The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde Summary and Analysis Chapter 6

Summary

This transitional chapter is one of the shortest in the book: It encapsulates what has happened already and anticipates what is to follow.

The setting for the chapter is a small private dining room at the Bristol. Lord Henry greets Basil as he enters and then immediately asks if he has heard that Dorian is engaged to be married. Basil is stunned but asks to whom. Lord Henry responds with the unflattering explanation, "To some little actress or other."

Basil is genuinely upset by the news of Dorian's engagement. At first, he is incredulous, stating that Dorian is much too sensible to do such a foolish thing. Lord Henry, with a typically paradoxical aphorism, says, "Dorian is far too wise not to do foolish things now and then, dear Basil." He adds that Dorian is engaged, not married; that the girl apparently is beautiful, which Lord Henry views as one of the highest virtues, and that he himself does not approve or disapprove of this situation or any other. Lord Henry explains that life is not for making such judgments. Every experience is of some worth, he suggests, and Dorian may be more interesting even if he does marry — provided, of course, that he finds a good mistress in six months or so. The problem with marriage is that it often makes people unselfish, according to Lord Henry, and unselfish people lose their individuality. The purpose of life is to know oneself. Marriage may get in the way of that, but it does not have to.

When Dorian arrives, he is giddy with love. The previous night, Sibyl played Rosalind (in Shakespeare's As You Like It) and was mesmerizing as she transported Dorian from the dingy London theatre into the world of the play.

Backstage after the performance, the lovers unexpectedly kissed, and Sibyl, trembling, fell to her knees and kissed Dorian's hands. They are engaged — and will marry even if Dorian must wait until he is of legal age in less than a year. Significantly, Dorian ends his recollection by stating, almost boasting, that he has embraced Rosalind and "kissed Juliet on the mouth," repeating his identification of Sibyl with the characters that she plays.

Basil is overwhelmed. Lord Henry, on the other hand, behaves like a shrewd lawyer and asks at what specific point the word "marriage" was mentioned. It is his contention that women usually introduce the term, however subtly, when things get sufficiently cozy. In short, women propose to men even though the man may not realize it.

In this case, apparently he is right. Dorian is upset at the insinuation and asserts that it was not a "business transaction." True, there had been no formal proposal. He told the girl that he loved her, and she responded that she was "not worthy to be my wife." To Sibyl, the situation was tantamount to a proposal to her. Dorian goes so far as to state that he regrets everything that Lord Henry has taught him. Certainly Lord Henry's cynical, egocentric world is no place for Sibyl. In a statement of one of the major themes of the novel, Lord Henry submits that being in harmony with oneself is a key to life, echoing the tenet of Aestheticism that calls for the individual to make of his own life a work of art.

It is time to leave for the theatre. Lord Henry and Dorian leave together, as they did at the end of Chapter 2; Basil follows them separately in another carriage. The artist feels that Dorian will never be the same to him again.

Glossary

Messalina third wife of Claudius I of Rome (10 B.C.–54 A.D.); she was noted for lascivious behavior.

narcissus This narrow-leafed plant with its white or yellow, trumpet-shaped blossom, is an apt flower for Dorian to adore. It is named for Narcissus of Greek mythology, a young man who spurned the attentions of Echo and fell in love with his own image in a pool of water; he was turned into the flower.

Arden a forest in As You Like It, in which Sibyl performed the previous night.

Verona a city in northeastern Italy, the setting for Romeo and Juliet, in which Sibyl will perform that night.

prig a person who is overly precise, arrogant, or smug.

brougham a four-wheeled, closed carriage with an open driver's seat in front.

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