The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde Summary and Analysis Chapter 10

Summary

For most of this chapter, Dorian is concerned with moving the portrait to an attic room where it will be safely hidden. He calls for Victor, his servant, who enters the room. It occurs to Dorian that the servant has had access to the portrait and may have looked behind the screen. He tells Victor to summon the housekeeper, Mrs. Leaf, and then to go to Mr. Hubbard, the frame maker, and ask him to send over two of his men.

From Mrs. Leaf, Dorian wants the key to his old schoolroom, a spacious attic area. Mrs. Leaf wants to clean the schoolroom before Dorian sees it; Dorian finally secures the key and sends Mrs. Leaf away. Dorian locates a piece of richly-colored fabric with which to cover the portrait. Ironically, the fabric previously had been used to cover coffins, and Dorian contemplates that it will now conceal the death and degeneration of the portrait. For a moment, he wonders if he should have confessed his secret to Basil after all and asked his assistance in escaping Lord Henry's influence. He realizes that Basil could have saved him from the sins he will surely commit, but he decides that it is "too late now." The future looks inevitably bleak to Dorian.

Dorian covers it just before Victor returns with the movers. Dorian is suspicious of Victor, worried that he may discover the secret of the portrait and blackmail him. He sends the servant on another errand to get him out of the house, carrying a note to Lord Henry requesting reading material and reminding his mentor of dinner plans that evening. Mr. Hubbard arrives with a rugged-looking assistant, and the two men carry the painting up the stairs to the schoolroom.

When Dorian reaches the attic, he is flooded with childhood memories and regrets having to leave the portrait there to decay. However, the attic is the most secure and private place for it because Dorian has the only key to the room. He briefly considers that his nature might improve and that the evil already lurking in his soul may pass. Even so, the portrait will age, and Dorian hates the hideousness of growing old. He continues with his plans to conceal the portrait.

After the movers leave, Dorian locks the door to the schoolroom and goes down to the library. Victor has already returned, leaving Dorian's tea and, from Lord Henry, a note, a well-worn book bound in yellow paper, and a newspaper. In the newspaper, Lord Henry has marked an article regarding the inquest into the death of Sibyl Vane. Dorian finds the article about Sibyl's death horribly ugly, and he frets that ugliness makes things seem too real. He is annoyed with Lord Henry for marking the article, which Victor may have noticed. Still, he reasons that he shouldn't worry about Victor reading the article because he did not kill the girl.

Dorian finds the book more interesting. He begins reading, and in a short time he is engrossed by it. The book tells a story in which the sins of the world seem to be passing in review before him. Fascinated by this novel with no plot and only one character, he reads until Victor reminds him of his appointment with Lord Henry. Finally, Dorian dresses for dinner.

When Dorian meets Lord Henry at the club, Lord Henry seems quietly pleased — and not at all surprised — that Dorian should like the book that he sent to him.

Analysis

Throughout the first half of this chapter, Dorian is fraught with paranoia and fear that Victor will discover the secret of the portrait. Continuing the theme that was established in the preceding chapter, Dorian isn't enjoying the life he has chosen — even though he craves it more than anything. Instead of a life of glorious exploration and passion, he spends his time scheming and worrying.

Dorian seals his commitment to a life of vanity and debauchery when he hides and locks the portrait in the attic schoolroom. He rationalizes that he might, in fact, become more virtuous and reverse the moral decay reflected in the picture, but even he seems to know that will never happen. He seems to be thoroughly infected with the cynicism that Lord Henry has shown throughout the book; Dorian has been a good student of his mentor. It is enough for Dorian that he would wither and age without the portrait. He cannot and will not destroy the picture or attempt to negate the Faustian contract, if only because of his obsession with youthful beauty.

The first ten chapters of the novel cover a time span of about a month after Dorian and Lord Henry meet. In that time, Lord Henry's influence increases, and Dorian changes significantly. As Basil points out, Dorian is not the innocent, well-meaning young man who first posed for him. With Lord Henry's encouragement, Dorian has become self-absorbed and cruel. At first, Dorian may not have been aware of the seriousness of his wish to remain youthful while the portrait aged. By the time that he hides the portrait in the attic, however, he has every reason to know the consequences. He knows that the pact will "breed horrors and yet will never die."

In this chapter, Dorian seems resigned to his fate. As in the Faust legends, the central character seems to feel beyond hope. According to the Faust legend, he could save himself if he would only repent and seek absolution. Dorian does consider turning to Basil, confessing, and seeking a more enlightened path. His ultimate decision, however, is not just based on despair. True to the Faust legend, he truly craves the benefits of the bargain.

Having chosen, Dorian immediately falls under the power of the "yellow book" sent by Lord Henry. It is well-worn, and the reader can assume that Lord Henry knows its contents and anticipates its effect on Dorian. Dorian is enthralled by the story and immediately adopts it as a blueprint for his life. Note that Wilde ironically chooses a book to provide the guidelines for Dorian's life of debauchery.

Wilde's devotion, even obsession, to his art is indicated by an incident regarding Chapter 10. Although Wilde affected the airs of a dilettante, he was industrious and productive. After submitting The Picture of Dorian Gray for proofreading, he went to France for a much-deserved break. His editors received a startling telegram from Paris: "Stop all proofs. Wilde." The author returned in person to change the name of one character. The picture framer in the tenth chapter originally was named "Ashton." Wilde had decided that "Ashton is a gentleman's name." He changed it to "Hubbard," which he felt was more fitting for a tradesman.

Glossary

placid calm, peaceful.

garrulous habitually talkative.

Bologna a city in northern Italy.

pall a cover for a coffin.

Michelangelo Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564), Italian painter, sculptor, architect, and poet.

Montaigne Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533–92), French author.

Winckelmann Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–68), German philosopher, archaeologist, and art historian.

annihilated completely destroyed.

inveterate firmly established by long standing; deep-rooted.

impecuniosity poverty.

genial having a friendly, pleasant disposition. obsequious here, complacently complying.

flaccid lacking firmness; lacking energy.

death by misadventure The phrase does not specify suicide but implies some degree of fault or responsibility.

argot specialized language used by a particular group.

Symbolistes French, meaning "Symbolists." The term refers to the literary and artistic movement begun by French poets in the nineteenth century that spread throughout Europe and America, influencing painting and drama; closely associated with Aestheticism, it advocated individual freedom even in themes of decay, ruin, and the bizarre.

wan unnaturally pale; weary; ill.

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