Summary and Analysis
As the chapter begins, the narrator announces that years have passed. Dorian has spent the time developing his credo of life under the influence of the yellow book and, to a lesser degree now, Lord Henry.
Dorian's licentious behavior is the source of people's gossip, but those who see him in person dismiss such gossip because the "purity of his face" makes such tales seem impossible. Often, Dorian creeps up to the attic to look at the figure in the portrait, now bloated, ugly, and aged. On such occasions, he laughingly contrasts his face in a mirror with that in the painting. If anything, he has become even more enamored with his good looks.
He has "mad hungers" that become "more ravenous" as he feeds them. At times he takes a room in a shabby tavern by the docks, disguising himself and using an assumed name. However, he observes his obligations in polite society and is idolized by many of the young men of his class because he lives his life surrounded by beauty. His life is his primary and most important work of art.
Dorian seeks a "new Hedonism" to combat the Puritanism of Victorian England. He wants life without obligation or regret, and he is not terribly concerned if others are hurt along the way.
Rumors grow as Dorian passes his twenty-fifth year and approaches thirty. Many find him charming; others shun him. His face, however, reveals no debauchery. His appearance is innocent. Only his soul has been "poisoned by a book."
The bulk of Chapter 11 lists, page after page, the various pursuits of Dorian's adult life. In these lists, Wilde shows the result of Dorian's chosen path. The reader sees the peculiar kind of hell that Dorian inhabits because of his pact; Wilde delivers a strong judgement against the dangers of decadence.
The lengthy passages describing Dorian's study of perfumes, music, jewels, and embroideries border on being tedious. Wilde was too good a writer to include these passages merely to show off his knowledge of these subjects. These overly-detailed passages transport the reader into the world that Dorian has created for himself, one in which the passionate pursuit of pleasure has become a monotonous, vain, never-ending stream of meaningless and trivial debauchery. No matter how much Dorian indulges his passions, he is never satisfied. By the end of the chapter, the narrator states of Dorian, "There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realise his conception of the beautiful."
Dorian's life seems to be one of floating from one passion to the next, completely at his own whim. And yet, he remains tethered to the portrait and his fear that his secret will be discovered. He lives in a gilded cage, a prisoner of his passions and his fears.
Dante Dante Alighieri (1265–1321), Italian poet; author of The Divine Comedy.
Eton Eton College, a school for boys in Buckinghamshire, England.
fop a dandy; a man excessively concerned about his clothes and appearance to the exclusion of deeper values.
Satyricon "Book of Satyrlike Adventures"; a first-century-A.D. comic novel attributed to Petronius.
arbiter elegantiarum Latin, "judge of elegance."
anchorite a religious recluse.
panis caelistis Latin, "bread of Heaven."
de la vieille roche French, "of the old rock."
Schubert Franz Schubert (1797–1828), Austrian composer.
Chopin Frédérick Francois Chopin (1810–49), Polish pianist and composer; resident in France from 1829 until his death.
Beethoven Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), German composer.
Madame, je suis tout joyeux French, "Madam, I am quite happy."
entrées French, "entries"; in North America, it is the main dish of the meal; in England, during Wilde's era, it was a dish served between the meat and fish courses.
taedium vitae Latin, "tedium of life."
sentinel one who keeps guard; a sentry.
alchemist one who tries to turn base metals into gold.
ascetic a person who renounces comforts to live a life of self-disci-pline, sometimes for a religious reason.
fresco the art of painting on fresh, moist plaster with earth colors dissolved in water and pressed into the plaster.
calumnies false statements meant to injure someone.
macaroni here, a term used in eighteenth-century England to describe a well-to-do young man who dressed in Continental fashions rather than in staid, bland English clothing.