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Free Study Guide for The Picture of Dorian Gray: Book Summary

 

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FREE BOOKNOTES - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY


CHAPTER 8


Summary

Dorian doesnít wake up the next day until well past noon. He gets up and looks through his mail, finding and laying aside a piece of mail hand delivered from Lord Henry that morning. He gets up and eats a light breakfast all the while feeling as if he has been part of some kind of tragedy recently. As he sits at breakfast, he sees the screen that he hurriedly put in front of his portrait the night before and realizes it was not a dream but is true. He tells his servant that he is not accepting callers and he goes to the portrait and removes the screen. He hesitates to do so, but decides he must. When he looks at the portrait he sees that it was not an illusion. The change remains. He looks at it with horror.

He realizes how unjust and cruel he had been to Sibyl the night before. He thinks the portrait will serve him as a conscience throughout life. He remains looking at the portrait for hours more. Finally, he gets paper and begins to write a passionate letter to Sibyl apologizing for what he had said to her and vowing eternal love. He reproaches himself in the letter so voluptuously that he feels absolved, like a person who has been to confession. He lays the letter to the side and then he hears Lord Henry calling to him through the door.


Lord Henry begs to be let in and Dorian decides he will let him. Lord Henry apologizes for all that has happened. Dorian tells him he was brutal with Sibyl the night before after the performance, but now he feels good and is not even sorry that it happened. Lord Henry says he had worried that Dorian would be tearing his hair in remorse. Dorian says he is quite happy now that he knows what conscience is. He asks Henry not to sneer at it, and says that he wants to be good. He adds that he canít stand the idea "of [his] soul being hideous." Lord Henry exclaims about this "charming artistic basis for ethics." Dorian says he will marry Sibyl. It is then when Lord Henry realizes Dorian didnít read his letter. In it, he had told Dorian that Sibyl committed suicide the night before by swallowing some kind of poison.

Lord Henry begins advising Dorian about how to avoid the scandal that such a story would attach to his name. He asks if anyone but Sibyl knew his name and if anyone saw him go behind stage to speak to her after her performance. Lord Henry urges Dorian not to let the episode get on his nerves. He invites him out to dinner and to the opera with his sister and some smart women. Dorian exclaims that he has murdered Sibyl Vane. He marvels that life is still as beautiful with birds singing and roses blooming. He adds that if he had read it in a book, he would have thought it movingly tragic. He recounts the exchange between he and Sibyl the night before, telling Henry of how cruel he was in casting her aside. He ends by condemning her as selfish for killing herself.

Lord Henry tells him that a woman can only reform a man by boring him so completely that he loses all interest in life. He adds that if Dorian would have married Sibyl, he would have been miserable because he wouldnít have loved her. Dorian concedes that it probably would have been. He is amazed that he doesnít feel the tragedy more than he does. He wonders if heís heartless. He thinks of it as a wonderful ending to a wonderful play, a "tragedy in which [he] took a great part, but by which [he] has not been wounded." Lord Henry likes to play on Dorianís unconscious egotism, so he exclaims over the interest of Dorianís sense of it. Dorian thinks he will now have to go into mourning, but Lord Henry tells him it is unnecessary since there is already enough mourning in life. He adds that Sibyl must have been different from all other women who are so trivial and predictable. When Dorian expresses remorse at having been cruel to her, Lord Henry assures him that women appreciate cruelty more than anything else. They are primitive. Men have emancipated them, but they have remained slaves and they love being dominated. He reminds Dorian that Sibyl was a great actress and that he can think of her suicide as an ending to a Jacobean tragedy.

Dorian finally thanks Lord Henry for explaining himself to him. He revels in what a marvelous experience it has all been for him. He wonders if life will give him anything more marvelous and Henry assures him that it will. He wonders what will happen when he gets old and ugly. Henry tells him that then he will have to fight for his victories. Dorian decides he will join Lord Henry at the opera after all. Lord Henry departs.

When he is alone, Dorian looks again at the portrait. He sees that it hasnít changed since he last saw it. He thinks of poor Sibyl and revels in the romance of it all. He decides that he will embrace life and the portrait will bear the burden of his shame. He is sad to think of how the beautiful portrait will be marred. He thinks for a minute about praying that the strange sympathy that exists between him and the picture would disappear, but he realizes that no one would give up the chance at being forever young. Then he decides that he will get pleasure out of watching the changes. The portrait would be a magic mirror for him, revealing his soul to him. He pushes the screen back in front of it and dresses for the opera.


Notes

Chapter 8 reveals that Dorian will choose to stifle his moral sense of responsibility in favor of pleasure. Wilde chooses to have Lord Henry go to Dorian the next morning when the news of Sibyl Vaneís death has been announced in the papers, rather than Basil Hallward. Lord Henry convinces Dorian that what has happened is not a tragedy at all, but a farce. He accomplishes this persuasive aim by the use of misogynist aphorisms (anti-woman statements). He decides by the end of the chapter that the strange magic of the portrait will be good for him. He will be able to ignore it as a conscience while enjoying his everlasting youth.


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