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Free Study Guide-The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde-Free BookNotes
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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

The novel opens in Basil Hallward’s studio. He is discussing his recent portrait of Dorian Gray with his patron Lord Henry Wotton. He tells Lord Henry that he has begun a new mode of painting after his contact with Dorian Gray, a young man of extraordinary beauty. He doesn’t want to introduce Lord Henry to Dorian because he doesn’t want Lord Henry to corrupt the young man. He says he is so taken with Dorian Gray that he feels the young man dominates all his thoughts. When Lord Henry meets Dorian Gray, he finds him to be totally un-self-conscious about his beauty. Lord Henry talks to Dorian Gray of his philosophy of life. Lord Henry finds all of society’s conventions from fidelity in marriage to charity toward the poor to be hypocritical covers for people’s selfish motives. Dorian Gray feels the weight of Lord Henry’s influence on his character. When they see the finished portrait of Dorian that Basil has painted, they are enthralled by the beauty that Basil has captured. Dorian bemoans the inevitable loss of his youth. He wishes that he could change places with the painting, that it could grow old and he could stay the same.

Lord Henry decides to dominate Dorian Gray just has Basil has told him Dorian Gray dominates him. They have dinner at Lord Gray’s Aunt Agatha’s house. She is a philanthropist and Dorian has been working with her. Lord Gray wittily ridicules the goals of philanthropy and Dorian is swept away by his logic.

Weeks later, Dorian tells Basil Hallward and Lord Henry that he has fallen in love with a young actress named Sibyl Vane, who acts in a run-down theater. He tells them he is engaged to Sibyl Vane. At the Vanes’ house, Sibyl tells her mother of how much she is in love with her young admirer, whose name she doesn’t know, but whom she calls Prince Charming. Mrs. Vane thinks her daughter might be able to get money out of the aristocratic young man. Sibyl’s brother James, on the other hand, hates the idea of a rich man using and then leaving his sister. It is James’s last night on shore before he ships off as a sailor. Before he goes, he vows to kill the man if he ever hurts Sibyl. He learns from his mother that his and Sibyl’s father was an aristocrat who vowed to take care of the family financially, but died before he could.


Dorian arranges a dinner with Basil and Lord Henry, after which they will go to the theater to see Sibyl Vane act. He tells the other men how amazed he has been by Sibyl’s acting talent. When they arrive at the theater and the play begins, they are all appalled at Sibyl’s horrible acting. The two other men try to console Dorian Gray, telling him it doesn’t matter if a wife is a good actor or not. He tells them to leave and he stays on in torment through the rest of the play. When the play is over, he goes back stage to talk to Sibyl. She tells him she doesn’t care that her acting was so bad. She says she realizes that she can no longer act because she is in love with him. Before, she could act because she had no other world besides the created world of the stage. Dorian tells her he is ashamed of her and disappointed in her. He tells her he only fell in love with her because of her artful acting. Now he feels nothing for her. Sibyl begs him not to leave her, but he refuses to listen and walks out.

When he gets home, he looks at the portrait that Basil had painted of him. He notices to his horror that the look of the figure in it has changed. It looks cruel and scornful. He feels horrible remorse for what he has done to Sibyl and writes a long impassioned letter begging her forgiveness. The writing acts as a purgative for his emotions. When he’s finished, he is no longer eager to go see Sibyl. He lays the letter aside and lounges about. Lord Henry comes to visit him and tells him Sibyl Vane committed suicide the previous evening. Dorian is horrified at first and then decides that her suicide is a perfectly artful response to what happened. He loves the art of it and promptly gets over his heart ache. That night, he goes out to the theater with Lord Henry and impresses Lord Henry’s sister greatly.

The next night, Basil Hallward visits Dorian and is shocked to find out that Dorian is not upset over Sibyl’s death. He can’t judge Dorian, though, because Dorian looks so innocent in his youth. He tells Dorian that he has idolized him from the moment he first met him. He wants to show the portrait he painted of Dorian in an art show in Paris. Dorian refuses to let him see the portrait. When he leaves, Dorian decides to put the portrait away so no one can see it. He manages to get the portrait upstairs and place it in a room he lived in as a child. He becomes paranoid that his servant, Victor, is interested in the portrait.

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