from
The Picture of Dorian Gray
by
Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

These pages: The Picture of Dorian Gray

first part (here)

second part

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

(1891)

The Preface

We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.

All art is quite useless.

Topic:

Art

Chapter One “What odd chaps you painters are! You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. As soon as you have one, you seem to want to throw it away. It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
“But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the Church. But then in the Church they don’t think.”
“It is better not to be different from one’s fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world. They can sit at their ease and gape at the play. If they know nothing of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat.”
“I have grown to love secrecy. It seems to be the one thing that can make modern life mysterious or marvellous to us. The commonest thing is delightful if one only hides it.”

Topic:

Secrets

“You are an extraordinary fellow. You never say a moral thing, and you never do a wrong thing. Your cynicism is simply a pose.”

“Being natural is simply a pose, and the most irritating pose I know,” cried Lord Henry, laughing [...]

Topics:

Cynicism

Pretence

“Harry,” said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, “every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself.”

“Conscience and cowardice are really the same things, Basil. Conscience is the trade-name of the firm. That is all.”

Topic:

Conscience

“I quite sympathise with the rage of the English democracy against what they call the vices of the upper orders. The masses feel that drunkenness, stupidity, and immorality should be their own special property, and that if anyone of us makes an ass of himself he is poaching on their preserves.”
“If one puts forward an idea to a true Englishman—always a rash thing to do—he never dreams of considering whether the idea is right or wrong. The only thing he considers of any importance is whether one believes it oneself. Now, the value of an idea has nothing whatsoever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it. Indeed, the probabilities are that the more insincere the man is, the more purely intellectual will the idea be, as in that case it will not be coloured by either his wants, his desires, or his prejudices. However, I don’t propose to discuss politics, sociology, or metaphysics with you. I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.”

Topic:

Principles

“An artist should create beautiful things, but should put nothing of his own life into them. We live in an age when men treat art as if it were meant to be a form of autobiography. We have lost the abstract sense of beauty.”
“It is a sad thing to think of, but there is no doubt that Genius lasts longer than Beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughly well-informed man—that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.”

Topic:

Education

Chapter Two

“There is no such thing as a good influence, Mr. Gray. All influence is immoral—immoral from the scientific point of view.”

“Why?”

“Because to influence a person is to give him one’s own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else’s music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realise one’s nature perfectly—that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to one’s self. Of course they are charitable. They feed the hungry, and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race.”

Topic:

Individuality

“The mutilation of the savage has its tragic survival in the self-denial that mars our lives. We are punished for our refusals. Every impulse that we strive to strangle broods in the mind, and poisons us. The body sins once, and has done with its sin, for action is a mode of purification. Nothing remains then but the recollections of a pleasure, or the luxury of a regret. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful. It has been said that the great events of the world take place in the brain. It is in the brain, and the brain only, that the great sins of the world take place also.”

Topics:

Self-denial

Temptation

Music had stirred him like that. Music had troubled him many times. But music was not articulate. It was not a new world, but rather another chaos, that it created in us. Words! Mere words! How terrible they were! How clear, and vivid, and cruel! One could not escape from them. And yet what a subtle magic there was in them! They seemed to be able to give a plastic form to formless things, and to have a music of their own as sweet as that of viol or of lute. Mere words! Was there anything so real as words?

“Yes,” continued Lord Henry, “that is one of the great secrets of life—to cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul. You are a wonderful creation. You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know.”

“And Beauty is a form of Genius—is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation. It is of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has its divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it. You smile? Ah! when you have lost it you won’t smile. . . . People say sometimes that Beauty is only superficial. That may be so. But at least it is not so superficial as Thought is. To me, Beauty is the wonder of wonders. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible. . . .

Topic:

Beauty

“I wonder who it was defined man as a rational animal. It was the most premature definition ever given. Man is many things, but he is not rational.”
Chapter Three He paid some attention to the management of his collieries in the Midland counties, excusing himself for this taint of industry on the ground that the one advantage of having coal was that it enabled a gentleman to afford the decency of burning wood on his own hearth. In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories were in office, during which period he roundly abused them for being a pack of Radicals. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a terror to most of his relations, whom he bullied in turn. Only England could have produced him, and he always said that the country was going to the dogs. His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his prejudices.

“Young people, nowadays, imagine that money is everything.”

“Yes,” murmured Lord Henry, settling his buttonhole in his coat; “and when they grow older they know it. But I don’t want money. It is only people who pay their bills who want that, Uncle George, and I never pay mine. Credit is the capital of a younger son, and one lives charmingly upon it.”

“Ain’t English girls good enough for him?”

“It is rather fashionable to marry Americans just now, Uncle George.”

“I’ll back English women against the world, Harry,” said Lord Fermor, striking the table with his fist.

“The betting is on the Americans.”

“They don’t last, I am told,” muttered his uncle.

“A long engagement exhausts them, but they are capital at a steeplechase. They take things flying.”

“Is she pretty?”

“She behaves as if she was beautiful. Most American women do. It is the secret of their charm.”

“Why can’t these American women stay in their own country? They are always telling us that it is the Paradise for women.”

“It is. That is the reason why, like Eve, they are so excessively anxious to get out of it,” said Lord Henry.

“Philanthropic people lose all sense of humanity. It is their distinguishing characteristic.”

“Dry-goods! What are American dry-goods?” asked the Duchess, raising her large hands in wonder, and accentuating the verb.

“American novels,” answered Lord Henry helping himself to some quail.

Like all people who try to exhaust a subject, he exhausted his listeners.

Topic:

Rhetoric

“They say that when good Americans die they go to Paris,” chuckled Sir Thomas, who had a large wardrobe of Humour’s cast-off clothes.

“Really! And where do bad Americans go to when they die?” inquired the Duchess.

“They go to America,” murmured Lord Henry. Sir Thomas frowned. “I am afraid that your nephew is prejudiced against that great country,” he said to Lady Agatha. “[...] I assure you that it is an education to visit it.”

“But must we really see Chicago in order to be educated?” asked Mr. Erskine, plaintively. “I don’t feel up to the journey.”

Sir Thomas waved his hand. “Mr. Erskine of Treadley has the world on his shelves. We practical men like to see things, not to read about them. The Americans are an extremely interesting people. They are absolutely reasonable. I think that is their distinguishing characteristic. Yes, Mr. Erskine, an absolutely reasonable people. I assure you there is no nonsense about the Americans.”

“How dreadful!” cried Lord Henry. “I can stand brute force, but brute reason is quite unbearable. There is something quite unfair about its use. It is hitting below the intellect.”

“There is something terribly morbid in the modern sympathy with pain. One should sympathise with the colour, the beauty, the joy of life. The less said about life’s sores the better.”
“Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the caveman had known how to laugh, History would have been different.”

Topics:

Humor

Original Sin

“Nowadays most people die of a sort of creeping common sense, and discover when it is too late that the only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.”
Chapter Four He was always late on principle, his principle being that punctuality is the thief of time.

Topic:

Time

“I like Wagner’s music better than anybody’s. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time without other people hearing what one says.”

Topic:

Music

“Women represent the triumph of matter over mind, just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.”

Topic:

Men and Women

“My dear boy, the people who love only once in their lives are really the shallow people. What they call their loyalty, and their fidelity, I call either the lethargy of custom or their lack of imagination. Faithfulness is to the emotional life what consistency is to the life of the intellect—simply a confession of failures. Faithfulness! I must analyze it some day. The passion for property is in it. There are many things that we would throw away if we were not afraid that others might pick them up.”

Topic:

Fidelity

“When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.”

Topic:

Romance

“He says things that annoy me. He gives me good advice.”

Lord Henry smiled. “People are very fond of giving away what they need most themselves. It is what I call the depth of generosity.”

Topic:

Advice

“Basil, my dear boy, puts everything that is charming in him into his work. The consequence is that he has nothing left for life but his prejudices, his principles, and his common-sense. The only artists I have ever known, who are personally delightful, are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make, and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are. A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating. The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look. The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realise.”

Topic:

Artists

Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name men gave to their mistakes. Moralists had, as a rule, regarded it as a mode of warning, had claimed for it a certain ethical efficacy in the formation of character, had praised it as something that taught us what to follow and showed us what to avoid. But there was no motive power in experience. It was as little of an active cause as conscience itself. All that it really demonstrated was that our future would be the same as our past, and that the sin we had done once, and with loathing, we would do many times, and with joy.

text checked (see note) Sep 2006

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Background graphic copyright © 2004 by Hal Keen