Summary and Analysis
While Dorian breakfasts the next morning, Basil arrives, upset about Sibyl's death and concerned for Dorian. Basil had come by Dorian's home the night before but was told that Dorian was at the opera. Basil cannot believe that Dorian could have gone to the opera so soon after Sibyl's suicide, and he is concerned that "one tragedy might be followed by another."
Dorian is bored and indifferent about Sybil. He tells Basil that Sibyl's mother has a son but that he has no idea how the woman is faring. Beyond that, he wants no more talk of "horrid subjects." Instead, he asks about Basil's paintings.
Basil is astonished at Dorian's indifference. He asks Dorian how he could attend the opera while Sibyl Vane lay dead but not yet buried. Dorian tries to interrupt. Echoing his mentor, Lord Henry, he observes that a person who is "master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure."
Basil continues, saying that Dorian's attitude is "horrible." He accuses Dorian of having no heart and blames the change in Dorian on Lord Henry's influence.
Dorian retorts that he owes "a great deal" to Lord Henry, more than he owes to Basil, who "only taught me to be vain." Basil sadly responds, "Well, I am punished for that, Dorian — or shall be some day," a major foreshadowing of events to come in the novel.
Basil is even more distraught when he learns that Sibyl's death was a suicide. Dorian, however, again echoes Lord Henry by calling Sibyl's death "one of the great romantic tragedies of the age." Besides, Dorian points out, he did grieve; however, he recalls, it soon passed. He repeats a self-serving anecdote about his own life and concedes that he has indeed changed. He admits that Basil may be "better" than Lord Henry, but the latter is stronger. Basil, he concludes, is too afraid of life.
The subject turns to art. Dorian asks Basil to make a drawing of Sibyl, and Basil agrees to try making the portrait. More importantly, he asks Dorian to sit for him again. That would be impossible, says Dorian. Basil then asks to see the portrait because he now plans to exhibit it in Paris.
Dorian is horrified that Basil wants to exhibit the portrait; he fears that his secret would be revealed to the whole world. Dorian reminds Basil of his promise never to exhibit the portrait and asks why he has changed his mind. Basil explains that he didn't want to exhibit the portrait for fear that others might see his feelings for Dorian in it. Since that time, he has come to the conclusion that "art conceals the artist far more completely than it ever reveals him," and that he doesn't fear others seeing the portrait. Basil finally agrees not to exhibit the portrait and leaves.
At the end of the chapter, Dorian marvels at how he was spared from telling his own secret and, instead, managed to manipulate his friend into telling his secret. He vows to keep the portrait hidden away forever.
Wilde uses this chapter to continue his character development of both Basil and Dorian. Basil shows himself to be a decent, caring human being who is as concerned for Sibyl and her mother as he is for Dorian. Unlike Lord Henry, he does not encourage Dorian to turn away from the girl's death or treat it like some entertaining fantasy. In a moment of heightened irony, Dorian accuses Basil of being "too much afraid of life." In fact, Dorian is afraid that Basil will see the portrait and thus learn of his secret pact.
As for Dorian, he shows himself to be fully immersed in his new life of selfishness and manipulation. For example, when Dorian learns of Basil's strange admiration for him, an admiration that has obviously had a major impact on Basil, Dorian is simply pleased to be adored by Basil. As he wonders if he will ever feel that way toward someone, it becomes evident that he already does — while he respects Lord Henry, Dorian only adores himself. When he gets Basil to admit his secret without having to reveal his own, he feels pleasure at having manipulated the situation so completely to his own advantage. His decision at the end of the chapter to hide the painting reveals his commitment to a life of vanity and self-gratification.
Wilde also shows the reader the tension that Dorian feels about keeping his pact a secret. Dorian becomes gripped with raging fear when he hears that Basil wants to see the painting and to show it to others — he is so afraid that he actually breaks into a sweat. Dorian's fear points to an important theme in the book: A life devoted solely to the pursuit of selfish pleasure will always be marred by self-con-scious fear. Dorian has what he wants — eternal youth and a life filled with pleasure — but he can't fully enjoy his life for fear that his secret will be discovered. Dorian's fear in this chapter is the first sign that Dorian's new life will be a study in disappointment.
Readers should note that this chapter contains several ironic allusions that become important later in the story. For example, Dorian makes a fleeting and flippant reference about Sibyl's brother; when Dorian mentions James, the reader is reminded of the brother's promise to kill anyone who harms Sybil. The repeated references to the brother remind the reader of his presence and foreshadow his later reemergence in the book. As the novel progresses, the reader also will see the irony in Dorian's statement that he would turn to Basil in a time of trouble.
martyr one who suffers death rather than compromise principles; one who sacrifices greatly.
philanthropist one who attempts to benefit mankind through charitable aid.
ennui French, "boredom."
misanthrope a person who scorns or hates mankind.
Gautier Théophile Gautier (1811–72), French poet and critic.
la consolation des arts French, "the consolation of the arts."
pallid ashen, or pale.
Paris in Greek mythology, the son of King Priam of Troy and his wife, Hecuba; his choice of Helen as the winner of a beauty contest, and his refusal to return her, caused the Trojan War; later, he shot the arrow that caused the death of Achilles.
Adonis in Greek mythology, a youth of astonishing beauty, favored by the goddess of love, Aphrodite.
Adrian Publius Aelius Hadrianus (76–138 A.D.), popularly known as Hadrian, or Adrian, Roman emperor (117–38 A.D.); had strong ties to Egypt and lost a close friend to drowning in the Nile.