From The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.
This extract perfectly shows the dark brilliance of Wilde’s gothic writings and the horror visited upon the painter of the now infamous portrait. As for Dorian himself, for the first time he seems curiously cold and detached.
He passed out of the room and began the ascent, Basil Hallward following close behind. They walked softly, as men instinctively do at night. The lamp cast fantastic shadows on the wall and staircase. A rising wind made some of the windows rattle.
When they reached the top landing, Dorian set the lamp down on the floor, and taking out the key turned it in the lock. ‘You insist on knowing, Basil?’ he asked, in a low voice.
‘I am delighted,’ he murmured, smiling. Then he added, somewhat bitterly, ‘You are the one man in the world who is entitled to know everything about me. You have had more to do with my life than you think.’ And, taking up the lamp, he opened the door and went in. A cold current of air passed them, and the light shot up for a moment in a flame of murky orange. He shuddered. ‘Shut the door behind you,’ he said, as he placed the lamp on the table.
Hallward glanced round him, with a puzzled expression. The room looked as if it had not been lived in for years. A faded Flemish tapestry, a curtained picture, an old Italian cassone, and an almost empty bookcase, that was all that it seemed to contain, besides a chair and a table. As Dorian Gray was lighting a half-burned candle that was standing on the mantel-shelf, he saw that the whole place was covered with dust and that the carpet was in holes. A mouse ran scuffling behind the wainscoting. There was a damp odor of mildew.
‘So you think that it is only God who sees the soul, Basil? Draw that curtain back, and you will see mine.’
The voice that spoke was cold and cruel. ‘You are mad, Dorian, or playing a part,’ muttered Hallward, frowning.
‘You won’t? Then I must do it myself,’ said the young man; and he tore the curtain from its rod, and flung it on the ground.
An exclamation of horror broke from Hallward’s lips as he saw in the dim light the hideous thing on the canvas leering at him. There was something in its expression that filled him with disgust and loathing. Good heavens! It was Dorian Gray’s own face that he was looking at! The horror, whatever it was, had not yet entirely marred that marvelous beauty. There was still some gold in the thinning hair and some scarlet on the sensual lips. The sodden eyes had kept something of the loveliness of their blue, the noble curves had not yet passed entirely away from chiseled nostrils and from plastic throat. Yes, it was Dorian himself. But who had done it? He seemed to recognize his own brush-work, and the frame was his own design. The idea was monstrous, yet he felt afraid. He seized the lighted candle, and held it to the picture. In the left-hand corner was his own name, traced in long letters of bright vermilion.
It was some foul parody, some infamous, ignoble satire. He had never done that. Still, it was his own picture. He knew it, and he felt as if his blood had changed from fire to sluggish ice in a moment. His own picture! What did it mean? Why had it altered? He turned, and looked at Dorian Gray with the eyes of a sick man. His mouth twitched and his parched tongue seemed unable to articulate. He passed his hand across his forehead. It was dank with clammy sweat.
The young man was leaning against the mantel-shelf, watching him with that strange expression that is on the faces of those who are absorbed in a play when a great artist is acting. There was neither real sorrow in it nor real joy. There was simply the passion of the spectator, with perhaps a flicker of triumph in the eyes. He had taken the flower out of his coat and was smelling it, or pretending to do so.
‘What does this mean?’ cried Hallward, at last. His own voice sounded shrill and curious in his ears.
‘Years ago, when I was a boy,’ said Dorian Gray, ‘you met me, devoted yourself to me, flattered me, and taught me to be vain of my good looks. One day you introduced me to a friend of yours, who explained to me the wonder of youth, and you finished a portrait of me that revealed to me the wonder of beauty. In a mad moment, that I don’t know, even now, whether I regret or not, I made a wish. Perhaps you would call it a prayer ….’
‘I remember it! Oh, how well I remember it! No! The thing is impossible. The room is damp. The mildew has got into the canvas. The paints I used had some wretched mineral poison in them. I tell you the thing is impossible.’
‘Ah, what is impossible?’ murmured the young man, going over to the window, and leaning his forehead against the cold, mist-stained glass.
‘You told me you had destroyed it.’
‘I was wrong. It has destroyed me.’
‘I don’t believe it is my picture.’
‘Can’t you see your romance in it?’ said Dorian, bitterly.
‘My romance, as you call it …’
‘As you called it.’
‘There was nothing evil in it, nothing shameful. This is the face of a satyr.’
‘It is the face of my soul.’
‘God! What a thing I must have worshipped! This has the eyes of a devil.’
‘Each of us has Heaven and Hell in him, Basil,’ cried Dorian, with a wild gesture of despair.
Hallward turned again to the portrait, and gazed at it. ‘My God! if it is true,’ he exclaimed, ‘and this is what you have done with your life, why, you must be worse even than those who talk against you fancy you to be!’ He held the light up again to the canvas, and examined it. The surface seemed to be quite undisturbed, and as he had left it. It was from within, apparently, that the foulness and horror had come. Through some strange quickening of inner life the leprosies of sin were slowly eating the thing away. The rotting of a corpse in a watery grave was not so fearful.
His hand shook, and the candle fell from its socket on the floor and lay there sputtering. He placed his foot on it and put it out. Then he flung himself into the rickety chair that was standing by the table and buried his face in his hands. ‘Good God, Dorian, what a lesson! What an awful lesson!’ There was no answer, but he could hear the young man sobbing at the window.
‘Pray, Dorian, pray,’ he murmured. ‘What is it that one was taught to say in one’s boyhood? ‘Lead us not into temptation. Forgive us our sins. Wash away our iniquities.’ Let us say that together. The prayer of your pride has been answered. The prayer of your repentance will be answered also. I worshipped you too much. I am punished for it. You worshipped yourself too much. We are both punished.’
Dorian Gray turned slowly around and looked at him with tear-dimmed eyes. ‘It is too late, Basil,’ he murmured.
‘It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we can remember a prayer. Isn’t there a verse somewhere, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white as snow’?’
‘Those words mean nothing to me now.’
‘Hush! don’t say that. You have done enough evil in your life. My God! Don’t you see that accursed thing leering at us?’
Dorian Gray glanced at the picture, and suddenly an uncontrollable feeling of hatred for Basil Hallward came over him. The mad passions of a hunted animal stirred within him, and he loathed the man who was seated at the table, more than he had ever loathed anything in his whole life.
A portrait of Dorian Gray, by Mercuralis
* * * * *