Henry and Basil go into the house and find Dorian Gray playing a song at Basil’s piano. Lord Henry is introduced to him, and mentions that he has heard wonderful things from his Aunt Agatha. Dorian confesses that he has offended Lady Agatha by avoiding dueting with her. Henry jokes that Agatha doesn’t need a partner to sound like a duet. As Dorian teases his Henry for his insults, Lord Henry notices his unusual attractiveness. He tells him that he is too charming to want to be kind to Agatha by dueting with her.
Henry’s interests in Basil and Dorian are being exposed. Henry has barely met Dorian but is complimenting him on his charm. His quick familiarity with the boy shows that it is exterior qualities, like reputation and appearance, which he forms his attachments with.
Basil is getting nervous at Henry’s affect on the afternoon he had planned. He tells Henry to leave so that he can paint. But Dorian tells Basil off for being sulky. Basil gives in of course at Dorian’s request but Henry makes an excuse of a prior engagement and now must be coaxed to stay by Basil.
The web of influences between Basil and Dorian and Lord Henry conspires so that the only way every character’s desire can be the least satisfied is by them forming a trio. The unavoidable, tricky nature of influence starts to become clear.
Dorian takes his place on the platform. As he poses, he asks Lord Henry about his reputation as a bad influence. Henry explains that all influence is immoral, because it takes over the soul of the other person. He goes on, poetically, almost musically, describing how the ideal way to live is to strive to be the purest natural version of oneself. He believes that, though society has wandered from this ideal to religion and other codes, one day soon a hedonistic revolution will take place. The only thing stopping it is how afraid man is of his own desires.
Henry’s desire for a new hedonism is an attractive but potentially chaotic idea. The dazzling moves of Henry’s wit takes over the room and he manages to logically go from the concept of influence as inherently immoral to a suggestion that society’s traditions and morals be scrapped for a more instinctive way of life.
Dorian is amazed by Henry’s philosophy. He is overcome with admiration for the intellect he is hearing. It is a very new and welcome feeling. It is like music, but more dangerous. Somehow Lord Henry senses that his words have just struck a chord and he marvels over the potential transformations that might be occurring in the young man’s mind. With eyes bright and lips parted in curiosity for these new ideas, Dorian is in perfect form for Basil’s painting. Basil lets them go into the garden for air and excitedly carries on painting, sure that the work will be a masterpiece.
A meeting of minds has occurred. Dorian falls in love with the ideas of desire and hedonism, impressed by Henry’s elaborate prose. This language serves as an art form in itself – it certainly has all the illusion, trickery and potential danger that the novel suggests are inherent in art. At the same time, Henry is in love with the idea of influencing the young mind. His careless hypocrisy, having just admitted that all influence is immoral and replaces the soul of the influenced, is a dangerous step.
In the garden, Henry notices Dorian smelling one of the fragrant lilac-blossoms. He praises him for it. He tells Dorian that a great secret of life is to learn to cure the soul with the senses. He praises him again for knowing these philosophies instinctively, without awareness of them. Dorian is again struck with wonder. He is shocked, even afraid, of how quickly this man has entered into his life.
Dorian’s natural behavior, to appreciate the nature around him, to be happy, to play the piano and banter playfully, paint Dorian has the perfect youth, innocent and natural. But as Henry begins to introduce him to theories, an awareness of his most instinctive actions starts to grow. Dorian becomes aware of himself, aware of his own beauty.
Lord Henry takes Dorian inside. He warns that sunburn would ruin him. He must preserve his youth. He may not realize it now, but youth is the most powerful thing he owns. But it will fade. He tells Dorian that he has been fortunate in his beauty but that he will suffer all the more, when time will jealously steal away its power. Going back to his idea about the new era of hedonism, Henry suggests that Dorian could be the face of the movement. He becomes more and more emphatic, and to Dorian, the commonplace creatures of the garden appear to him with new significance.
While on the surface Dorian and Henry’s stroll through the garden seems like a celebration of the youth and beauty they are discussing, the fragility of every beautiful thing around them and especially Dorian himself becomes clear. The once light and airy scene becomes heavy with dark concepts, of mortality and aging. And though Henry paints Time as Dorian’s enemy, it is Henry himself that is forcing the idea of mortality upon him. It is almost as if Henry himself is the jealous one.
Henry asks Dorian if he is glad they met. Dorian is certainly glad but suspicious that it might not last. Henry responds that he is not interested in faithfulness and lasting, so they agree to have a capricious friendship. Basil is painting with a great passion. When he is finished, Henry congratulates him. It is certainly the masterpiece Basil promised. Then Dorian comes over to look. As if seeing his beauty for the first time, he takes in the portrait with absolute awe. Suddenly he understands the compliments he has received but also Lord Henry's terrible warning, that it would all fade.
The doubt with which Dorian considers the benefit of a friendship with Henry, and the acknowledgement that it may be brief give a sense of foreboding to their encounters to follow. Dorian’s easy, innocent ways have been transformed in one afternoon by Henry. Now when Dorian looks at the painting, he realizes his beauty for the first time. This glorious pleasure, similar to the pleasure he received from hearing Henry’s ideas, has an awful side, though, when he realizes in the same instant that what he has, he must also lose.
Dorian can’t bear the thought of all those horrible changes coming true. He exclaims his desperate wish that he should trade fortunes with the portrait, for it to age and he to remain young and beautiful forever. He says he will give his soul to trade places. He accuses Basil of only caring about him as much as a statue. The outburst is so unlike Dorian. He goes on, mourning his lost youth already, pledging to kill himself before he grows old.
The idea of mortality, and of the degradation of his youth and beauty makes the cool, calm, innocent Dorian turn into a frantic mess. The vision of the painting occurs like an existential revelation for Dorian and marks the beginning of a move from innocence to experience, from joy to tragedy.
Basil tries to comfort Dorian, but he is distraught. He blames Lord Henry, and they quarrel about his influential ways, Basil getting increasingly upset until he grabs a knife and takes it to the painting. Dorian cries out. He now feels so much a part of the painting that he thinks to destroy it would be murder to the most perfect version of himself. Basil says he will give it to him then, and he can look after it. Henry wants it for himself, but Basil has always seen it as Dorian’s.
We get a glimpse of the painting as a human-like influence on Basil and Dorian, persuading and taunting them. Basil’s move with the knife has overtones of murder, and we realize what extreme value both characters place in the image and its ability to freeze time and be possessed.
As they have tea, Basil reprimands Henry for saying wild things to Dorian. But Dorian is not put off. When a trip to the theatre is proposed, he leaps at the chance. Basil opts to stay with the portrait, which he calls “the real Dorian”, much to the boy’s delight. Basil tries to make Dorian stay longer, but he is excited about spending more time with Lord Henry. He promises to come tomorrow as planned, but Basil’s spirits are dejected. He reminds Henry of the warning he gave him earlier.
Basil’s affections are transferred to the painting, as Dorian’s interests are swayed by Lord Henry’s exciting, sociable lifestyle and grand ideas. Dorian is young and impressionable, and Basil’s repeated mention of Henry’s bad influence paints an ominous picture. What is even more worrying though is Basil’s description of the painting as the “real” Dorian, distorting both his own and Dorian’s impressions of real beauty, locating Dorian's real-ness in how he looks rather than what he is.