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


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It is 12:30 in the afternoon and Lord Henry Wotton is walking to his uncleís house. Lord Fermor had in his youth been secretary to his father, an ambassador to Madrid. When his father didnít get the ambassadorship of Paris, he quit in a huff and Lord Fermor quit with him. From them on Lord Fermor had spent his life devoted "to the serious study of the great aristocratic art of doing absolutely nothing." He pays some attention to the coal mines in the Midland counties, "excusing himself from the taint of industry on the ground that the one advantage of having coal was that I enabled a gentleman to afford the decency of burning wood on his own hearth."

Lord Henry is visiting him to find out what he knows about Dorian Grayís parents. He doesnít belong to the Bluebooks (the lists of English nobles), but he is Kelsoís grandson and his mother was Lady Margaret Devereux, an extraordinary beauty of her day. She married a penniless man and upset everyone in the process. Her husband died soon afterwards, killed in a duel set up by her father. She was pregnant. In childbirth, she died, leaving Dorian to grow up with his ruthless grandfather.

Lord Henry leaves from his uncleís and goes to his auntís house for lunch. He becomes engrossed in his thoughts about Dorian Grayís background. He decides he will dominate Dorian just as Dorian dominates Basil Hallward. When he gets to his auntís he is happy to see Dorian is at the table. He begins to regale his auntís guests with his hedonistic philosophy of life. He scorns the motives of philanthropy, which his aunt and most of her guests espouse, and carries on about the joys of the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. He is pleased to see that Dorian is fascinated by his speech. All of his auntís guests are, in fact, and he receives several invitations.

When lunch is over, he says he will go to the park for a stroll. Dorian asks to come along and begs him to keep talking. Lord Henry says he is finished talking and now he just wants to be and enjoy. Dorian wants to come anyway. Lord Henry reminds him he has an appointment with Basil Hallward. Dorian doesnít mind breaking it.


The third element of the triangular relationship among Basil Hallward, Dorian Gray, and Lord Henry is in this chapter fully established. Lord Henry decides to dominate Dorian Gray as Dorian Gray dominates Basil Hallward. The chapter is framed by this realization. It opens with Lord Henry walking to his aunt Agathaís house for lunch at which he knows he will see Dorian Gray. On that walk he decides he will work his strong influence on Dorian. At the lunch, Lord Henry charms everyone present with his Hedonistic philosophy, even those who are staunch supporters of philanthropy. He works his influence on them all with a view toward influencing Dorian Gray. The plan works. At the end of lunch, Dorian asks to accompany him on his walk through the park. He will stand up Basil Hallward, with whom he has an appointment.

The reader might be puzzled at the scorn that is heaped on charitable work in this chapter. Itís useful to look at the history of the nineteenth century to see what Oscar Wilde is responding to in this attack on philanthropy. For many years, England had dominated the world, invading countries like India, Africa, and China (not to mention America and Ireland) and taking over, establishing colonial regimes and enslaving the people of those lands or making subordinates of them. The end of the nineteenth century saw the decline of the British Empire. Colonized people began successfully to revolt and England began pulling out of these other lands.

Colonization had always been done in the pursuit of raw materials, cheap labor, and land, but the outright theft of other lands and peoples went against Englandís sense of itself as a Christian nation. Therefore, it needed a moral justification for colonizing other lands. That justification came in the form of a sense of moral superiority. The English were doing these colonized people a favor by brining them the light of a superior civilization, including a superior religion.

At the same time that justification was being built up, people were starving in the streets in England itself. The colonizers realized it was important to help those at home as well as "help" those abroad. Hence, the philanthropic societies of the late nineteenth century. Oscar Wilde was well aware that of the hypocrisy at the heart of much of the philanthropy of his time: workers were ruthlessly exploited, making possible the gourmet dinners of the philanthropic dinners put on for their benefit. The poor remained poor and the rich didnít feel quite as guilty.

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