The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Lord Henry Wotton Character Analysis

Cultured and intellectual, he inhabits the most fashionable circles, spreading his own brand of highly intelligent, paradoxical philosophies about art and life. He is a powerful, often poisonous influence on young Dorian. As the story goes on, Dorian’s speech seems to mimic Lord Henry’s tricky style and his heartless sentiments seem to take Lord Henry’s tempting philosophies too seriously, that artful, pleasure-filled experiments in living is more important than morality.

Lord Henry Wotton Quotes in The Picture of Dorian Gray

The The Picture of Dorian Gray quotes below are all either spoken by Lord Henry Wotton or refer to Lord Henry Wotton. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Mortality of Beauty and Youth Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray published in 2003.
Chapter 2 Quotes

“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

Basil has now introduced Lord Henry to Dorian, who finds him extraordinary. They converse for a while, and later Lord Henry catches Dorian in the garden with his head buried in lilac blossoms, drinking in the scent as if it were wine. Lord Henry murmurs approvingly that sensual experience is the only cure for the soul. This moment can be seen as an example of Dorian's innocence before he becomes fixated with his own beauty and mortality; his soul is vibrant and healthy and he is sensually connected with the natural world around him. It is also a clear example of Lord Henry's almost teacherly relationship to Dorian, a relationship infused with flirtation. 

At the same time, Lord Henry's statement ominously prefigures the coming events in the novel. In contrast to Dorian's present innocent delight in the flowers, he will soon become insatiably hungry for carnal, sinful pleasures. In connecting the "cure" of the soul with the senses, Lord Henry foreshadows the fact that Dorian's soul will eventually be destroyed by submergence in vice. 

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Chapter 6 Quotes

“I never approve or disapprove of anything now. It is an absurd attitude to take towards life.”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker)
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Henry has been telling Basil about Dorian's engagement to Sybil Vane. In response, Basil embodies the pragmatic elitism of the time, worrying that Dorian is marrying beneath him and asking Lord Henry if he approves. Lord Henry tells Basil that he no longer approves or disapproves of anything, and that to do so is "absurd." This answer is a typical example of Lord Henry's flamboyant, contrarian attitude to life. His resistance to making judgments suggests a sense of underlying carelessness and immorality. In contrast to Basil, who is worried about Dorian's future, Lord Henry seems only to want to be entertained by Dorian (and life in general). This statement also emphasizes Lord Henry's commitment against reason, as it is logically incoherent––he calls disapproving of things "absurd," thereby expressing disapproval at the idea of disapproval. 

“I am changed, and the mere touch of Sybil Vane’s hand makes me forget you and all your wrong, fascinating, poisonous, delightful theories.”

Related Characters: Dorian Gray (speaker), Lord Henry Wotton, Sybil Vane
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Henry has been teasing Dorian for his lovesick state and for agreeing to marry Sybil so quickly; however, Dorian doesn't mind, telling Lord Henry that his love for Sybil has made him forget Lord Henry's "fascinating, poisonous" theories. One could interpret this quote as revealing the lingering innocence and purity of Dorian's personality, qualities that are brought out by his love for Sybil. At the same time, Dorian is obviously not as free from Lord Henry's corrupting influence as he claims. Although he seems aware of the dangerous nature of Lord Henry's ideas, he nonetheless still calls them "fascinating" and "delightful." Furthermore, it is clear that Dorian's love for Sybil has been influenced by Lord Henry; unlike other women, Sybil represents the ideals of art, illusion, and even "foolishness" that Lord Henry embraces. 

Chapter 7 Quotes

“What a place to find one’s divinity in!”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker)
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Henry and Basil have accompanied Dorian to the theatre where Sybil performs for the first time. Observing the rough and unrefined nature of the scene, Lord Henry remarks on the irony that Dorian has found his "divinity" (Sybil) there. This quote exemplifies Lord Henry's arrogant, irreverent attitude, and highlights the enduring importance of appearances in the narrative. Although Dorian claims that Sybil transcends her vulgar environment, this turns out to be an illusion born out of the superficial appeal of her performances; once Sybil's love for Dorian makes her no longer able to act, he immediately loses interest in her and finds her just as unappealing as her surroundings. 

“The girl never really lived and so she never really died.”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker), Sybil Vane
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
Dorian is horrified by Sybil's death, and Lord Henry attempts to soothe him by arguing that––because Sybil lived through her acting––she did not live as normal people do and thus hasn't "really" died. On one level, this reveals Lord Henry's reverence for art and artists, confirming his belief that art transcends life. However, it could also be interpreted as rather callous. Lord Henry does not seem particularly moved by Sybil's death, thereby increasing the impression that he is careless and immoral. Furthermore, his disdain for the theatre and for women in general means that the statement "she never really lived" could also be interpreted as an elitist, sexist judgment that Sybil's life was unimportant and meaningless. 
Chapter 15 Quotes

“She is very clever, too clever for a woman. She lacks the indefinable charm of weakness. It is the feet of clay that make the gold of the image precious.”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker), The Duchess of Monmouth
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

Dorian and Lord Henry have spent an evening with the Duchess of Monmouth, a smart, beautiful woman who adores Dorian. The next day, Lord Henry tells Dorian that her husband is incredibly boring, and remarks that the Duchess herself is "too clever for a woman." This passage highlights the disdainful view Lord Henry has of women (even the few women he likes). None of the various female characters play a significant role in the novel, and the narrative itself thus reflects Lord Henry's view that most women are unappealing and uninteresting. Furthermore, Lord Henry's comment that the Duchess is "too clever" and that she does not have the "charm of weakness" shows that he believes it is desirable for women to seem vulnerable and inferior. 

At the same time, it is possible to interpret his comment as applying not just to women but to people in general; if so, this has negative implications for Dorian. After all, Henry argues that it is charming for women to have "feet of clay," before saying that the Duchess's feet are more like porcelain, hardened by her experiences. Clay is often symbolically connected to human flesh, a solid foundation even for an attractive surface like gold, whereas the image of hardened, white porcelain brings to mind Dorian's pure exterior, beneath which lies the sinful experiences that have hardened his soul. 

Chapter 18 Quotes

“You would sacrifice anybody, Harry, for the sake of an epigram.”

Related Characters: Dorian Gray (speaker), Lord Henry Wotton
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

Dorian is growing more panic-stricken by the minute, and has been especially shaken by Sir Geoffrey's accidentally killing of a man while shooting hares. Lord Henry has tried to reassure Dorian, advising him that they should avoid a scandal, but for the first time Dorian seems resistant to and critical of Lord Henry, saying Henry would "sacrifice anybody" for an epigram (a witty saying). Throughout this part of the novel, Dorian seems to be developing a moral conscience, acting less and less like a careless hedonist with no regard for other people. Here for the first time he seems to become aware of Lord Henry's corrupting influence, and the fact that––given that Lord Henry prefers wit and art to ethics––he might not actually be a particularly good man or friend. 

Chapter 19 Quotes

“It is not in you Dorian to commit a murder. I am sorry if I hurt your vanity by saying so, but I assure you it is true. Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders. I don’t blame them in the smallest degree. I should fancy that crime was to them what art is to us, simply a method of procuring extraordinary sensations.”

Related Characters: Lord Henry Wotton (speaker), Dorian Gray
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

Dorian and Lord Henry have been discussing Basil's disappearance, which is now being investigated by the police, as well as other matters such as Alan Campbell's suicide and the fact that Lord Henry's wife left him for a pianist. Dorian, increasingly frantic, asks Lord Henry if it's occurred to him that Basil was murdered, and then he even asks what Henry would say if Dorian confessed to having murdered Basil. Lord Henry's response is typically blasé––he accuses Dorian of playing a part that doesn't suit him, adding that Dorian is not capable of murdering anyone, and that crime is something only the lower classes do.

This moment provides one of the most extreme examples of Lord Henry's arrogance. He does not seem remotely upset about Basil's death, and similarly is not able to pick up on Dorian's desperate state, despite the fact that Dorian seems to be unraveling right in front of him. Indeed, this passage shows that Lord Henry's careless elitism actually makes him rather foolish. He makes a series of completely false claims, including that Dorian is not capable of murdering anyone and that crime "belongs exclusively to the lower orders," when in fact the narrative has revealed a string of crimes that have taken place among the upper class, including Dorian himself. 

Lord Henry's words also highlight the fact that he treats life as a performance or game, and is unable to take anything seriously. He assumes it would "hurt Dorian's vanity" to be told he was not capable of murder, and believes that crime is merely a "method of procuring extraordinary sensations." Clearly, Henry's luxurious, shallow lifestyle has so cut him off from reality that he completely misunderstands the way the world really works.

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Lord Henry Wotton Character Timeline in The Picture of Dorian Gray

The timeline below shows where the character Lord Henry Wotton appears in The Picture of Dorian Gray. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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The novel opens in the gorgeous flower-filled rooms of Basil Hallward’s house. Lord Henry Wotton and Basil are together in the studio, considering the portrait that Basil has been... (full context)
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...says he has put too much of himself into the painting to exhibit it. Lord Henry, not understanding, thinks that Basil is ridiculous for being vain, he is the plain artist,... (full context)
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...has given away Dorian’s name, Basil confesses that he hadn’t wanted to reveal him to Henry, but had wanted to keep him a secret. He thinks secrecy provides a kind of... (full context)
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...suggests that it was cowardice rather than conscience that made him want to escape, but Henry quips that the two are one and the same. (full context)
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...he and Dorian were always fated to know each other. They admitted this together later. Henry, knowing that it is a habit of Lady Brandon’s to give a colorful preface to... (full context)
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Henry mentions that laughter is a good basis for friendship, but Basil teases that Henry knows... (full context)
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...seems to have taken Basil’s artistry to a new level. He tries to explain to Henry what the visual presence of the boy does to him but finds no expression superlative... (full context)
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Henry desperately wants to meet Dorian now. Basil explains that Dorian will probably not have the... (full context)
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...sees a certain affection in Dorian, but he may just be enjoying the flattery. Lord Henry comforts that it might be surprising how Dorian’s affection outlasts Basil’s. Dorian’s beauty is likely... (full context)
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Henry muses with great pleasure on the debate of the human heart. Life’s romances and tragedies... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Henry and Basil go into the house and find Dorian Gray playing a song at Basil’s... (full context)
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Basil is getting nervous at Henry’s affect on the afternoon he had planned. He tells Henry to leave so that he... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Dorian is amazed by Henry’s philosophy. He is overcome with admiration for the intellect he is hearing. It is a... (full context)
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In the garden, Henry notices Dorian smelling one of the fragrant lilac-blossoms. He praises him for it. He tells... (full context)
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Lord Henry takes Dorian inside. He warns that sunburn would ruin him. He must preserve his youth.... (full context)
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Henry asks Dorian if he is glad they met. Dorian is certainly glad but suspicious that... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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As they have tea, Basil reprimands Henry for saying wild things to Dorian. But Dorian is not put off. When a trip... (full context)
Chapter 3
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The next day Lord Henry goes to visit his Uncle, an old nobleman with all the traits and hypocrisies typical... (full context)
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Henry leaves to visit Aunt Agatha, who George berates for her incessant philanthropy. Leaving the old... (full context)
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Lord Henry realizes he has missed his Aunt’s house in his distracted state. When he eventually arrives,... (full context)
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The Duchess is on Henry’s side; he makes her feel a lot better about her mistakes and guilty pleasures. Henry... (full context)
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...the party dissolves, agreeing to meet again soon. One of the lot, Mr. Erskine, tells Henry that he should write a book, but Henry does not have literary ambitions, he enjoys... (full context)
Chapter 4
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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... (full context)
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Lord Henry arrives and Lady Henry, after praising Dorian’s charm, departs. Henry complains about his wife’s sentimentality... (full context)
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Dorian asks Lord Henry to sympathize, because after all, it is his influence that can be blamed for Dorian’s... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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When Henry asks what kind of relationship Dorian has with Sybil, Dorian defends that it has been... (full context)
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Henry now knows why he hasn’t seen Dorian for ages. He urges that they finally dine... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Dorian leaves for the theatre and Henry contemplates his feelings for the young man. He takes great pleasure in watching Dorian’s romance... (full context)
Chapter 6
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As they dine together, Henry informs Basil that Dorian is to be married. Basil doesn’t believe it, and Henry reminds... (full context)
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When asked if he approves of the match, Henry says the experience of marriage will be interesting to observe in Dorian but that he... (full context)
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Henry pushes Dorian to explain about his engagement. He says that it was actually Sybil who... (full context)
Chapter 7
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When they arrive at the theater, Henry and Basil see firsthand its crude set up and rough-looking crowd. Dorian promises Henry that... (full context)
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...the orchestra’s awful introduction, Sybil appears as Juliet. The three men are fascinated by her. Henry realizes that she is as beautiful as Dorian had promised. But though her appearance is... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Lord Henry appears at the door, wishing to see him. He wants to comfort Dorian about Sybil.... (full context)
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Henry notes that such a scandal is wisely avoided by Dorian. Dorian is too good to... (full context)
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...to be mourning is his own lack of pity for Sybil and his cruel behavior. Henry convinces him that he should not feel too badly, that they never could have married... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...sees in Dorian, from the innocent, lovely boy who once sat for him. He thinks Henry’s influence is to blame, but Dorian praises Henry’s influence. At least it hasn’t made him... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...Dorian gets rid of the servant by sending him away with a message for Lord Henry, and accepts his visitors, who are very glad to be doing business with the famously... (full context)
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...think of Victor as a spy. He distracts himself with the reading materials that Lord Henry has sent over. In the newspaper is an article about Sybil Vane’s inquest. The reminder... (full context)
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Dorian inspects the other package from Lord Henry, a book with a yellow cover. As soon as he starts reading the novel within,... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...image. His hunger for knowledge and experience of life was always growing, thanks to Lord Henry’s influence. (full context)
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...to Dorian, the best form of art, as he had so often been advised by Henry, was life itself. (full context)
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...back at history, how valor and sacrifice had won over pleasure. But guided by Lord Henry, he saw a new way of life opening up, replacing puritan values with passion and... (full context)
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...once loved him. But all this only increases the strange charm of his reputation. Lord Henry’s theory that entertainment, manners, and material opulence are more important to one’s social standing than... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...have passed and Dorian is approaching his thirty-eighth birthday. Walking home from an evening at Henry’s, he sees Basil Hallward in the street. Dorian pretends he hasn’t seen Basil, but Basil... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...the guests are an ugly set. He feels a little cheered when he realizes Lord Henry will be there, but at dinner, he has no appetite and drinks to excess. Henry... (full context)
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She jokes that she ought to marry again to be in fashion, but according to Henry’s theory, women only remarry because they hated their husbands. When Lady Narborough complains that her... (full context)
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Lady Narborough asks Henry to come and entertain her more often, promising to have better guests in the future.... (full context)
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Lord Henry changes the subject and asks Dorian why he left so early the previous evening. Dorian... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...where dark public houses and mist from the water create a secretive scene. Dorian remembers Henry’s advice to cure the soul with the senses, and has come to the home of... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...her husband, and other elegant guests at his country house. Dorian, the Duchess, and Lord Henry discuss Henry’s plan to “rechristen” everything - he thinks that no one gives beautiful names... (full context)
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...their ears, while men love with their eyes, and accuses Dorian of never really loving. Henry responds that he believes that there are very few good experiences, and that one must... (full context)
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...goes to fetch some orchids for the Duchess to take home. When he is gone, Henry inquires about the Duchess’s flirting. She likes the challenge of Dorian. Henry warns that Lady... (full context)
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Dorian is put on a sofa and comes round, realizing where he is. Henry assures him he only fainted, and Dorian insists on dressing and eating with his guests.... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Lord Henry suggests they all go home and avoid more of a scene. Dorian is obsessed that... (full context)
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Henry praises the woman for her flirtatiousness, suggesting that her and Dorian’s shared love of danger... (full context)
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With Dorian gone, Henry asks the Duchess about her feelings for Dorian. She isn’t sure how she feels. They... (full context)
Chapter 19
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After a stay in the country, Dorian comes back to London and tells Henry he has resolved to be a good person. Henry says it is easy to be... (full context)
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Henry asks Dorian to play the piano for him. His wife recently left him for a... (full context)
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Dorian asks Henry how he would react if he told him that he had murdered Basil. Henry says... (full context)
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Dorian likens the painting to a quote about “a face without a heart”. This reminds Henry of another quote he heard in the street, and he asks Dorian what happens to... (full context)
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Lord Henry tells Dorian to lighten up and play him a song on the piano. Henry is... (full context)
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Dorian maintains that he will alter his ways, but Henry does not listen and suggests they go to the club. Dorian responds that he wants... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...in them. Every pleasure seems lost to him. He wonders, as he returns home, whether Henry’s words are to be believed. He wants desperately to be able to retrieve the innocent... (full context)
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Dorian picks up a mirror that Henry gave him once, and remembers the words of an old lover, that the beauty of... (full context)