The Picture of Dorian Gray

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The Picture of Dorian Gray Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Now a month later, Dorian is in Henry’s library, waiting for Henry to arrive. It is another of Henry’s philosophical principles not to be on time and Dorian begins to get irritated by the ticking of the library clock. When at last Dorian hears his host returning, he goes to greet him at the door but finds his wife Victoria instead. Victoria recognizes Dorian from the many photographs Lord Henry has of him, and also from the opera, Lohengrin, they both attended.
Henry and Dorian both have a distrust of time. Dorian is always conscious of it wasting away and Henry, paradoxically as always, tries to cheat its influence by denying it. We discover that Henry must be quite interested in Dorian’s appearance, and the photographs serve as mini portraits of Dorian and connect Henry’s interest with Basil’s adoration. It seems that Dorian cannot escape being copied everywhere he goes.
Themes
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
They share views on talking during musical performances, Dorian saying that he would only talk during bad music. This amuses Victoria as an echo of one of her husband’s views. The narrator describes Victoria as a woman who tried to look picturesque but only managed to look untidy, and as being always in love, which she admits herself when she tells Dorian that she always falls in love with pianists. She attributes it to their foreignness. She thinks that foreigners make a room look very picturesque.
Dorian’s phrases have begun to mimic Lord Henry’s, a sign that Henry's hedonistic ideas have already wormed their way into Dorian's thoughts. Though the women in the novel seem to fall in love easily and deeply, we realize that they too are all about image. As we see here, Lady Henry imagines herself and others according to their beauty. Note Wilde’s clever use of ‘picturesque’, repeatedly reminding us of the picture as the ideal of beauty.
Themes
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Women and Men Theme Icon
Lord Henry arrives and Lady Henry, after praising Dorian’s charm, departs. Henry complains about his wife’s sentimentality and orders Dorian never to marry. Dorian tells him that he is actually too in love to marry. The girl is Sybil Vane, an actress, a genius on the stage, Dorian thinks. Lord Henry explains that women can’t be geniuses, and that there are only five women in London worth talking to.
Marriage is not seen as a deep bond but rather an inconvenience or a meaningless vow. It's sort of like a ticket one needs to punch or purchase to stay at a certain level of society, but nothing more. Real love is said to be outside the realm of a vow like marriage, but this makes it seem unattainable and almost unreal. Lord Henry’s brash statements about Genius and women cut down Dorian’s joy and show a very simplified view of the world.
Themes
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Women and Men Theme Icon
Dorian asks Lord Henry to sympathize, because after all, it is his influence that can be blamed for Dorian’s new, passionate view of life ,and now he is curious to try everything. This is why he went to the run-down theatre in the first place. He found it, as he was wandering the East End slums looking for adventure, with a “hideous” Jewish man standing outside, who offered him a box for a guinea. Dorian can’t think why he took it, but now thanks his stars because if he hadn’t, he would have missed out on the romance of his life. Henry laughs and insists that Dorian will have many loves, that’s what makes him interesting. Only shallow people have one love.
The extent of Henry’s influence can be seen in how quickly Dorian has moved from his sphere of beautiful objects to the opposite surroundings in the East End slums. The signs of decay, age and poverty should signal that Dorian does not belong here and some misfortune might befall him. But even though he has begun to expose himself to the ugliness of the world, he seeks out the one beautiful thing in the place and, despite Henry’s influence, retains his pursuit of beauty.
Themes
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
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Dorian goes on to describe the cheapness of the theatre’s interior. He tells Henry that the play was Romeo and Juliet, cast with old, ill-fitting actors for the most part, but that the girl playing Juliet, Sybil Vane, shone. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, classically beautiful, and with a melodious voice. Only Lord Henry and Sybil Vane have impressed Dorian so strongly with their voices, he says. He describes the Shakespearean roles she has played masterfully, and claims that an actress is the only kind of woman worth loving.
The mention of Romeo and Juliet, the most fateful, tragic story of young love, echoing the loss of innocence that Henry forecast in the garden, is ominous. That it is Sybil's voice and acting that entrance Dorian further suggests that his love for her is based on surface and art. He loves her for how she sounds, not what she sees. And he loves her for being able to portray great heroines, not for who she is.
Themes
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
When Henry asks what kind of relationship Dorian has with Sybil, Dorian defends that it has been entirely innocent and calls Sybil “sacred”. He describes how the Jewish theater manager invited him backstage, and after refusing several times, he couldn’t resist meeting her. He describes her as childlike and shy, and very complimentary to him, nicknaming him ‘Prince Charming’. Dorian describes Sybil as unconnected from real life, and when the theatre manager offers to tell him her history, he refuses, only caring about the girl he sees on stage.
Dorian’s description of his relationship with Sybil is strangely reminiscent of Basil’s earlier description of his fascination for Dorian. It is based on innocence, passion, and surfaces. He, in fact, doesn't want to know about her. He only wants to see the girl onstage, or perhaps the heroines she's playing. For her part, Sybil is similarly focused on surface things. She doesn't even know Dorian's name.
Themes
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Henry now knows why he hasn’t seen Dorian for ages. He urges that they finally dine together that evening, but Dorian wants to see Sybil play Imogen at the theatre - every night is another unmissable heroine. But Dorian does want Henry and Basil to come with him one evening, and help him to free Sybil from her contract with the Jewish manager. Henry agrees to come and to write to Basil about it.
Dinners, parties and outings to the theatre seem to be almost constant for the characters in this social circle. Being seen out is an important part of their obsession for appearances and the drama of Sybil’s stage spills over into the audience. We get the sense that Dorian sees his life as a story and creates scenes to increase the romance.
Themes
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon
Dorian hasn’t been keeping in touch with Basil. The last contact he had was when Basil sent the portrait to him in a new frame. Dorian admits being jealous of its youth but fascinated by it. He tries to explain his annoyance with Basil, calling him a philistine. Henry philosophizes that a good artist will live through his art and be completely dull as a person, and that inferior artists are much better company.
The power of art overtakes Basil. His work has begun to have a life of its own, and he is no longer credited with its success. In fact, the beauty of the portrait has taken the beauty out of Basil, turning him into a shadow of his own creation, which shows a life so much more vivid than the artist.
Themes
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
Surfaces, Objects and Appearances Theme Icon
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Dorian leaves for the theatre and Henry contemplates his feelings for the young man. He takes great pleasure in watching Dorian’s romance unfold. He thinks about how amazing all human life is, and decides that it is the only subject worth investigating. He seeks to know the science of the soul’s relationship to the body, considering Dorian to be the perfect psychology experiment. He wonders at the extreme influence he has had upon Dorian’s behavior. When he returns from dinner, there is a telegram waiting for him. It is from Dorian, telling him that he is engaged to be married.
Henry’s desire to observe the gamut of human experiences leads him to make a specimen of Dorian. This implies that, rather than try to help Dorian, to ensure that Dorian ends up happy or fulfilled, he will instead happily provoke and test Dorian to try to witness a reaction. There are very sinister overtones to Henry’s influence, and the gap between science and art, reality and illusion narrows.
Themes
Art and the Imitation of Life Theme Icon
Influence Theme Icon