The Picture of Dorian Gray By Oscar Wilde Summary and Analysis Chapters 17-18

Summary

One week has passed, and Dorian has retreated to his country estate, Selby Royal. His guests include the beautiful Duchess of Monmouth (Gladys); her older, boring, somewhat jaded husband; Lady Narborough, old and flirtatious but seldom boring; and Lord Henry.

The conversation is light and superficial. Lord Henry wants to re-christen (rename) some things — especially, flowers. Beautiful objects should have beautiful names, he says. The duchess asks what new name Lord Henry shall have, and Dorian immediately answers appropriately, "Prince Paradox." The duchess tries to flirt with Dorian, and he excuses himself to fetch her some of his orchids. Lord Henry lightheartedly warns the duchess about loving Dorian.

Suddenly the group hears a muted groan and the sound of a heavy fall. Lord Henry rushes to find that Dorian has fainted. When Dorian comes to, he refuses to be alone. Despite his condition, he joins the others at dinner and tries to act jolly. Now and then, however, terror shoots through him as he recalls the cause of his faint: the face of James Vane observing him through a window.

Dorian spends most of the next day in his room. Feeling hunted, stalked, and sick with fear of death, he alternates between the certainty of punishment and an equal certainty that the wicked receive no such fate in this world. He concludes that the only morality is the success of the strong and the failure of the weak.

On the third day, Dorian finally goes out. He has decided that he imagined James' face in the window. After breakfast, he strolls in the garden with the duchess for an hour. Then he joins her brother, Sir Geoffrey Clouston, and others who are shooting birds. A hare bursts forth, and Sir Geoffrey aims, but Dorian so admires the beauty and grace of the animal that he cries, "Let it live." Lord Geoffrey finds Dorian's plea silly and fires as the hare jumps into a thicket. Two sounds come from the brush: the cry of a hare and the cry of a man.

Incredibly, a dead human body is pulled from the brush. Lord Henry recommends calling off the hunt for the day. Dorian would like to cancel the "hideous and cruel" hunt for good; he fears that the death is a bad omen.

Lord Henry laughs at Dorian's concern, saying that the only thing horrible in life is boredom. There are no omens, he says.

In his room, Dorian lies in terror on the sofa. Later, he calls his servant and tells him to pack. Dorian will leave at eight-thirty to catch the night express to London. He writes a note to Lord Henry, asking him to take care of the guests because he is going to London to see his doctor.

Thornton, Dorian's chief gamekeeper, enters with startling news. The dead man cannot be identified. He was not one of the beaters, after all. In fact, he seems to be a sailor, armed with a gun.

Dorian rushes to where the body lies. Identifying the body as James Vane's, Dorian feels safe at last.

Analysis

Wilde makes excellent use of contrast in the setting of these chapters. Life at Selby Royal could not be more different from the secret world of Dorian Gray. Wilde writes about bright conversations, bright lights, and bright days. Such idyllic life adds to Dorian's discomfort when terror twice invades his country estate. Early on, he is seeking orchids but finds the face of James Vane. Just as he is recovering from the shock, a man is ominously killed by accident. Dorian decides to flee because, he realizes, "Death walked there in the sunlight." He expects evil in the opium den, not in the fresh air of Selby Royal. Dorian's tragic fate haunts him wherever he goes. Before, Dorian felt that his situation was hopeless; now, he is beginning to learn what hopelessness really feels like.

Wilde exposes the egocentricity of class distinction through the death of what seems to be a lowly beater. First, Sir Geoffrey is annoyed that the "ass" got out in front of the guns. It ruins his shooting for the whole day. Then Lord Henry comments, "It is rather awkward for Geoffrey, of course. It does not do to pepper beaters. It makes people think that one is a wild shot." Incredibly, Lord Henry is more concerned with his shooting partner's reputation than with a man's death.

Even Dorian seems to have little more compassion for the man than he has for the hare. He dislikes shooting and killing, but his chief concern, as usual, is himself. He sees the death as a bad omen, a threat to himself. When Thornton comes to Dorian's room, the master immediately pulls his chequebook out of a drawer. It may be kind of him to want to pay the family of the dead man, but Dorian would not think of visiting them or the corpse until he suspects that it might be James Vane.

Dorian's ultimate relief is ironic. Even as he feels joy at seeing James Vane dead, he is far from safe.

Glossary

Tartuffe a hypocrite; the word comes from Molière's Le Tartuffe, a play in which the lead character — Tartuffe — almost destroys a family that has taken him in.

riposte French, "retort" or reply in a direct manner.

Parthian pertaining to a shot fired by one in actual or feigned retreat; after the tactics of the archers from Parthia in Western Asia.

beater someone who is hired to flush wild game from cover for hunters; on some hunts, they beat percussion instruments.

censure an expression of blame or disapproval.

lithe supple; easily bent; flexible.

presentiment premonition; a sense that something is about to occur.

Artemis in Greek mythology, the goddess of the hunt.

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