Study Guide

The Picture of Dorian Gray Youth

By Oscar Wilde

Youth

Chapter 2
Dorian Gray

"I know, now, that when one loses one's good looks, whatever they may be, one loses everything. Your picture has taught me that. Lord Henry Wotton is perfectly right. Youth is the only thing worth having. When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself."

Hallward turned pale and caught his hand. "Dorian! Dorian!" he cried, "don't talk like that. I have never had such a friend as you, and I shall never have such another. You are not jealous of material things, are you? -- you who are finer than any of them!"

"I am jealous of everything whose beauty does not die. I am jealous of the portrait you have painted of me. Why should it keep what I must lose? Every moment that passes takes something from me and gives something to it. Oh, if it were only the other way! If the picture could change, and I could be always what I am now! Why did you paint it? It will mock me some day -- mock me horribly!" The hot tears welled into his eyes; he tore his hand away and, flinging himself on the divan, he buried his face in the cushions, as though he was praying. (2.27-29)

Dorian is quickly won over by Lord Henry's argument, and he takes the implications of his inevitable aging really hard. We do have to wonder if this belief wasn't hiding somewhere down deep within Dorian himself – perhaps Lord Henry only helped it emerge.

Lord Henry Wotton

Yes, he was certainly wonderfully handsome, with his finely curved scarlet lips, his frank blue eyes, his crisp gold hair. There was something in his face that made one trust him at once. All the candour of youth was there, as well as all youth's passionate purity. One felt that he had kept himself unspotted from the world. No wonder Basil Hallward worshipped him. (2.2)

Youth and purity are tied inextricably here in Lord Henry's observations of Dorian; youth is clearly something to be idolized for these characters.

"Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly. Now, wherever you go, you charm the world. Will it always be so? . . . You have a wonderfully beautiful face, Mr. Gray. Don't frown. You have. And beauty is a form of genius -- is higher, indeed, than genius, as it needs no explanation. It is of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or spring-time, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it. You smile? Ah! when you have lost it you won't smile. . . . People say sometimes that beauty is only superficial. That may be so, but at least it is not so superficial as thought is. To me, beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible. . . . Yes, Mr. Gray, the gods have been good to you. But what the gods give they quickly take away. You have only a few years in which to live really, perfectly, and fully. When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it, and then you will suddenly discover that there are no triumphs left for you, or have to content yourself with those mean triumphs that the memory of your past will make more bitter than defeats. Every month as it wanes brings you nearer to something dreadful. Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed. You will suffer horribly.... Ah! realize your youth while you have it. Don't squander the gold of your days, listening to the tedious, trying to improve the hopeless failure, or giving away your life to the ignorant, the common, and the vulgar. These are the sickly aims, the false ideals, of our age. Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you! Let nothing be lost upon you. Be always searching for new sensations. Be afraid of nothing. . . . A new Hedonism -- that is what our century wants. You might be its visible symbol." (2.16)

Lord Henry certainly knows how to phrase his ideas strongly. Here, he basically comes out and warns Dorian that his life won't be worth living once he loses his youth – it's no surprise that the boy is suddenly struck with a new fear of age. We would be, too.

Chapter 8
Lord Henry Wotton

"Life has everything in store for you, Dorian. There is nothing that you, with your extraordinary good looks, will not be able to do."

"But suppose, Harry, I became haggard, and old, and wrinkled? What then?"

"Ah, then," said Lord Henry, rising to go, "then, my dear Dorian, you would have to fight for your victories. As it is, they are brought to you. No, you must keep your good looks. We live in an age that reads too much to be wise, and that thinks too much to be beautiful. We cannot spare you." (8.19)

Again, we see the importance of youth emerge as an important theme – Lord Henry emphasizes how valuable it is, and how it spares Dorian from the difficulties of life. We don't exactly blame Dorian for thinking that his youth is more valuable than anything else – his best friend certainly seems to think that's true.

Dorian Gray

For there would be a real pleasure in watching it. He would be able to follow his mind into its secret places. This portrait would be to him the most magical of mirrors. As it had revealed to him his own body, so it would reveal to him his own soul. And when winter came upon it, he would still be standing where spring trembles on the verge of summer. When the blood crept from its face, and left behind a pallid mask of chalk with leaden eyes, he would keep the glamour of boyhood. Not one blossom of his loveliness would ever fade. Not one pulse of his life would ever weaken. Like the gods of the Greeks, he would be strong, and fleet, and joyous. What did it matter what happened to the coloured image on the canvas? He would be safe. That was everything. (8.25)

Dorian's eternal youth seems assured now, and it allows him to relax. We can see just how warped his perspective is from this moment – he values youth and beauty above the health of his soul, and even thinks he'll take pleasure in watching the latter crumble.

Chapter 10
Dorian Gray

He had the key, and no one else could enter it. Beneath its purple pall, the face painted on the canvas could grow bestial, sodden, and unclean. What did it matter? No one could see it. He himself would not see it. Why should he watch the hideous corruption of his soul? He kept his youth -- that was enough. And, besides, might not his nature grow finer, after all? There was no reason that the future should be so full of shame. Some love might come across his life, and purify him, and shield him from those sins that seemed to be already stirring in spirit and in flesh -- those curious unpictured sins whose very mystery lent them their subtlety and their charm. Perhaps, some day, the cruel look would have passed away from the scarlet sensitive mouth, and he might show to the world Basil Hallward's masterpiece. (10.13)

For a moment, Dorian feels the optimism that comes with the prospect of eternal youth – not only does he get to remain beautiful, he also has infinite time to change and improve himself. Unfortunately, this moment of hope doesn't last.

Chapter 11
Dorian Gray

Of such insolences and attempted slights he, of course, took no notice, and in the opinion of most people his frank debonair manner, his charming boyish smile, and the infinite grace of that wonderful youth that seemed never to leave him, were in themselves a sufficient answer to the calumnies, for so they termed them, that were circulated about him. It was remarked, however, that some of those who had been most intimate with him appeared, after a time, to shun him. Women who had wildly adored him, and for his sake had braved all social censure and set convention at defiance, were seen to grow pallid with shame or horror if Dorian Gray entered the room. (11.30)

Dorian's appearance of youth and innocence continues to protect him, despite the terrible rumors that surround him and the evidence against his character.

In one point he was more fortunate than the novel's fantastic hero. He never knew -- never, indeed, had any cause to know -- that somewhat grotesque dread of mirrors, and polished metal surfaces, and still water which came upon the young Parisian so early in his life, and was occasioned by the sudden decay of a beau that had once, apparently, been so remarkable. It was with an almost cruel joy -- and perhaps in nearly every joy, as certainly in every pleasure, cruelty has its place -- that he used to read the latter part of the book, with its really tragic, if somewhat overemphasized, account of the sorrow and despair of one who had himself lost what in others, and the world, he had most dearly valued. (11.2)

Even after all that Dorian's been through, his youth is still what he "most dearly valued" – since it's really the only thing he has, it grows more and more important to him.

Chapter 16
Dorian Gray

[…] the face of the man he had sought to kill had all the bloom of boyhood, all the unstained purity of youth. He seemed little more than a lad of twenty summers, hardly older, if older indeed at all, than his sister had been when they had parted so many years ago. It was obvious that this was not the man who had destroyed her life. (16.32)

Lucky Dorian – yet again, his magically preserved youth saves his neck, this time from a vengeful James Vane.

Chapter 19
Lord Henry Wotton

"To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early, or be respectable. Youth! There is nothing like it. It's absurd to talk of the ignorance of youth. The only people to whose opinions I listen now with any respect are people much younger than myself. They seem in front of me. Life has revealed to them her latest wonder. As for the aged, I always contradict the aged. I do it on principle. If you ask them their opinion on something that happened yesterday, they solemnly give you the opinions current in 1820, when people wore high stocks, believed in everything, and knew absolutely nothing." (19.9)

Even to the end, Lord Henry continues to extol the virtues of youth – but we know from Dorian's experience that it's not all it's cut out to be. While we, like him, were somewhat swayed by the seductive idea of eternal youth in the beginning, we can now see through Lord Henry's creed – it's actually a foolish wish.

Chapter 20
Dorian Gray

"Then he loathed his own beauty, and flinging the mirror on the floor, crushed it into silver splinters beneath his heel. It was his beauty that had ruined him, his beauty and the youth that he had prayed for. But for those two things, his life might have been free from stain. His beauty had been to him but a mask, his youth but a mockery. What was youth at best? A green, an unripe time, a time of shallow moods, and sickly thoughts. Why had he worn its livery? Youth had spoiled him." (20.5)

Ah – finally, Dorian realizes that his insatiable desire for eternal youth is a foolish one. After all, his youth was just an illusion, and he used it for evil, time and time again.