The Famous Quotes from the Picture of Dorian Gray
Lots of the quotes of Chapter 1 belong to the author of the picture, the artist named Basil Hallward. His words are often the foreshadowing of the future events. Basil talks a lot about the soul that the artist puts into his masterpieces and his own believes that exhibiting the best pictures is like exposing one’s soul – a desirable and dangerous act. We see his hesitations in the soliloquy and, despite the beautiful words Basil Hallward uses it is still a warning: a grim prophecy. His best picture, his masterpiece will take the soul of a model and indirectly cause many other deaths until it is destroyed.
“The reason I will not exhibit this picture is that I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.”
Here we see that Basil feels that his picture becomes something more than a mere work of art. Usually, the artist is proud to show his best work, but here we see that Basil feels that something that belongs to him only is now in the portrait. Basil, though noble and kind, is as full of passion as Lord Henry, but he is able to control this passion and use it to create his works. He admires Dorian in the same way Lord Henry does, but still he doesn’t mean him no harm. Basil is afraid of his dark desires, of his “secret” that, as he feels, could leak into his picture.
“An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them.”
Basil Hallward again warns not to put too much of yourself into your art. As we can assume from his words, the art for him is a form of sublimation of his own desires, wishes and dreams. But he is clearly afraid of them. He fears to lose control over them and let them control him instead. Exactly this thing happens when he gets himself loose while painting Dorian’s portrait – Hallward’s passion combined with Dorian’s desire to be beautiful forever produce a dark miracle.
When the portrait is finally over, Dorian is completely mesmerized with it. He says his famous passionate words, signing the deal with the Devil that sets all the events of the story:
“How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June… If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that-for that-I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!”
While these words can seem naive and pure for the first sight, we can already see the seeds of corruption in Dorian. As many of young people do he values his beauty and youth, but we now realize that he values only them. He doesn’t see any benefits in the life without his beauty and is ready to give anything including his soul to preserve it.
Of course, it could be just recklessness and misunderstanding of the real value of the soul, but Lord Henry, who is also present nearby, catches the moment and starts his long campaign of seducing, tempting and corrupting young Dorian completely. Basil tries to interfere, but Lord Henry presents himself as the ideal teacher who is a real pleasure to listen to. The reserved artist can be no match to the refined and unhinged social carnivore. Lord Henry easily manipulates Dorian with his eloquent words, gradually turning him into the copy of himself.
“The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.”
Said by Lord Henry to the young and yet inexperienced Dorian Gray, these words show how cunning and subtle are his ways of seducing Dorian for his own amusement. Strictly speaking, Lord Henry is right: the abstinence from something very desirable can be painful and make one think about it over and over. He may be also right saying that some things are portrayed as monstrous only because the person themselves see them so.
But then Lord Henry uses the two perfectly logical statements to deconstruct the very conception of morality, saying that the laws of conscience are “monstrous” by their nature. Lord Henry pretends to be a wise mentor who have already passed that stage and liberated himself from the chains of the morals. He even seems right at the moment, but as the story progresses, we learn that such an attitude leads to absence of something important – the constant and deep feelings.
Lord Henry seduces Dorian Gray just because he sees his beauty and naivete and wants to play with him and tarnish his soul. Despite all the affection he shows, Lord Henry is unable to feel truly connected to Dorian: his attitude is like a bond a person has with a pet or a precious toy. Later, Dorian Gray also falls the victim of the same illness.
His soul grows sick, indeed, but not in a way Lord Henry warned him about. Dorian can’t be satiated with pleasure: he needs to constantly seek more and more extreme ways to defeat his boredom. But even the most intense emotions can’t fulfill him more than for a moment – this bottomless pit in the soul is the other side of narcissistic decadence.
The theme of love and beauty is deeply interwoven with the narrative of the story. The most prominent and heartbreaking is the story of love of Dorian Gray to the brilliant and young actress Sibyl Vane. When we read the description of Dorian’s feelings, we can’t find anything resembling the romantic metaphors that are usually used. The description is very dry and naturalistic: it can be the words of a scientist describing the behaviour of an unknown animal.
“His sudden mad love for Sibyl Vane was a psychological phenomenon of no small interest. There was no doubt that curiosity had much to do with it, curiosity and the desire for new experiences; yet it was not a simple but rather a very complex passion.”
Dorian isn’t interested in Sibyl’s real personality. He is fascinated with her beauty and talent, but most of all he loves the ideal image he created for himself. In a typical narcissistic way, he can’t love the real person with all the flaws and insecurities she has. Before he couldn’t come to terms with the fact that his beauty will be inevitably tarnished by age and wished desperately he would never grow older.
He reached the impossible narcissistic ideal and now wants Sibyl Vane to be the same. But when she, out of natural reasons, fails to play her role as Juliet perfectly (because she thought about Dorian, no less), he shows his disapproval, cruelly and immediately.
“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 realised 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.”
It is hard to believe that these words are spoken to the girl Dorian adored an hour ago, and that the only sin of this girl is her less-than-perfect performance on the stage. We see that Dorian’s feelings don’t turn into bitterness, sadness or hatred as it happens during the sudden breakup. They simply disappear. Dorian doesn’t express anything except of irritation. He doesn’t even care to hurt Sibyl Vane as much as possible – he despises her now.
Moreover, Dorian’s self-obsession and self-righteousness make him condemn Sibyl and Sibyl alone, without any doubts. He behaves like all the world exists for the sole purpose of his amusement – and he does believe it. Reading further, we learn that after these words Sibyl takes her own life – and then Dorian generously pardons her, claiming that she acted as a perfect Juliet in real life thus proving her love and her talent.
It seems he doesn’t realize fully that his beloved is now dead. Dorian experiences something that resembles remorse and even thinks about changing his way of life, but Lord Henry, appearing right in time, again gently guides him back to the decadence.