Summary and Analysis
As the chapter opens, it is half-past noon the next day. Lord Henry calls on his uncle, Lord Fermor, to learn about Dorian's heritage. The uncle is a delightful old curmudgeon — wealthy, cynical, and very knowledgeable about everyone else's private business. He and Lord Henry get along well, and the old man is pleased to tell him all about Dorian's past.
Dorian is the grandson of Lord Kelso and the son of Kelso's daughter, Margaret Devereux. Lady Margaret was an extremely beautiful woman who displeased her father by marrying beneath her; she married a penniless, low-level soldier, as Lord Fermor recalls. Kelso reportedly hired "some Belgian brute" to insult the husband and lure him into a duel, in which he was killed. Lady Margaret was with child: Dorian. She died within a year or so of the duel. Kelso is dead and probably left his fortune to Dorian. The mother had money of her own, so Dorian should be well off financially. After some casual conversation about the charming, deceptive nature of American girls, Lord Henry is off to his Aunt Agatha's for lunch.
Dorian also attends the luncheon, and Lord Henry dominates the conversation, delighting his audience at the table with a number of aphorisms — for example, "I can sympathize with everything except suffering." (A devout Aesthetic, Lord Henry wants people to sympathize with beauty, the use of color, and the joy of life.) To an aging duchess, he suggests, "To get back one's youth, one has merely to repeat one's follies." Lord Henry then launches into a triumphant monologue in praise of folly that echoes his speech to Dorian the day before in Basil's garden.
After the luncheon, Lord Henry and Dorian leave together.
The chief contribution of this entertaining chapter is that the reader learns about Dorian's background. Fermor's details about Dorian's troubled family establish the young man as a romantic and tragic figure.
The only other important information that the reader gets in this chapter is about the relationship between Dorian and Lord Henry, which appears to be solidifying quickly. Early in the chapter, Lord Henry recalls that talking with Dorian the night before had been like "playing upon an exquisite violin." He likens his influence on Dorian to a sculptor's shaping of a statue out of beautiful marble. Lord Henry is not subtle about his motives toward Dorian: "He would seek to dominate him — had already, indeed, half done so."
Readers should note the ironic contrast of Lord Henry's speeches and his actions. In Chapter 2, he advises Dorian that all influence is bad because it corrupts a person's true spirit; in this chapter, he willfully states that he intends to influence Dorian's development. At the end of the chapter, Dorian has fallen fully under the spell of Lord Henry's influence. For example, Dorian backs out of his afternoon appointment with Basil, saying, "I would sooner come with you [Lord Henry]; yes, I feel I must come with you."
The luncheon, which spans the bulk of the chapter and does little to progress the plot or enlighten the reader, seems to have been devised to entertain the reader and show off Lord Henry's clever table talk. Lord Henry is witty, but it is no accident that friends of Wilde recognized several of the author's favorite lines as they came out of Lord Henry's mouth.
Isabella refers to Isabella II (1830–1904), Queen of Spain from 1833 until the revolution of 1868.
Prim D. Juan Prim (1814–70) was a military leader and statesman in Spain who played a major role in deposing Queen Isabella in 1868.
collieries coal mines.
English Blue Book an official publication of the British government, so called for the color of its covers; a social registry.
subaltern the lowest rank of military officer.
jarvies slang for cabmen.
protégé French, a person whose training and welfare are under the influence of a mentor.
Dryad Greek mythology, a wood nymph.
Plato (d. 347 B.C.), Greek philosopher.
Buonarotti Michelangelo Buonarotti, better known as simply "Michelangelo" (1475–1564), Italian painter, sculptor, and architect.
supercilious disdainful, scornful, acting superior.