucked at
midnight, and the coldness of the moon had entered into them. A long
line of boys carrying crates of striped tulips, and of yellow and red
roses, defiled in front of him, threading their way through the huge,
jade-green piles of vegetables. Under the portico, with its grey,
sun-bleached pillars, loitered a troop of draggled bareheaded girls,
waiting for the auction to be over. Others crowded round the swinging
doors of the coffee-house in the piazza. The heavy cart-horses slipped
and stamped upon the rough stones, shaking their bells and trappings.
Some of the drivers were lying asleep on a pile of sacks. Iris-necked
and pink-footed, the pigeons ran about picking up seeds.
After a little while, he hailed a hansom and drove home. For a few
moments he loitered upon the doorstep, looking round at the silent
square, with its blank, close-shuttered windows and its staring blinds.
The sky was pure opal now, and the roofs of the houses glistened like
silver against it. From some chimney opposite a thin wreath of smoke
was rising. It curled, a violet riband, through the nacre-coloured air.
In the huge gilt Venetian lantern, spoil of some Doge's barge, that
hung from the ceiling of the great, oak-panelled hall of entrance,
lights were still burning from three flickering jets: thin blue petals
of flame they seemed, rimmed with white fire. He turned them out and,
having thrown his hat and cape on the table, passed through the library
towards the door of his bedroom, a large octagonal chamber on the
ground floor that, in his new-born feeling for luxury, he had just had
decorated for himself and hung with some curious Renaissance tapestries
that had been discovered stored in a disused attic at Selby Royal. As
he was turning the handle of the door, his eye fell upon the portrait
Basil Hallward had painted of him. He started back as if in surprise.
Then he went on into his own room, looking somewhat puzzled. After he
had taken the button-hole out of his coat, he seemed to hesitate.
Finally, he came back, went over to the picture, and examined it. In
the dim arrested light that struggled through the cream-coloured silk
blinds, the face appeared to him to be a little changed. The
expression looked different. One would have said that there was a
touch of cruelty in the mouth. It was certainly strange.
He turned round and, walking to the window, drew up the blind. The
bright dawn flooded the room and swept the fantastic shadows into dusky
corners, where they lay shuddering. But the strange expression that he
had noticed in the face of the portrait seemed to linger there, to be
more intensified even. The quivering ardent sunlight showed him the
lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had been looking
into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing.
He winced and, taking up from the table an oval glass framed in ivory
Cupids, one of Lord Henry's many presents to him, glanced hurriedly
into its polished depths. No line like that warped his red lips. What
did it mean?
He rubbed his eyes, and came close to the picture, and examined it
again. There were no signs of any change when he looked into the
actual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expression
had altered. It was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing was
He threw himself into a chair and began to think. Suddenly there
flashed across his mind what he had said in Basil Hallward's studio the
day the picture had been finished. Yes, he remembered it perfectly.
He had uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain young, and the
portrait grow old; that his own beauty might be untarnished, and the
face on the canvas bear the burden of his passions and his sins; that
the painted image might be seared with the lines of suffering and
thought, and that he might keep all the delicate bloom and loveliness
of his then just conscious boyhood. Surely his wish had not been
fulfilled? Such things were impossible. It seemed monstrous even to
think of them. And, yet, there was the picture before him, with the
touch of cruelty in the mouth.
Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It was the girl's fault, not his. He had
dreamed of her as a great artist, had given his love to her because he
had thought her great. Then she had disappointed him. She had been
shallow and unworthy. And, yet, a feeling of infinite regret came over
him, as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing like a little
child. He remembered with what callousness he had watched her. Why
had he been made like that? Why had such a soul been given to him?
But he had suffered also. During the three terrible hours that the
play had lasted, he had lived centuries of pain, aeon upon aeon of
torture. His life was well worth hers. She had marred him for a
moment, if he had wounded her for an age. Besides, women were better
suited to bear sorrow than men. They lived on their emotions. They
only thought of their emotions. When they took lovers, it was merely
to have some one with whom they could have scenes. Lord Henry had told
him that, and Lord Henry knew what women were. Why should he trouble
about Sibyl Vane? She was nothing to him now.
But the picture? What was he to say of that? It held the secret of
his life, and told his story. It had taught him to love his own
beauty. Would it teach him to loathe his own soul? Would he ever look
at it again?
No; it was merely an illusion wrought on the troubled senses. The
horrible night that he had passed had left phantoms behind it.
Suddenly there had fallen upon his brain that tiny scarlet speck that
makes men mad. The picture had not changed. It was folly to think so.
Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruel
smile. Its bright hair gleamed in the early sunlight. Its blue eyes
met his own. A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the
painted image of himself, came over him. It had altered already, and
would alter more. Its gold would wither into grey. Its red and white
roses would die. For every sin that he committed, a stain would fleck
and wreck its fairness. But he would not sin. The picture, changed or
unchanged, would be to him the visible emblem of conscience. He would
resist temptation. He would not see Lord Henry any more--would not, at
any rate, listen to those subtle poisonous theories that in Basil
Hallward's garden had first stirred within him the passion for
impossible things. He would go back to Sibyl Vane, make her amends,
marry her, try to love her again. Yes, it was his duty to do so. She
must have suffered more than he had. Poor child! He had been selfish
and cruel to her. The fascination that she had exercised over him
would return. They would be happy together. His life with her would
be beautiful and pure.
He got up from his chair and drew a large screen right in front of the
portrait, shuddering as he glanced at it. "How horrible!" he murmured
to himself, and he walked across to the window and opened it. When he
stepped out on to the grass, he drew a deep breath. The fresh morning
air seemed to drive away all his sombre passions. He thought only of
Sibyl. A faint echo of his love came back to him. He repeated her
name over and over again. The birds that were singing in the
dew-drenched garden seemed to be telling the flowers about her.