Classic Horror Stories (public domain)List of classic horror stories available to read on this site
The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
close behind. They walked softly, as men do instinctively 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 answered, smiling. Then he added,
somewhat harshly, "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 whispered,
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 book-case--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 mantelshelf, 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 odour
"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 the painter's lips as he saw
in the dim light the hideous face on the canvas grinning 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 spoiled that marvellous beauty. There was still some
gold in the thinning hair and some scarlet on the sensual mouth.
The sodden eyes had kept something of the loveliness of their blue,
the noble curves had not yet completely passed away from chiselled
nostrils and from plastic throat. Yes, it was Dorian himself.
But who had done it? He seemed to recognize his own brushwork,
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
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
in a moment from fire to sluggish ice. 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
The young man was leaning against the mantelshelf, watching him
with that strange expression that one sees on the faces of those
who are absorbed in a play when some 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 his 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, crushing the flower
in his hand, "you met 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, even now, I don't know 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. 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 ideal in it?" said Dorian bitterly.
"My ideal, as you call it. . ."
"As you called it."
"There was nothing evil in it, nothing shameful. You were to me such
an ideal as I shall never meet again. This is the face of a satyr."
"It is the face of my soul."
"Christ! what a thing I must have worshipped! It 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
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
Dorian Gray turned slowly around and looked at him with tear-dimmed eyes.
"It is too late, Basil," he faltered.
"It is never too late, Dorian. Let us kneel down and try if we
cannot remember a prayer. Isn't there a verse somewhere,
'Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white
"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, as though
it had been suggested to him by the image on the canvas,
whispered into his ear by those grinning lips. The mad
passions of a hunted animal stirred within him, and he loathed
the man who was seated at the table, more than in his whole
life he had ever loathed anything. He glanced wildly around.
Something glimmered on the top of the painted chest that
faced him. His eye fell on it. He knew what it was.
It was a knife that he had brought up, some days before,
to cut a piece of cord, and had forgotten to take away with him.
He moved slowly towards it, passing Hallward as he did so.
As soon as he got behind him, he seized it and turned round.
Hallward stirred in his chair as if he was going to rise.
He rushed at him and dug the knife into the great vein that is behind
the ear, crushing the man's head down on the table and stabbing again
There was a stifled groan and the horrible sound of some one choking
with blood. Three times the outstretched arms shot up convulsively,
waving grotesque, stiff-fingered hands in the air. He stabbed him twice more,
but the man did not move. Something began to trickle on the floor.
He waited for a moment, still pressing the head down. Then he threw
the knife on the table, and listened.
He could hear nothing, but the drip, drip on the threadbare carpet.
He opened the door and went out on the landing. The house was
absolutely quiet. No one was about. For a few seconds he stood
bending over the balustrade and peering down into the black seething
well of darkness. Then he took out the key and returned to the room,
locking himself in as he did so.
The thing was still seated in the chair, straining over the table
with bowed head, and humped back, and long fantastic arms.
Had it not been for the red jagged tear in the neck and the clotted
black pool that was slowly widening on the table, one would have said
that the man was simply asleep.
How quickly it had all been done! He felt strangely calm, and walking
over to the window, opened it and stepped out on the balcony.
The wind had blown the fog away, and the sky was like a monstrous
peacock's tail, starred with myriads of golden eyes. He looked
down and saw the policeman going his rounds and flashing the long
beam of his lantern on the doors of the silent houses. The crimson
spot of a prowling hansom gleamed at the corner and then vanished.
A woman in a fluttering shawl was creeping slowly by the railings,
staggering as she went. Now and then she stopped and peered back.
Once, she began to sing in a hoarse voice. The policeman strolled
over and said something to her. She stumbled away, laughing.
A bitter blast swept across the square. The gas-lamps flickered
and became blue, and the leafless trees shook their black iron
branches to and fro. He shivered and went back, closing the window
Having reached the door, he turned the key and opened it.
He did not even glance at the murdered man. He felt that
the secret of the whole thing was not to realize the situation.
The friend who had painted the fatal portrait to which
all his misery had been due had gone out of his life.
That was enough.
Then he remembered the lamp. It was a rather curious one of
Moorish workmanship, made of dull silver inlaid with arabesques
of burnished steel, and studded with coarse turquoises.
Perhaps it might be missed by his servant, and questions would
be asked. He hesitated for a moment, then he turned back and took
it from the table. He could not help seeing the dead thing.
How still it was! How horribly white the long hands looked!
It was like a dreadful wax image.
Having locked the door behind him, he crept quietly downstairs.
The woodwork creaked and seemed to cry out as if in pain.
He stopped several times and waited. No: everything was still.
It was merely the sound of his own footsteps.
When he reached the library, he saw the bag and coat in the corner.
They must be hidden away somewhere. He unlocked a secret press that was
in the wainscoting, a press in which he kept his own curious disguises,
and put them into it. He could easily burn them afterwards. Then he pulled
out his watch. It was twenty minutes to two.
He sat down and began to think. Every year--every month, almost--
men were strangled in England for what he had done. There had been
a madness of murder in the air. Some red star had come too close
to the earth. . . . And yet, what evidence was there against him?
Basil Hallward had left the house at eleven. No one had seen
him come in again. Most of the servants were at Selby Royal.
His valet had gone to bed.... Paris! Yes. It was to Paris that
Basil had gone, and by the midnight train, as he had intended.
With his curious reserved habits, it would be months before any
suspicions would be roused. Months! Everything could be destroyed long
A sudden thought struck him. He put on his fur coat and hat
and went out into the hall. There he paused, hearing the slow
heavy tread of the policeman on the pavement outside and
seeing the flash of the bull's-eye reflected in the window.
He waited and held his breath.
After a few moments he drew back the latch and slipped out,
shutting the door very gently behind him. Then he began
ringing the bell. In about five minutes his valet appeared,
half-dressed and looking very drowsy.
"I am sorry to have had to wake you up, Francis," he said, stepping in;
"but I had forgotten my latch-key. What time is it?"
"Ten minutes past two, sir," answered the man, looking at the clock
"Ten minutes past two? How horribly late! You must wake me
at nine to-morrow. I have some work to do."
"All right, sir."
"Did any one call this evening?"
"Mr. Hallward, sir. He stayed here till eleven, and then be went
away to catch his train."
"Oh! I am sorry I didn't see him. Did he leave any message?"
"No, sir, except that he would write to you from Paris,
if he did not find you at the club."
"That will do, Francis. Don't forget to call me at nine to-morrow."
The man shambled down the passage in his slippers.
Dorian Gray threw his hat and coat upon the table and passed
into the library. For a quarter of an hour he walked up and down
the room, biting his lip and thinking. Then he took down the Blue
Book from one of the shelves and began to turn over the leaves.
"Alan Campbell, 152, Hertford Street, Mayfair." Yes; that was the man