The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde Summary and Analysis Chapters 12-13

Summary

It is the evening before Dorian's thirty-eighth birthday, and he has dined with Lord Henry. Around eleven o'clock, wrapped in furs against the cold, he walks through the heavy fog toward home. Basil passes him on the street from the opposite direction. Dorian, not eager to encounter the old friend, continues toward his house; Basil, however, turns and quickly catches up.

Basil plans to leave for Paris, catching a night train to the English Channel. He feels fortunate to find Dorian since he must talk with him and has been waiting for him at Dorian's home. Dorian and Basil go to Dorian's home.

Basil, discussing Dorian's reputation, notes that horrible things are being said about his young friend. Dorian's friendship seems destructive or even fatal to very young men: One committed suicide; another was forced to leave England with a "tarnished name"; a third found a "dreadful end"; a fourth lost his career; a fifth lost his social standing.

Dorian responds with contempt. He is interested only in the scandals of others; his own so-called scandals lack "the charm of novelty." He answers that he is not responsible for the flaws of his acquaintances.

Basil persists. Dorian's effect on his friends speaks for itself. He has "filled them with a madness for pleasure." Then there is Lady Gwendolyn, Lord Henry's sister. Prior to knowing Dorian, "not a breath of scandal had ever touched her." Now, no decent lady will even drive in the park with her. The list goes on. Dorian has been seen sneaking out of "dreadful houses" and visiting "the foulest dens" in London.

Basil wants to hear Dorian deny the accusations against him. Basil says that he can't believe the rumors when he sees Dorian's innocent and pure face. However, he needs to know the truth, to see Dorian's soul; but, as Basil says, only God can do that.

Dorian laughs bitterly at Basil's preaching. He agrees to allow Basil to see his soul — the portrait. Mad with pride, he tells Basil that no one will believe it if Basil should tell them what he sees, or they will simply admire Dorian the more. He leads Basil up the stairs to see the portrait.

In the attic schoolroom, Dorian challenges Basil: "So you think it is only God who sees the soul, Basil? Draw the curtain back, and you will see mine." Basil hesitates, and Dorian tears the curtain from its rod and flings it to the floor. Basil is horrified to see the hideous face in the painting with its evil grin. The face is recognizable as Dorian's, but it is aged and corrupt. Basil is overcome by "disgust and loathing" and asks Dorian to explain what the image in the portrait means.

Dorian recalls the wish that he made that fateful day in Basil's studio, and Basil is horrified and incredulous. Basil tries to rationalize the change in the portrait: Mildew has transformed the portrait, or perhaps the paints were fouled. Besides, Dorian had told him that he destroyed the painting. Dorian corrects him: "I was wrong. It has destroyed me." He bitterly asks if Basil can still see his "ideal" in the portrait. It is, after all, the face of Dorian's soul.

Basil is overcome with the ugliness of the portrait and collapses in a chair. He implores Dorian to pray, pointing out that if Dorian's previous prayer of pride was answered, surely his prayer of repentance will be, too.

Dorian's eyes fill with tears, and he is momentarily filled with despair. "It is too late, Basil," he answers. Basil pleads that it is never too late. They must repent; he, too, is guilty, but they can still be forgiven.

At that moment, Dorian looks at the portrait, and it seems to send him a command. An "uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Hallward" overwhelms him. He grabs a knife lying on a nearby chest and plunges it into a large vein behind Basil's ear. He stabs his old friend repeatedly, and after a brief struggle, Basil is dead.

Quietly Dorian returns to the library and hides Basil's bag and coat in a secret closet where he keeps his disguises. Collecting his thoughts, he realizes that many men are hanged for what he has just done. However, there is little evidence against him. Basil had the odd habit of disappearing without telling people where he was going, and people will think he has gone to Paris. Feeling no remorse, Dorian quickly thinks of a plan to disguise his actions.

Carefully he leaves the house, taking care to avoid the notice of a policeman on the street. Then he turns and rings his own doorbell. It takes nearly five minutes for Francis, the valet, to answer. Dorian establishes an alibi by checking the time with Francis: ten past two in the morning. He asks if anyone visited in his absence. Francis says that Mr. Hallward stayed until eleven, when he left to catch his train. Dorian asks to be wakened at nine in the morning, and Francis shuffles back to bed.

Dorian reflects on the situation in the library. The chapter ends as Dorian takes down a directory and locates a name and address: Alan Campbell, 152, Hertford Street, Mayfair.

Analysis

Ever the playwright, Wilde divides this climactic action into two chapters in order to create a dramatic pause before the men ascend the staircase to view the portrait. Chapter 12 serves only to bring the two characters together and set up the critical events in Chapter 13.

The three key events in Chapter 13 build to a dramatic climax just as they might on the stage. The first event is the shocking unveiling of the portrait. Unlike Lord Henry — and now — Dorian, Basil is a relatively unassuming, decent man. He has come to see Dorian because he is genuinely concerned about his young friend who has built quite a chilling reputation for himself in the past eighteen years. Basil wants to be told that the rumors about Dorian are wrong; his motivations for confronting Dorian are entirely selfless and honest. When he sees the painting, the sin it reveals leaves Basil shaken.

The second key event in Chapter 13 — Basil's asking Dorian to absolve his sins — is an essential ingredient in the Faust theme. Realizing what has taken place with the portrait and Dorian's life, and feeling some guilt for his own involvement, Basil pleads with Dorian to let go of his pride and pray for absolution. His concern for Dorian's corrupted soul can be seen as the only truly good and pure act in the novel, and it provides a striking and tragic contrast to Dorian's response: "It is too late, Basil," and "Those words mean nothing to me now."

Typically, the central figure in the Faust legend indulges in despair, feeling that his sin is so great that he no longer can be saved. He cannot be saved because the combination of pride and despair keep him from seeking forgiveness. Dorian's problem is essentially this, his unwillingness to ask for forgiveness. In addition, there is the question of whether Dorian even wants to change his life. He states that he does not know whether he regrets the wish that evidently made the contract.

At this point, the third important event of the chapter occurs. Dorian seems to receive some sort of message from the image on the canvas and is driven to murder his old friend. Basil's death conveniently removes the most immediate and serious threat to Dorian's way of life and his pact with the forces of evil. After the murder, he feels oddly calm and goes about the business of removing evidence and establishing an alibi.

In the coolness of Dorian's actions after he kills Basil, the reader sees that Dorian has spoken at least a few truthful words during his corrupt life — his admission that it is too late to save his soul. Dorian kills the only real friend he has, and with that, he kills the only chance he has to redeem his soul.

Glossary

ulster a long, loose overcoat made of heavy, strong fabric; originally made in Ulster, Ireland.

Gladstone bag light hand luggage consisting of two hinged compartments.

Anglomanie a combination of New Latin and French, the term indicates a mania for things English.

hock a white Rhine wine; wine from Hochheim in Germany.

profligate a person given over to excessive devotion to pleasure.

curate a clergyman in charge of a parish or one who assists a rector.

cassone Italian, "large cabinet."

wainscoting paneling; finishing the lower part of an interior wall with materials different from the upper part.

parody a mocking imitation of a literary or an artistic work.

Moorish regarding the Moslems of mixed Berber and Arab descent living mostly in northern Africa.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

According to Dorian, Basil is




Quiz