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 good in the country; there is none of the corruption and interest of the city. Dorian is certain of his resolution though. Henry asks how the turn came about and Dorian tells him that he performed a good deed. A girl had fallen in love with him; a simple girl of a lower class, and Dorian cut off the romance before it went too far, saving her from Sybil’s fate. Henry responds that the girl is certainly heartbroken and will probably never be satisfied again. Dorian has not saved her at all. Dorian is hurt at Henry’s constant jesting at the most serious tragedies.
Just as Sybil symbolized for Dorian the characters of Shakespeare’s plays, the poor country girl that falls in love with him now is a symbol of his mistake with Sybil. The qualities he finds in her, the low class, the devotion, all echo Sybil’s character, but without the acting, The girl represents a chance to erase the curse of art imitating life. But, ironically, in this attempt to make up for Sybil’s death—to be good—Dorian repeats his mistake. Neither Dorian nor Henry understand that the way to have responded was not to cut things off before they began, but to return her love. They can't understand such a thing, and so Dorian can't see any way to be good.
The topic turns to Basil’s disappearance, which has now been noted by the police and talked about for some time, though no answers have surfaced. As well as the rumors about Basil, the city has had many other scandals, like the suicide of Alan Campbell. Dorian asks Henry what he thinks has happened to Basil, but even for his once dear friend, Henry is quite heartless, seeming more concerned about death itself than Basil’s in particular.
Dorian’s influence and the consequences of his actions have spread through the city and beyond. To Henry, who cares only about the surface of things, Basil's death isn't much different from Basil having just gone away. Henry doesn't much care about Basil the person; just Basil the experience. And you don't mourn an experience.
Henry asks Dorian to play the piano for him. His wife recently left him for a pianist, he notes. Dorian asks about the rumors of murder that are following Basil’s case but Henry finds the whole topic quite dull. He says that the only time he found Basil interesting was when he confessed his love for Dorian all those years ago.
Lord Henry treats his entire life as if he is an audience member at a play. He cares only about what interests him and does not get involved. He does not even seem to care that his wife left him, though one can infer from her choice of an artist, a piano player, that she was looking for someone with a little more passion.
Dorian asks Henry how he would react if he told him that he had murdered Basil. Henry says that Dorian could never do such a thing. Murderers are low down people. He understands the mind of the murderer – for the low class seeker of sensations; murder must be a lot like art. He can’t see Basil meeting such a romantic end. At least, he thinks, he’d passed his artistic peak. Henry goes over to Dorian’s exotic parrot and starts to stroke it. Reminded of Basil’s career, he wonders what has become of the portrait, which Dorian told him once had gone missing. Dorian says that he never really liked it anyway.
Henry remains fooled by Dorian's beautiful surface, taking it to indicate a high-class inside as well. For Henry, art, even when discussing murder and the loss of a friend, is the mark by which all events and personalities and values are judged. But Henry sees the enjoyment of art as passive—not a quest to experience low-class senses but an amused willingness to watch others in their passionate struggles through the world. Dorian never had that reserve.
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 man who gains the world in exchange for his soul. Dorian tells him not to joke about the soul, it is the most serious organ, quite real, he believes. Henry responds that it must be an illusion, if Dorian believes in it so certainly.
Here the twists and turns of logic regarding the illusion or reality of art come to a head. At times like these, Lord Henry’s comments are so fitting to Dorian’s paranoia that he seems to have some kind of fated or supernatural awareness of Dorian’s secrets, but this just shows how precisely and wholly Dorian has been influenced by him.
Lord Henry tells Dorian to lighten up and play him a song on the piano. Henry is full of the joy that he always finds in human experience. The unending charm and youth of Dorian’s looks astonishes him anew tonight. He seems genuinely happy when he thinks about what a blessed life Dorian is having. Life, he says, is dictated by uncontrollable sensations, the passing scent of a once-smelt flower can give one the deepest nostalgia or terror, but the world is in Dorian’s favor. His life has occurred like a work of art.
There is a huge gap between Lord Henry and Dorian. The Dorian he thinks he knows is still full of glee, still incredibly lucky and probably in Henry’s mind, still fascinated by his fancy ideas and philosophies. But the illusion of art is upon him. Dorian exists for him in a two-dimensional plane, unable to escape from his initial, superficial pose as a beautiful object.
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 instead to go to bed early. He blames Henry for poisoning him with the book he had lent him in boyhood, but Henry claims that art cannot act in such a way, it disables action and merely reflects things back to the viewer. Uncaring, Henry tells Dorian to meet him tomorrow and they will visit one of their friends.
Once again Lord Henry attests to the passive nature of experiencing art. It is this passivity that saves Henry from his own philosophies. Henry would never murder anyone, because Henry never does anything. He just watches and enjoys. But Dorian, transformed into art, tried to live like art, and it has destroyed him.