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

 

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PLOT SYNOPSIS


CHAPTER 11


Summary

For years afterwards, Dorian Gray continues to feel the influence of the book Lord Henry gave him. He gets more copies of the book from Paris and has them bound in different colors. He thinks of the book as containing the story of his life. He feels himself lucky to be different from the novelís hero in respect to aging. While the novelís hero bemoans his loss of youthful beauty, Dorian Gray never loses his youth. He reads the passages over and over again reveling in his difference from the hero in this respect.

People in his social circle often hear dreadful things about Dorian Gray, but when they look at him and see his fresh, young looks, they dismiss the rumors as impossible. Dorian is often gone from home for long periods of time and never tells anyone where he has gone. He always returns home and goes straight upstairs to see the portraitís changes. He grows more and more in love with his own beauty. He spends much time in a sordid tavern near the docks and thinks with pity of the degradation he has brought on his soul. Most of the time, though, he doesnít think of his soul. He has "mad hungers that [grow] more ravenous as he [feeds] them."

He entertains once or twice a month with such lavish fare and such exquisite furnishings that he becomes the most popular of Londonís young men. He is admired by all the men who see him as a type of man who combines the real culture of a scholar with the grace of a citizen of the world. He lives his life as if it were an art work. His style of dressing sets the standard of all the fashionable shops.

He worships the senses in many different forms. He lives the new Hedonism, that Lord Henry has told him of. He enjoys the service of the Catholic Church for its ritual and its pathos. Yet, he never embraces any creed or system of thought because he refuses to arrest his intellectual development. He studies new perfumes and experiments with them endlessly. He devotes himself for long periods to the study of all kinds of musical forms from all over the world. He even studies the stories written about the music, the stories of magic and death. He takes of the study of jewels for a while, collecting rare and precious jewels from all over the world for the pleasure of looking at them and feeling them. He collects stories about jewels as part of animals and stories of jewels which caused death and destruction. For a time, he studies embroideries of all sorts and the stories that attach to them. He collects embroideries and tapestries from all over the world. He especially loves ecclesiastical vestments. The beautiful things he collects are part of his methods of forgetfulness. He wants to escape the fear that sometimes seems to overwhelm him.


After some years, he becomes unable to leave London for any purpose because he cannot bear to be away from the portrait for any length of time. Often when heís out with friends, he breaks off and rushes home to see if the portrait is still where it should be and to ensure that no one has tampered with the door. He develops a desperate fear that someone might steal the portrait and then everyone would know about him.

Most people are fascinated with Dorian Gray, but some people are distrustful of him. He is almost banned from two clubs. He is ostracized by some prominent men. People begin to tell curious stories about him hanging around with foreign sailors in run down pubs and interacting with thieves and coiners. People talk about his strange absences. He never takes notice of these looks people give him. Most of them see his boyish smile and canít imagine that the stories could be true. Yet the stories remain. Sometime people notice women, who at one time adored him, blanch when he walks in a room in shame or horror. To most people, the stories only increase his mysterious charm. According to Lord Henry, society doesnít care about morality in its aristocratic members, only good manners.

Dorian Gray canít imagine why people reduce human beings to a single, "simple, permanent, reliable essence." For Dorian, people enjoy myriad lives and sensations; they change radically from time to time. Dorian likes to look at the portrait gallery of his country house. He wonders about his ancestors and how their blood co-mingled with his own. He looks at Lady Elizabeth Devereaux in her extraordinary beauty and realizes her legacy to him is in his beauty and in his love of all that is beautiful.

He also thinks of his ancestors as being in literature he has read. These characters have influenced him more even than his family members have. The hero of the central novel of his life has certainly been his greatest influence. He also loves to think of all the evil heroes about whom he has read: Caligula, Filippo, Due of Milan, Pietro Barbi, the Borgia, and many more. He feels a "horrible fascination" with all of them. He knows he has been poisoned by the French Symboliste book. He thinks of evil as nothing more than a mode of experiencing the beautiful.


Notes

Chapter 11 is a sort of "time passes" chapter. It covers several years in Dorian Grayís life, summarizing his series of aesthetic interests from fine embroidery to the collection of exquisite jewels, and hinting at his debaucheries. The final sentence of the chapter encapsulates the ethos of Dorian Grayís pursuit of the beautiful: "There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful." It seems that in dismissing the deal of Sibyl Vane as nothing more than a playing out of the aesthetic (the beautiful) in life, as nothing to do with his own culpability, he has turned his back completely on the idea of goodness. Dorianís pursuit of the beautiful in life becomes a pursuit of the aesthetics of evil.

Yet, Dorian remains tied to the portrait to the extent that he canít leave London any more even for traveling. The portrait image grows old and ugly and he remains beautiful and innocent-looking. His greatest fear becomes the possibility that the portrait will be stolen. Dorian seems to believe that it is only the portraitís degradation that allows him carte blanche to continue cutting himself off from moral constraints.


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