Study Guide

The Picture of Dorian Gray Transformation

By Oscar Wilde

Transformation

Chapter 1
Basil Hallward

"[…] the work I have done, since I met Dorian Gray, is good work, is the best work of my life. But in some curious way -- I wonder will you understand me? -- his personality has suggested to me an entirely new manner in art, an entirely new mode of style. I see things differently, I think of them differently. I can now recreate life in a way that was hidden from me before. 'A dream of form in days of thought' -- who is it who says that? I forget; but it is what Dorian Gray has been to me. The merely visible presence of this lad -- for he seems to me little more than a lad, though he is really over twenty -- his merely visible presence -- ah! I wonder can you realize all that that means? Unconsciously he defines for me the lines of a fresh school, a school that is to have in it all the passion of the romantic spirit, all the perfection of the spirit that is Greek. The harmony of soul and body -- how much that is! We in our madness have separated the two, and have invented a realism that is vulgar, an ideality that is void. Harry! if you only knew what Dorian Gray is to me!" (1.20)

Dorian brings about a dramatic transformation in Basil's artwork – his personality is the catalyst to Basil's new understanding of the world. Basil's personal development is exactly in line with his artistic development. Everything, to him, is art.

Chapter 2
Lord Henry Wotton

Yes; there had been things in his boyhood that he had not understood. He understood them now. Life suddenly became fiery-coloured to him. It seemed to him that he had been walking in fire. Why had he not known it?

With his subtle smile, Lord Henry watched him. He knew the precise psychological moment when to say nothing. He felt intensely interested. He was amazed at the sudden impression that his words had produced, and, remembering a book that he had read when he was sixteen, a book which had revealed to him much that he had not known before, he wondered whether Dorian Gray was passing through a similar experience. He had merely shot an arrow into the air. Had it hit the mark? How fascinating the lad was! (2.11-12)

Lord Henry's cold interest in Dorian's moment of revelation has a certain scientific quality to it; he seems to want to simply find out what will happen to Dorian if he introduces certain ideas to him. Changing Dorian is just a kind of experiment to Henry.

Lord Henry went out to the garden and found Dorian Gray burying his face in the great cool lilac-blossoms, feverishly drinking in their perfume as if it had been wine. He came close to him and put his hand upon his shoulder. "You are quite right to do that," he murmured. "Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul."

The lad started and drew back. He was bare-headed, and the leaves had tossed his rebellious curls and tangled all their gilded threads. There was a look of fear in his eyes, such as people have when they are suddenly awakened. His finely chiselled nostrils quivered, and some hidden nerve shook the scarlet of his lips and left them trembling.

"Yes," continued Lord Henry, "that is one of the great secrets of life -- to cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul. You are a wonderful creation. You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know." (2.14-15)

Here, we see Dorian on the cusp of a new discovery. Lord Henry's words have awakened a new kind of fascination and desire for knowledge in him. Where he was blissfully ignorant and innocent just a few moments ago, he is now filled with an unsettling new feeling.

Chapter 6
Basil Hallward

A strange sense of loss came over him. He felt that Dorian Gray would never again be to him all that he had been in the past. Life had come between them.... His eyes darkened, and the crowded flaring streets became blurred to his eyes. When the cab drew up at the theatre, it seemed to him that he had grown years older. (6.10)

Basil recognizes the changes that have come over Dorian before things even really start happening. He's incredibly sensitive to any difference in the object of his idolatry.

Chapter 7
Dorian Gray

Suddenly there flashed across his mind what he had said in Basil Hallward's studio the day the picture had been finished. Yes, he remembered it perfectly. He had uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain young, and the portrait grow old; that his own beauty might be untarnished, and the face on the canvas bear the burden of his passions and his sins; that the painted image might be seared with the lines of suffering and thought, and that he might keep all the delicate bloom and loveliness of his then just conscious boyhood. Surely his wish had not been fulfilled? Such things were impossible. It seemed monstrous even to think of them. And, yet, there was the picture before him, with the touch of cruelty in the mouth. (7.29)

Dorian's moral transformation begins to demonstrate itself in the portrait for the first time here. At this early stage, it acts as a kind of conscience for him, and he realizes that he has terribly wronged Sibyl.

Chapter 8
Dorian Gray

As soon as he had left, he rushed to the screen and drew it back. No; there was no further change in the picture. It had received the news of Sibyl Vane's death before he had known of it himself. It was conscious of the events of life as they occurred. The vicious cruelty that marred the fine lines of the mouth had, no doubt, appeared at the very moment that the girl had drunk the poison, whatever it was. Or was it indifferent to results? Did it merely take cognizance of what passed within the soul? He wondered, and hoped that some day he would see the change taking place before his very eyes, shuddering as he hoped it. (8.21)

Dorian's transformation, instead of disturbing him anymore, now fascinates him – he wants to see it happen before his eyes.

As he often remembered afterwards, and always with no small wonder, he found himself at first gazing at the portrait with a feeling of almost scientific interest. That such a change should have taken place was incredible to him. And yet it was a fact. Was there some subtle affinity between the chemical atoms that shaped themselves into form and colour on the canvas and the soul that was within him? Could it be that what that soul thought, they realized? -- that what it dreamed, they made true? Or was there some other, more terrible reason? He shuddered, and felt afraid, and, going back to the couch, lay there, gazing at the picture in sickened horror.

One thing, however, he felt that it had done for him. It had made him conscious how unjust, how cruel, he had been to Sibyl Vane. It was not too late to make reparation for that. She could still be his wife. His unreal and selfish love would yield to some higher influence, would be transformed into some nobler passion, and the portrait that Basil Hallward had painted of him would be a guide to him through life, would be to him what holiness is to some, and conscience to others, and the fear of God to us all. There were opiates for remorse, drugs that could lull the moral sense to sleep. But here was a visible symbol of the degradation of sin. Here was an ever-present sign of the ruin men brought upon their souls. (8.10-11)

The transformation evident here isn't just in Dorian's portrait – it's in his attitude. Already, he's adopted the pseudo-scientific coldness of Lord Henry, even while pondering this mystery of his own corruption. We have to wonder if it's already too late for Dorian, even at this early stage.

Chapter 9
Dorian Gray

"To become the spectator of one's own life, as Harry says, is to escape the suffering of life. I know you are surprised at my talking to you like this. You have not realized how I have developed. I was a schoolboy when you knew me. I am a man now. I have new passions, new thoughts, new ideas. I am different, but you must not like me less. I am changed, but you must always be my friend. Of course, I am very fond of Harry. But I know that you are better than he is. You are not stronger -- you are too much afraid of life -- but you are better. And how happy we used to be together! Don't leave me, Basil, and don't quarrel with me. I am what I am. There is nothing more to be said." (9.17)

Dorian doesn't just realize that he's changed, he's glad that he has. He seems to think that he has somehow evolved into a better Dorian, and he's unashamed of his "new passions, new thoughts, new ideas.

Chapter 13
Basil Hallward

An exclamation of horror broke from the painter's lips as he saw in the dim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning at him. There was something in its expression that filled him with disgust and loathing. Good heavens! it was Dorian Gray's own face that he was looking at! The horror, whatever it was, had not yet entirely spoiled that marvellous beauty. There was still some gold in the thinning hair and some scarlet on the sensual mouth. The sodden eyes had kept something of the loveliness of their blue, the noble curves had not yet completely passed away from chiselled nostrils and from plastic throat. Yes, it was Dorian himself. But who had done it? He seemed to recognize his own brush-work, and the frame was his own design. The idea was monstrous, yet he felt afraid. He seized the lighted candle, and held it to the picture. In the left-hand corner was his own name, traced in long letters of bright vermilion.

It was some foul parody, some infamous ignoble satire. He had never done that. Still, it was his own picture. He knew it, and he felt as if his blood had changed in a moment from fire to sluggish ice. His own picture! What did it mean? Why had it altered? (13.5-6)

Finally, Basil comes face to painted face with Dorian's real soul, and, finally, he sees what he's been denying all along. His horror and shock are those of betrayal; he'd believed in Dorian all these years, only to find that all the rumors are true – Dorian has become a monster.