Works of Gothic fiction often have no shortage of suspense, and this is certainly the case in The Portrait of Dorian Gray as the titular character grows increasingly erratic and unhinged. As a classic method to build tension in the reader and whisk the narrative toward its climactic finish, Wilde employs dramatic irony to keep things interesting in the aftermath of Basil’s murder by Dorian’s hand.
The scene finds Dorian with Henry, discussing Basil’s disappearance:
“What do you think has happened to Basil?” asked Dorian, holding up his Burgundy against the light and wondering how it was that he could discuss the matter so calmly.
“I have not the slightest idea. If Basil chooses to hide himself, it is no business of mine. If he is dead, I don’t want to think about him. Death is the only thing that ever terrifies me. I hate it.”
With Henry pontificating on the terror of death, and generally distracted by his own musings, Dorian is left to flirt at the very edge of revealing the reality behind Basil’s absence. Only the reader knows, of course, that Dorian has a very good idea of what happened to Basil and why.
Dorian said nothing, but rose from the table, and passing into the next room, sat down to the piano and let his fingers stray across the white and black ivory of the keys. After the coffee had been brought in, he stopped, and looking over at Lord Henry, said, “Harry, did it ever occur to you that Basil was murdered?”
There is almost no more effective way to use dramatic irony to build suspense than to have the murderer discussing the murder with an unsuspecting third party, and Wilde is no stranger to the strategy behind the incredible implementation of suspense. By allowing Dorian to draw ever closer to the truth in his conversation with Henry, Wilde keeps the reader on the edge of their seat and reveals the utter detachment with which Dorian is able to face his predicament.