Study Guide

The Picture of Dorian Gray Chapter 4

By Oscar Wilde

Chapter 4

  • A month later, we find Dorian hanging out alone at Lord Henry's house in Mayfair, a ritzy London neighborhood. He's waiting for Lord Henry, who's always (intentionally) late.
  • For the first time, Dorian encounters the other Wotton—Lord Henry's shrill wife, Victoria.
  • Lady Victoria is a totally ridiculous creature; she tries to be stylish, but just ends up looking foolish. Unlike her husband, she has no appreciation for art, or any of the finer things in life; instead, she's totally shallow.
  • Fortunately, Lord Henry arrives to save Dorian from his wife. Once she's gone, Henry tells Dorian never to get married (we can understand why!).
  • Dorian tells Henry that he'll never get married—after all, he's too much in love.
  • This is big news. Henry wants to know all the details, and Dorian obliges.
  • Dorian's flame is an actress named Sibyl Vane—he claims she's a genius, even though Henry says irritatingly that women can't be geniuses.
  • Ignoring Henry's misogyny, Dorian goes on with his story. He first discovered Sibyl three weeks ago; it actually all started with Lord Henry himself, who got Dorian thinking about all the different people out there in London, whose lives all fascinated the boy all of a sudden. As he was wandering around the city one day, he stumbled upon a sketchy little theatre, where a Jewish manager (described in grossly anti-Semitic terms we won't replicate here) lures him inside. There, he finds what he calls "the greatest romance of [his] life."
  • Here, Henry interjects—Dorian's too young to identify this relationship in such hyperbolic terms, and should remember that he'll always be loved, and that this is just the beginning. Only loving one person is simply too dull for Henry, and he thinks the same is true for Dorian.
  • Dorian continues. In the tacky, dingy theatre, he discovers that the play is Romeo and Juliet. The actors, for the most part, are miserable, unattractive, and untalented.
  • However, Juliet is a different story. The actress playing her is the most beautiful thing Dorian has ever seen—she's just seventeen, and she's so beautiful it brings tears to Dorian's eyes. Her voice is so thrilling it even gives Lord Henry's gorgeous pipes a run for their money.
  • Sibyl Vane (for that's her name) totally fascinates Dorian, and he's amazed by how she changes into a different person with every role she plays. He raves over how great it is to be in love with an actress.
  • Lord Henry immediately shoots him down cynically, asking what exactly the deal is between Dorian and Sibyl. To put it bluntly, are they getting it on?
  • Dorian is appalled at his friend's crudity, and exclaims that Sibyl is sacred—again, Henry doesn't buy this argument.
  • Back to the story—after the play is over, the manager tries to convince Dorian to come backstage and meet Sibyl, but he refuses.
  • Dorian returns to the theatre the next night, and the next. Finally, he feels ready to go and meet her.
  • In real life, Sibyl is a complete innocent; she doesn't even realize how talented she is. She falls for Dorian immediately, and dubs him "Prince Charming."
  • We find out that every night since then, Dorian has gone to see Sibyl act. Henry peevishly comments that this explains why Dorian hasn't been paying him enough attention recently (though in fact they see each other every day).
  • Henry asks Dorian to dinner, but instead, Dorian insists that he has to go see Sibyl perform again. Dorian is in a fit of excitement—Henry notices that something has blossomed within his young friend.
  • Dorian asks Henry to come to the theatre with Basil one night to see Sibyl. He intends to rescue her from the dreadful place she's performing in, and set her up at a posh theatre in the West End (London's equivalent of Broadway).
  • The friends set their dinner and theatre date for the next day, then digress slightly to talk of Basil—ever since he's been chilling with Henry, Dorian finds Basil a little lacking.
  • Dorian rushes off to the theatre in a tizzy, and Henry stays at home, pondering the wonders of human nature… specifically Dorian's. He muses that Dorian is really his creation, since Henry's influence made the boy what he is now.
  • Henry goes on to coldly evaluate his "experiment" with Dorian's personality—there's something rather chilling in the way Henry looks at Dorian as a kind of lab rat, through whom he's trying to figure out the workings of the human soul and body.
  • Finally, Henry gets ready to go out for the evening; as he leaves, he thinks again about Dorian's splendid life, and wonders ominously how it will end.
  • When Henry gets home that night, he finds a telegram with the news that Dorian and Sibyl are engaged.