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'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde (Pt. 2)

Part 2: Circumstance and the Authority of Influence

By Annie KapurPublished 5 years ago 25 min read

We are now going to go through what circumstances, situations and events change and mould Dorian's personality. We will find this out by analysing the first few chapters and what they tell us about the authority of influence.

In the beginning of the book and in the first chapter, we only hear about Dorian by Basil. Basil Hallward, the painter, admires Dorian and shows the painting he does to his friend, Lord Henry Wotton. Basil states he has "put too much of himself" into the painting and can never exhibit it. The Dorian that this shows is the one that is heavily admired. We now have a preconceived image of Dorian simply by the way in which Basil is talking about him, but we are about to get all of our perceptions very wrong indeed. After talking about Dorian, Basil gives the reader an image of a tall and dark stranger, looking like the gothic ideal of the jet black haired, dark brown-eyed and pale character standing in the corner of the room; just like at the party Basil described. But, if we read on in the book, we find something completely different. In fact, Dorian has olive skin, like a Greek, blue eyes and blonde hair—he looks Aryan as opposed to dark and mysterious. What Basil has done is given us a prejudiced conception—he's given us the image of a Byronic Hero without giving us a physical image of a Byronic Hero—but, he presents Lord Henry with a very physical image of this Byronic Hero. If you read closely enough, you could actually tell that Basil is probably not being very clear about the appearance of Dorian Gray as Lord Henry calls the subject of the painting a "Young Adonis," referring to the Greek ideal. Thus, we can assume that Dorian probably looks more Greek than typically British.

This is very important for establishing what Dorian's character will be like later on as Basil doesn't really mention Dorian's appearance, but instead his atmosphere, Henry seems to focus on his appearance with the "Young Adonis" remark. Both men agree that the nature of the subject is beautiful, yet neither of them are in the same room as him. They have only the painting.

Dorian is presented to us as beautiful when he is not marked by any influence or person; the painting cannot be morally marked—it must remain static in order to be a painting. Therefore, it is beautiful and should be called so. Dorian's painting can't be influenced by Henry's paradoxes—but real Dorian cannot be influenced by Basil's paintbrush; and the latter becomes a problem for him in chapter two.

Yet, Basil already knows the problem because he has "put too much of himself" into the painting and therefore, realises he has caused the problem. He then realises Henry's problem by stating "your influence would be bad" which it is. But Basil is the only person to notice the changes in Dorian before he has even entered the room. It is a representation of Basil's want to keep Dorian the way he is; both denouncing the painting from exhibition, and denouncing Henry as an immoral character.

In chapter two, we finally get to meet Dorian as he walks in and sits at a piano—automatically showing us what kind of person he is. He's wealthy. Only gentlemen and women could play the piano and so, Dorian has given us another preconception of himself. Basil then already plays with the equilibrium of the situation by telling Dorian he can have the music "depend(ing) on how (he) sits today." Basil wants to keep Dorian's orderly nature so tells Dorian that he must sit well in order to get things—it also represents this childlike nature of Dorian as he must be directed in what to do. This is then backed up by the fact that Dorian is said to be "not yet 20 years" of age.

When Henry begins talking to Dorian, there is something about him that catches Dorian's mind. Henry is showing influence over Dorian and thus, changes something about him that wouldn't normally change during a painting—his facial expression. The way in which Henry first changes Dorian is by gaining his attention, Henry first makes Dorian laugh by stating that Lady Agatha wouldn't mind if Dorian wasn't there since she "makes enough noise for two people." To which Dorian laughs at the entire statement. Immediately afterwards, Henry compliments Dorian—stating he is "too charming" to commit to philanthropy. Both of which are positive notions and would gain the attention and trust of a person who was normally vulnerable and gullible.

Basil asks him to go away, and it is very interesting to how Henry and Dorian both reply to this. Henry asks Dorian if he should go—showing that he is compassionate to Dorian and values his opinion. This would make Dorian even more susceptible to Henry's teachings. Dorian then tells him not to as Basil is in a "sulky" (or "focussed" in this case) moods. He then starts talking about Henry telling him more about why he shouldn't go in for philanthropy, showing he has already been changed by Henry—he has been influenced by compliments and laughter.

The fact that Henry pulls away from the answer will not make Dorian even more inquisitive to why Henry wants to know so much about him and how he knows so much about him already. Dorian listens intently to Henry because he plays games with communication, sociability and language styles.

This is seen again in quite an uproar in the further pages of chapter two, Henry gets up to leave to see a "man in the Orleans"—but Dorian then states "Basil, if Henry goes then I shall go too..." Already showing that he is following Henry's words. Basil has realised this and then begs Henry to stay. As if Basil himself is influenced by Dorian's aura and Dorian is influenced by Henry's way of socialising. Dorian's manners are influenced as he was literally about the follow Henry out of the door and thus, it is a sort of symbolism and foreshadowing for what will happen in the novel to come.

We can see Basil has realised this as well by what he says to Dorian after telling him to get up on the platform. It is all well telling Dorian how to sit, but then he says "...And don't move about too much, or pay attention to what Lord Henry says. He has a very bad influence over all of his friends, with the exception of myself." This is because Basil is influenced by Dorian and not by Henry. But Basil is the one that realises the relationship between Henry and the subject just as Henry is the one who realises the relationship between Basil and the product. We will now prepare and lead up to the way in which the subject and the product change places.

Dorian's personality is so much influenced by Henry through the book that simply reading the first few paragraphs of chapter two can give us a grand insight into how Henry establishes this. There is one thing that Lord Henry says that stands out from all the other things in chapter two; it goes, "There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral—immoral from the scientific point of view." Influence cannot be studied scientifically unless studying psychology; and Lord Henry seems to already have a psychological hold on Dorian. But the fact that Lord Henry acknowledges this himself means that he might already know what he is about to do to Dorian in terms of influence. Listen to the reason Lord Henry gives for this:

"Because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development..." (Chapter 2)

Let's break up this quotation then. What we are looking at is the great idea of Lord Henry being able to foreshadow exactly what he will do to Dorian.

"To influence a person is to give him one's own soul." The fact that Lord Henry is saying this means that he has already influenced the subject to make the Faustian pact, to give away his soul and replace it with the product, that influences his idea of his own image. This is the Faustian pact explained to us, the one thing that changes everything about Dorian. He loses his soul and his aura, becomes changed and thus, Basil doesn't really respect him very much anymore—Lord Henry has told Dorian to give away his soul in exchange for the influence the painting has given him—the image of ideal beauty.

"He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions." A lot of the things Dorian will say to justify his actions in the future chapters of the book are words and phrases that Lord Henry has used upon him in order to influence him to take up these things. He doesn't burn with his own natural passions and thus, burns with all the sins that Henry didn't have the courage to commit. This is a line repeated in the future chapters of the book; Lord Henry says these things but doesn't do them, Dorian does these things and can't admit to them.

"His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed." The fact that Dorian's "virtues" are not real means that the worse Dorian's degeneration gets the more his few virtues will be overlooked, including his beauty. His beauty becomes overlooked in his degeneration because of the unspeakable crimes and immoralities he commits, and since this and many other things about Dorian are small virtues, they won't be accounted—he will be forced outside of society and his small virtues will mean nothing.

Lord Henry presents himself as not believing in sin, which is something reflected in Dorian later on in the book when he commits murder. He states about sins, "If there are such things as sins" and thus, influences Dorian within the speech about bad influences—a paradox familiar to Lord Henry's character. The fact that Dorian's sins will be "borrowed" means that they were once property of Lord Henry and through influence, Dorian has acted them out. This brings us on to the next part of the quotation.

"He becomes an echo of someone else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him." The music at the beginning of chapter two is symbolic of the "echo" Dorian becomes. He is an "echo" of Basil's music as he is represented by Basil before we even meet him. It is as if we are listening to a piece of classical music; we know the composer, we know the name of the piece—but we don't know the player. The player is concealed behind someone else's work. Basil is this "someone else." It is his painting that gives Henry and the reader their first taste of Dorian, only when Dorian enters the room do we get a more realistic feel for him and by then, we already have preconceptions judged by Basil.

The "actor of a part that has not been written for him" is quite clear. Dorian is constructed by the words Henry says, but those words are categorically of Henry's character and thus, were not made for Dorian to act upon. He does anyway and gets himself into trouble—so if we read this carefully enough, we shouldn't be surprised when Dorian acts upon someone else's words.

"The aim of life is self-development," is seemingly an ironic and paradoxical thing to say. This is because he is saying that Dorian should develop himself and not listen to influence whilst also trying to influence his opinion on the topic of influence. He does this strategically by stating that self-development can only be achieved if one does not believe in sin—thus, good and bad are not arguments. Dorian will choose this way of thinking and yet, does not really come to the realisation that Henry is the influence and Dorian has acted upon the words that were not written for him, however indirectly he does this.

But, as Lord Henry continues talking about this fact that morals do not exist, he is very deliberately interrupted by Basil, telling Dorian to turn his head a little to the right. Saying, "Just turn your head a little more to the right, Dorian, like a good boy." Calling Dorian, a "good boy," Basil is almost trying to undo all the things that Henry has been saying that aren't very "good." This happens a lot in the story and actually begins with Basil's warning to Henry that his influence will be "bad." Dorian is clearly changed by what Henry has said and yet, Basil is still the only one realising this.

Chapter two has also one of Henry's most memorable lines, which serves as most of his influence over Dorian for the rest of the book. "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it." After going on about how the brain is responsible for thinking whether an act of sin has been committed or not and that you should not be at the mercy of your emotions, Henry then turns to the conversation of Dorian's appearance. Therefore, he takes the argument of temptation and immorality, influence and degeneration and turns the subject to Dorian; connecting the two together in Dorian's mind.

Here are the flowers again. Lord Henry's smoking on the divan and the garden being near is basically Henry's pollution of Dorian's mind. "You, Mr. Gray, you yourself, with your rose-red youth and your rose-white boyhood..." At the end of the quotation, Lord Henry states that Dorian is so innocent that he has even thought things that might "stain (his) cheek with shame..." The act of causing harm upon the appearance is only one of the few things that influences this symbolic Faustian pact. Dorian not only wishes to stay young and untouched, but he also doesn't want to be physically "stained" by shame; wanting to be as immoral as his mentor suggests he should be instead of being forever afraid.

Dorian then yields to the influence of Henry almost entirely, he states "let me try not to think..." and so, he shows the reader that he is completely shocked by Henry's words and tries not to think his own thoughts for the fear his "cheek" will mark with shame. The shame is yielding to the temptation of influence that Henry has just given him and told him not to do.

We come right back to the line Henry states about being the echo of someone else's music. Henry is said to have "touched some secret chord" in Dorian, who is the echo of Basil's music, or "product"—something that had "never been touched before" and thus, Henry has made Dorian "try not to think" about the temptations he has had to resist throughout life, making him believe that he should yield to them. The next part of the quotation quite explicit links this to music:

"Music had stirred him like that. Music had troubled him many times. But music was not articulate..." The music is the painting, the product of the producer, Basil. The painting, at this moment, is troubling Dorian as Lord Henry's words are leaving an expression in his face that Dorian will have painted into the portrait by Basil. It is not "articulate" of his own emotion, yet is influenced by Henry and produced on a canvas by Basil. None of it is therefore, his own.

And then, Dorian finally understands life. "Life suddenly became fiery-coloured to him. It seemed to him that he had been walking on fire." Fire is that symbol again, the colour of the rose-red boyhood that Dorian finally understands and the colour of fire that is a match that Lord Henry uses to light his cigarettes, the very thing, the very words he uses to pollute Dorian. This is a catalyst. This is Dorian's passion burning just like Lord Henry said it would, burning with Lord Henry's passion and not with his own. Just like Lord Henry said it would.

We then go back to Basil's painting. We move from the subject to the product, just as the soul will in a brief moment. We get a description of "perfect delicacy" which is to influence Dorian's image of himself. Dorian is aware of the silence and tells Basil he "must go and sit in the garden"—wanting to be where the stereotypically innocent and untarnished things are. Thus, wanting to get rid of Henry's influence. Basil knows this in part, he believes that Henry has been paying Dorian compliments on his appearance and still states (in order to pull Dorian back in) he "mustn't believe a word (Henry) says."

Dorian's in denial and it shows through his want to go into the garden, he's been influenced and he knows he has. But he wants to remove it by going to the garden, stating, "I don't think I believe anything he has told me." To which Lord Henry is perfectly clear and replies, "You believe it all." Thus, bringing out the true impulsive and animalistic nature in Dorian, that repressed part that is afraid of immorality. Lord Henry knows that Dorian believed everything he said and brings that out in front of Basil.

Lord Henry goes out into the garden with Dorian, showing that he can still have influence over Dorian's identity and the way in which it is now beginning to shift from innocent to in denial, soon it will be complete and like Frankenstein, Henry would've created a monster.

This part is strange because we shift entirely back to Basil and the product. Basil states that he must "work up this background" which means he is pretty much done with painting Dorian. This shows that Dorian is entirely out of Basil's control and cannot be controlled further by him in any way. But, the main thing here is Basil's over-protection of Dorian which shifts from the subject to the product, just like the soul. It seems that Basil has painted Dorian's own soul into the painting and thus, keeps referring to the painting as "my" masterpiece. The "my" being incredibly important as Henry has an influence over the real Dorian and yet, the only thing that Basil has control over is the painting and he has seemingly given too much influence to it - so much so that he keeps saying he has put "too much of (my)self into it" again, the "my" and states that it is "my masterpiece" and repeats "my masterpiece as it stands". Which means, when it is not standing in sight—it is not his masterpiece. When it gets taken to Dorian's locked room, it is not longer Basil's masterpiece and he will say this when looking at the painting again in the later chapters once it has changed. He will literally say "this is not my masterpiece."

Whilst Dorian is out in the garden, he is changed again. He has gone from being in denial to being nervous of his own knowledge. To this, Henry replies that "you know more than you think you know and less than you want to know. "The fact that he states this must mean that Henry is willing to fill in the gaps for the "less than you want to know" section. Even though this influence is taking its toll, Dorian is still remaining innocent with his white "flower-like hands." He's in denial but cannot change the fact that "they moved, as he spoke, like music and seemed to have a language of their own..." There's the reference to music again. They have a "language of their own". Now, they are an echo of Henry's music or "language" since Dorian can no longer see the actual painting or the painter.

The narrator then states that the relations Dorian had with Basil "never altered him." Which shows that this was never Basil's intention, but to keep Dorian the way he was - this was the only thing Basil wanted. Therefore, the comparison must mean that Henry instead, is changing or altering him by "disclosing to him life's mystery." Thus, enhancing the influence quality that Lord Henry has over Dorian and decreasing the potential for being brought back to morality by Basil.

Henry then gives this lengthy speech about how Dorian should preserve his beauty as it is the only thing worth keeping and the only wonder of the world. Henry calls it Dorian's "lilies and roses" much like the garden Henry is polluting. He gets Dorian to believe that to lose his beauty is to lose everything. His language is fascinating as he makes statements such as:

"...When thought has seared your forehead with its lines and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it..." The act of feeling something that cannot be felt, but feeling guilty and sick for growing old. The fiery passion is still, not his own. Just as Lord Henry said it was not.

"...Beauty is a form of genius—is higher indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation." He states that Dorian doesn't require justification for his actions, people will love and respect him because he is beautiful and therefore, he need not worry about the idea of sin "if there is such as thing as sin." The influence of Lord Henry builds and changes Dorian once again by connecting together his philosophical statements almost indirectly.

"It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it." Of course, Henry is giving Dorian delusions of grandeur. He states people will only respect Dorian for his looks, but when it comes to his downfall, his looks are quite ironically, overlooked.

"The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible." When Dorian makes this Faustian pact, he becomes the mystery, he becomes the fully visible. Therefore, he is the mystery of the world through the fact that what he does can't possibly match his unchanging and eternally youthful appearance. The fact Lord Henry foreshadows this means that he already knows what is going through Dorian's mind. He already has control of Dorian.

In this next one, he's quite explicit about what he wants Dorian to do, and Dorian does just this. "Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing." He doesn't want Dorian to be at the mercy of his emotions and Dorian repeats this, echoing someone else's music, later on.

To Henry, Dorian is not a normal person, but rather someone quite extraordinary. "The common hill-flowers wither, but they blossom again. The laburnum will be as gold next June as it is now. In a month there will be purple stars on the clematis, and year after year the green night of its leaves will have its purple stars." Again, he makes references to flowers, Dorian's life is compared to that of a flower—whilst it is alive it can be beautiful, but over-showered and it begins to become too full and will, inevitably die from an indirect thing rather than naturally of old age.

After this strange encounter happens in which Dorian is fully under the influence of Henry by now, Basil interrupts yet again, ushering them back into the studio. Dorian still questions himself, as if he's in denial and again—Henry corrects him. Dorian states to having met Henry: "I am glad now. I wonder shall I always be glad?" To which Henry replies with yet another philosophical paradox. "The only different between and caprice and a life-long passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer." Dorian asks the friendship to then, be a caprice, which it will be because of Dorian's later antics in immorality.

As Henry finishes his influence over Dorian, Basil finishes the painting. Both having their influence in impressing something upon Dorian himself. The fact that Henry tells Dorian to look at the painting and it is only then that Dorian goes to look means that Henry can now command Dorian's movements. As Henry has said it is beautiful, Dorian's "cheeks flushed for a moment with pleasure" and thus, shows that he is now imitating Henry's speech through action.

Then we get a piece of exposition, in which there is a connection explained to us. Dorian's character has developed from the naive boy sitting at the piano to this man who realises the "full reality" of things. It states: "Yes, there would be a day when his face would be wrinkled and wizen, his eyes dim and colourless, the grace of his figure broken and deformed." And it continues in this paragraph to state all the things that Dorian is now realising that he'll lose. He only realises he will lose these things because of the imperative influence of Lord Henry from that scene where they are both in the garden and Henry gives the long speech about remaining youthful.

Now, we have some real foreshadowing to Dorian's character later on in the book as if there is something that the product knows that the subject does not. "As he thought of it, a sharp pang of pain struck life a knife across him..." and this is quite possibly one of the greatest pieces of foreshadowing in the novel as a knife is used to kill the producer of the product, Basil and a knife is used to destroy the product itself. This metaphorical "knife" is the rage against the influence which is presented so strongly by the next quotation we will cover. When asked by Basil whether he likes it, it is actually Henry that answers with "of course he likes it." Henry is now answering for him, noting that Dorian acts on what Henry says and that Henry's influence is now a complete stronghold around Dorian's character.

It is only when it is entirely complete that Basil states, "It is not my property, Harry." This is the first and only time that Basil will acknowledge the portrait as not being his with an ounce of pleasure—every other time he will be slightly anxious and so, reflects what secrecy Basil and Dorian must live in. This secrecy is the only influence that Basil has over Dorian's life and it is in the form of the changing painting.

It is now that we see Dorian make the Faustian pact. It goes as such:

"How sad it is! I shall grow old and horrid and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June... If it was only the other way! If it was I who were to be always young, and the picture that were to grow old! For this for this—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give!"

This is Dorian reflecting the words Henry has said to him back upon the product and thus, making that Faustian pact. The Faustian pact is important because the purposes of the product and the subject change places as well as the transporting of the soul from Dorian to the painting. The function of the product is to be beautiful as Wilde believed in art's for art's sake—the ideology adopted by aestheticism from the classical era. The function of the subject is to be human and adopt the traits of growing old, perishing and tarnishing etc. This is the realism of Dorian—and this transferred to the painting creates a much more sadistic and supernatural look into humanity. The product's function changes places with the subject, producing Dorian's inability to age.

It is therefore clear that the Faustian pact has been influenced by the "secret" Basil was keeping from Henry, but it is also clear that Dorian has been so influenced by Henry that he has uttered the "spell" for the Faustian Pact and also, used a paradox against Basil, which is something we believe to be of Henry's character. He states: "You like your art better than you like your friends. I am no more to you than a green bronze figure. Hardly as much, I dare say." After a rant about not wanting to grow old in which Dorian speaks so much like Henry that if you were to not know who was speaking or the premise of the novel, you would probably think it was Henry. Basil, yet again, has realised this and has been the only one to do so at this moment.

"This is your doing, Harry..." Basil states this along with the latter. "...Yours, and you know it." Followed by the remark of "You should have gone when I asked you." This shows that Basil knows exactly what Henry has said to Dorian as Basil also shows his morality over his art. His morality is to destroy the painting and not let it come between the three men and "mar (their lives)." Henry recommends he keep it and therefore, shows that he is of the opposite side to Basil. Thus, he represents the devil to Basil's "angel." But, as for the character of Dorian, he says that he must keep it and this is only after Henry states that he (Henry) must keep it. Dorian follows Henry's words as Dorian stopped Basil from destroying the painting and actually gets to keep the painting because it is, as Basil says, "(Dorian's) property."

In the next part, we will be focusing on how this plays out when we look at critical theory. Namely, we will focus on character and how this is seen through the lenses surrounding realisms and romanticisms.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

200K+ Reads on Vocal.

English Lecturer

🎓Literature & Writing (B.A)

🎓Film & Writing (M.A)

🎓Secondary English Education (PgDipEd) (QTS)

📍Birmingham, UK

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