Classic Horror Stories (public domain)List of classic horror stories available to read on this site
The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
cried Lord Henry, dipping his white fingers into a red copper bowl
filled with rose-water. "You are quite perfect. Pray, don't change."
Dorian Gray shook his head. "No, Harry, I have done too many
dreadful things in my life. I am not going to do any more.
I began my good actions yesterday."
"Where were you yesterday?"
"In the country, Harry. I was staying at a little inn by myself."
"My dear boy," said Lord Henry, smiling, "anybody can be good in the country.
There are no temptations there. That is the reason why people who live out
of town are so absolutely uncivilized. Civilization is not by any means an
easy thing to attain to. There are only two ways by which man can reach it.
One is by being cultured, the other by being corrupt. Country people have no
opportunity of being either, so they stagnate."
"Culture and corruption," echoed Dorian. "I have known something of both.
It seems terrible to me now that they should ever be found together.
For I have a new ideal, Harry. I am going to alter. I think I
"You have not yet told me what your good action was.
Or did you say you had done more than one?" asked his companion
as he spilled into his plate a little crimson pyramid of seeded
strawberries and, through a perforated, shell-shaped spoon,
snowed white sugar upon them.
"I can tell you, Harry. It is not a story I could tell to any one else.
I spared somebody. It sounds vain, but you understand what I mean.
She was quite beautiful and wonderfully like Sibyl Vane. I think it was
that which first attracted me to her. You remember Sibyl, don't you?
How long ago that seems! Well, Hetty was not one of our own class,
of course. She was simply a girl in a village. But I really loved her.
I am quite sure that I loved her. All during this wonderful May that we
have been having, I used to run down and see her two or three times a week.
Yesterday she met me in a little orchard. The apple-blossoms kept tumbling
down on her hair, and she was laughing. We were to have gone away together
this morning at dawn. Suddenly I determined to leave her as flowerlike as I
had found her."
"I should think the novelty of the emotion must have given you
a thrill of real pleasure, Dorian," interrupted Lord Henry.
"But I can finish your idyll for you. You gave her good advice
and broke her heart. That was the beginning of your reformation."
"Harry, you are horrible! You mustn't say these dreadful things.
Hetty's heart is not broken. Of course, she cried and all that.
But there is no disgrace upon her. She can live, like Perdita, in her
garden of mint and marigold."
"And weep over a faithless Florizel," said Lord Henry,
laughing, as he leaned back in his chair. "My dear Dorian,
you have the most curiously boyish moods. Do you think this girl
will ever be really content now with any one of her own rank?
I suppose she will be married some day to a rough carter
or a grinning ploughman. Well, the fact of having met you,
and loved you, will teach her to despise her husband,
and she will be wretched. From a moral point of view,
I cannot say that I think much of your great renunciation.
Even as a beginning, it is poor. Besides, how do you know
that Hetty isn't floating at the present moment in some
starlit mill-pond, with lovely water-lilies round her,
"I can't bear this, Harry! You mock at everything, and then
suggest the most serious tragedies. I am sorry I told you now.
I don't care what you say to me. I know I was right in acting
as I did. Poor Hetty! As I rode past the farm this morning,
I saw her white face at the window, like a spray of jasmine.
Don't let us talk about it any more, and don't try to persuade
me that the first good action I have done for years,
the first little bit of self-sacrifice I have ever known,
is really a sort of sin. I want to be better.
I am going to be better. Tell me something about yourself.
What is going on in town? I have not been to the club
"The people are still discussing poor Basil's disappearance."
"I should have thought they had got tired of that by this time,"
said Dorian, pouring himself out some wine and frowning slightly.
"My dear boy, they have only been talking about it for six weeks,
and the British public are really not equal to the mental
strain of having more than one topic every three months.
They have been very fortunate lately, however. They have
had my own divorce-case and Alan Campbell's suicide.
Now they have got the mysterious disappearance of an artist.
Scotland Yard still insists that the man in the grey ulster
who left for Paris by the midnight train on the ninth of November
was poor Basil, and the French police declare that Basil never
arrived in Paris at all. I suppose in about a fortnight we shall
be told that he has been seen in San Francisco. It is an odd thing,
but every one who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco.
It must be a delightful city, and possess all the attractions
of the next world."
"What do you think has happened to Basil?" asked Dorian,
holding up his Burgundy against the light and wondering how it
was that he could discuss the matter so calmly.
"I have not the slightest idea. If Basil chooses to hide himself,
it is no business of mine. If he is dead, I don't want to think
about him. Death is the only thing that ever terrifies me.
I hate it."
"Why?" said the younger man wearily.
"Because," said Lord Henry, passing beneath his nostrils the gilt trellis
of an open vinaigrette box, "one can survive everything nowadays except that.
Death and vulgarity are the only two facts in the nineteenth century that one
cannot explain away. Let us have our coffee in the music-room, Dorian.
You must play Chopin to me. The man with whom my wife ran away played
Chopin exquisitely. Poor Victoria! I was very fond of her. The house
is rather lonely without her. Of course, married life is merely a habit,
a bad habit. But then one regrets the loss even of one's worst habits.
Perhaps one regrets them the most. They are such an essential part of
Dorian said nothing, but rose from the table, and passing into the next room,
sat down to the piano and let his fingers stray across the white and black
ivory of the keys. After the coffee had been brought in, he stopped,
and looking over at Lord Henry, said, "Harry, did it ever occur to you that
Basil was murdered?"
Lord Henry yawned. "Basil was very popular, and always
wore a Waterbury watch. Why should he have been murdered?
He was not clever enough to have enemies. Of course,
he had a wonderful genius for painting. But a man can
paint like Velasquez and yet be as dull as possible.
Basil was really rather dull. He only interested me once,
and that was when he told me, years ago, that he had a wild
adoration for you and that you were the dominant motive of
"I was very fond of Basil," said Dorian with a note of sadness in his voice.
"But don't people say that he was murdered?"
"Oh, some of the papers do. It does not seem to me to be at all probable.
I know there are dreadful places in Paris, but Basil was not the sort of man
to have gone to them. He had no curiosity. It was his chief defect."
"What would you say, Harry, if I told you that I had murdered Basil?"
said the younger man. He watched him intently after he had spoken.
"I would say, my dear fellow, that you were posing for a character
that doesn't suit you. All crime is vulgar, just as all vulgarity
is crime. It is not in you, Dorian, to commit a murder.
I am sorry if I hurt your vanity by saying so, but I assure you
it is true. Crime belongs exclusively to the lower orders.
I don't blame them in the smallest degree. I should fancy that
crime was to them what art is to us, simply a method of procuring
"A method of procuring sensations? Do you think, then, that a man
who has once committed a murder could possibly do the same crime again?
Don't tell me that."
"Oh! anything becomes a pleasure if one does it too often,"
cried Lord Henry, laughing. "That is one of the most important secrets
of life. I should fancy, however, that murder is always a mistake.
One should never do anything that one cannot talk about after dinner.
But let us pass from poor Basil. I wish I could believe that he had
come to such a really romantic end as you suggest, but I can't. I
dare say he fell into the Seine off an omnibus and that the conductor
hushed up the scandal. Yes: I should fancy that was his end.
I see him lying now on his back under those dull-green waters,
with the heavy barges floating over him and long weeds catching
in his hair. Do you know, I don't think he would have done much
more good work. During the last ten years his painting had gone off
Dorian heaved a sigh, and Lord Henry strolled across the room
and began to stroke the head of a curious Java parrot, a large,
grey-plumaged bird with pink crest and tail, that was balancing
itself upon a bamboo perch. As his pointed fingers touched it,
it dropped the white scurf of crinkled lids over black,
glasslike eyes and began to sway backwards and forwards.
"Yes," he continued, turning round and taking his handkerchief
out of his pocket; "his painting had quite gone off.
It seemed to me to have lost something. It had lost an ideal.
When you and he ceased to be great friends, he ceased to be a
great artist. What was it separated you? I suppose he bored you.
If so, he never forgave you. It's a habit bores have.
By the way, what has become of that wonderful portrait
he did of you? I don't think I have ever seen it since
he finished it. Oh! I remember your telling me years ago
that you had sent it down to Selby, and that it had got mislaid
or stolen on the way. You never got it back? What a pity!
it was really a masterpiece. I remember I wanted to buy it.
I wish I had now. It belonged to Basil's best period.
Since then, his work was that curious mixture of bad painting
and good intentions that always entitles a man to be called
a representative British artist. Did you advertise for it?
"I forget," said Dorian. "I suppose I did. But I never really liked it.
I am sorry I sat for it. The memory of the thing is hateful to me.
Why do you talk of it? It used to remind me of those curious lines
in some play--Hamlet, I think--how do they run?--Like the painting of
A face without a heart.
Yes: that is what it was like."
Lord Henry laughed. "If a man treats life artistically,
his brain is his heart," he answered, sinking into an arm-chair.
Dorian Gray shook his head and struck some soft chords on the piano.
"'Like the painting of a sorrow,'" he repeated, "'a face without
The elder man lay back and looked at him with half-closed eyes.
"By the way, Dorian," he said after a pause, "'what does it profit
a man if he gain the whole world and lose--how does the quotation run?--
his own soul'?"
The music jarred, and Dorian Gray started and stared at his friend.
"Why do you ask me that, Harry?"
"My dear fellow," said Lord Henry, elevating his eyebrows in surprise,
"I asked you because I thought you might be able to give me an answer.
That is all. I was going through the park last Sunday, and close by the
Marble Arch there stood a little crowd of shabby-looking people listening
to some vulgar street-preacher. As I passed by, I heard the man yelling
out that question to his audience. It struck me as being rather dramatic.
London is very rich in curious effects of that kind. A wet Sunday,
an uncouth Christian in a mackintosh, a ring of sickly white faces under
a broken roof of dripping umbrellas, and a wonderful phrase flung into
the air by shrill hysterical lips--it was really very good in its way,
quite a suggestion. I thought of telling the prophet that art had
a soul, but that man had not. I am afraid, however, he would not have
"Don't, Harry. The soul is a terrible reality. It can be bought,
and sold, and bartered away. It can be poisoned, or made perfect.
There is a soul in each one of us. I know it."
"Do you feel quite sure of that, Dorian?"
"Ah! then it must be an illusion. The things one feels
absolutely certain about are never true. That is the fatality
of faith, and the lesson of romance. How grave you are!
Don't be so serious. What have you or I to do with the superstitions
of our age? No: we have given up our belief in the soul.
Play me something. Play me a nocturne, Dorian, and, as you play,
tell me, in a low voice, how you have kept your youth.
You must have some secret. I am only ten years older than
you are, and I am wrinkled, and worn, and yellow. You are
really wonderful, Dorian. You have never looked more charming
than you do to-night. You remind me of the day I saw you first.
You were rather cheeky, very shy, and absolutely extraordinary.
You have changed, of course, but not in appearance.
I wish you would tell me your secret. To get back my youth
I would do anything in the world, except take exercise,
get up early, or be respectable. Youth! There is nothing
like it. It's absurd to talk of the ignorance of youth.
The only people to whose opinions I listen now with any respect
are people much younger than myself. They seem in front of me.
Life has revealed to them her latest wonder. As for the aged,
I always contradict the aged. I do it on principle.
If you ask them their opinion on something that happened yesterday,
they solemnly give you the opinions current in 1820,
when people wore high stocks, believed in everything, and knew
absolutely nothing. How lovely that thing you are playing is!
I wonder, did Chopin write it at Majorca, with the sea weeping
round the villa and the salt spray dashing against the panes?
It is marvellously romantic. What a blessing it is
that there is one art left to us that is not imitative!
Don't stop. I want music to-night. It seems to me that you
are the young Apollo and that I am Marsyas listening to you.
I have sorrows, Dorian, of my own, that even you know nothing of.
The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one
is young. I am amazed sometimes at my own sincerity.
Ah, Dorian, how happy you are! What an exquisite life
you have had! You have drunk deeply of everything.
You have crushed the grapes against your palate. Nothing has
been hidden from you. And it has all been to you no more than
the sound of music. It has not marred you. You are still the
"I am not the same, Harry."
"Yes, you are the same. I wonder what the rest of your life will be.
Don't spoil it by renunciations. At present you are a perfect type.
Don't make yourself incomplete. You are quite flawless now.
You need not shake your head: you know you are. Besides, Dorian,
don't deceive yourself. Life is not governed by will or intention.
Life is a question of nerves, and fibres, and slowly built-up
cells in which thought hides itself and passion has its dreams.
You may fancy yourself safe and think yourself strong. But a chance
tone of colour in a room or a morning sky, a particular perfume
that you had once loved and that brings subtle memories with it,
a line from a forgotten poem that you had come across again,
a cadence from a piece of music that you had ceased to play--
I tell you, Dorian, that it is on things like these that our lives depend.
Browning writes about that somewhere; but our own senses will imagine
them for us. There are moments when the odour of lilas blanc passes
suddenly across me, and I have to live the strangest month of my life
over again. I wish I could change places with you, Dorian. The world
has cried out against us both, but it has always worshipped you.
It always will worship you. You are the type of what the age
is searching for, and what it is afraid it has found. I am
so glad that you have never done anything, never carved a statue,
or painted a picture, or produced anything outside of yourself!
Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are
Dorian rose up from the piano and passed his hand through his hair.
"Yes, life has been exquisite," he murmured, "but I am not going
to have the same life, Harry. And you must not say these
extravagant things to me. You don't know everything about me.
I think that if you did, even you would turn from me. You laugh.
"Why have you stopped playing, Dorian? Go back and give me
the nocturne over again. Look at that great, honey-coloured moon
that hangs in the dusky air. She is waiting for you to charm her,
and if you play she will come closer to the earth. You won't?
Let us go to the club, then. It has been a charming evening,
and we must end it charmingly. There is some one at White's who wants
immensely to know you--young Lord Poole, Bournemouth's eldest son.
He has already copied your neckties, and has begged me to introduce
him to you. He is quite delightful and rather reminds me of you."
"I hope not," said Dorian with a sad look in his eyes.
"But I am tired to-night, Harry. I shan't go to the club.
It is nearly eleven, and I want to go to bed early."
"Do stay. You have never played so well as to-night. There was something
in your touch that was wonderful. It had more expression than I had ever
heard from it before."
"It is because I am going to be good," he answered, smiling.
"I am a little changed already."
"You cannot change to me, Dorian," said Lord Henry. "You and I will always
"Yet you poisoned me with a book once. I should not forgive that.
Harry, promise me that you will never lend that book to any one.
It does harm."
"My dear boy, you are really beginning to moralize. You will
soon be going about like the converted, and the revivalist,
warning people against all the sins of which you have grown tired.
You are much too delightful to do that. Besides, it is no use.
You and I are what we are, and will be what we will be.
As for being poisoned by a book, there is no such thing as that.
Art has no influence upon action. It annihilates the desire
to act. It is superbly sterile. The books that the world
calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.
That is all. But we won't discuss literature. Come round
to-morrow. I am going to ride at eleven. We might go together,
and I will take you to lunch afterwards with Lady Branksome.
She is a charming woman, and wants to consult you about some
tapestries she is thinking of buying. Mind you come. Or shall we
lunch with our little duchess? She says she never sees you now.
Perhaps you are tired of Gladys? I thought you would be.
Her clever tongue gets on one's nerves. Well, in any case, be here at
"Must I really come, Harry?"
"Certainly. The park is quite lovely now. I don't think there
have been such lilacs since the year I met you."
"Very well. I shall be here at eleven," said Dorian.
"Good night, Harry." As he reached the door, he hesitated
for a moment, as if he had something more to say. Then he sighed
and went out.