The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary and Analysis of Chapter 11


Over the next several years, Dorian becomes obsessed with the book given to him by Lord Henry. He buys multiple copies of the "first edition, and [has] them bound in different colors so that they might suit his moods." To Dorian, "the whole book...seemed to contain the story of his own life, written before he had lived it." Like the book's young hero, Dorian begins immersing himself in varied interests, including religion, mysticism, music, jewels, ancient tapestries, and the study of his own ancestors. Dorian is, however, quick to change obsessions once they no longer interest him, following the whims of his desire with the passion of an artist. He clings to each current obsession fervently, studying it and acquiring as many fanciful examples of it as he can find. He buys extravagent gowns covered in hundreds of pearls to feed his interest in jewels, and ancient, golden-threaded tapestries to nourish his curiosity about embroidery. As soon as a given subject has exhausted itself in his mind, however, he drops it in favor of his next interest. For the next 18 years, capriciousness is a way of life for Dorian. In fact, Dorian's attitude recalls Lord Henry's own: "certainly, to him, Life itself was the first, the greatest, of the arts." No matter how intensely Dorian embraces a subject, "no theory of life seemed to him to be of any importance compared with life itself. He felt keenly conscious of how barren all intellectual speculation is when separated from action and experiment."

Dorian's "experiments" are often social in nature. He becomes notorious among London's aristocratic circles as a trend-setter, wearing the latest fashions and looked to as a judge of tastefulness. Young men emulate him, and young women are drawn to him. Those whom he befriends, however, are often ruined, and Dorian is eventually disdained as much as he is admired. Lord Henry seems to be the only close friend who sticks by Dorian over the years. Gossip begins following Dorian wherever he goes, and he becomes infamous, even despicable, in some social circles. He does, however, remain as attractive and fashionable as ever, and continues to be admired for his exquisite taste. No matter how poorly people speak of him, his youthful beauty and the boyish innocence of his face never fail to win him new friends.

Dorian also takes to making periodic visits to the attic to watch the painting transform, "wondering sometimes which were the more horrible, the signs of sin or the signs of age." At first, as the painting grows uglier, Dorian becomes "more and more enamored of his own beauty, more and more interested in the corruption of his soul." He even begins to mock the portrait. Over time, however, his various obsessions and social excursions become ways for him to escape what he knows to be the truth of his soul.


This chapter initiates the second half of the novel, in which Lord Henry's influence has fully bloomed and Dorian has become his own person, with his own interests, convictions, and notoreity amongst London's aristocracy. After this chapter, the protagonist is no longer a corruptable youth, and is rather a full-fledged corruptor in his own right. We learn that Dorian's personality, charming as it may be, is defined by capriciousness, and a passion for new pleasures.

Dorian's obsession with Lord Henry's book may be interpreted in a number of different ways. The plot reminds him of his own life; the hero reminds him of himself. The narrator mentions "the latter part of the book, with its really tragic...account of the sorrow and despair of one who had himself lost what in others, and in the world, he most dearly valued." This is a fitting description for the end of Dorian Gray, as well. The question remains, however, of whether the book happens to describe Dorian's character, or whether Dorian is changing to mimic the book's protagonist. Once again, Wilde is blurring the distinction between life and art.

Indeed, we learn in this chapter that for Dorian, life and art are interchangeable. Like Lord Henry, he considers pleasure and aesthetic value more important than anything else. To him, any new and pleasurable experience is worth having, even if that experience is hurtful to others. The chapter closes with the statement that "There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful." In these moments, Dorian is the most degraded, and his soul suffers the most disfiguration.

Dorian reaches a point where he can only be happy when he forgets about the picture in his attic. He manages to avoid facing it for weeks at a time, but like any addict, he can't force himself to stay away from it for very long. The corruption of his soul torments him, and he escapes that torment by indulging in vices that aggravate his corruption and torment him further. This vicious cycle consciously mimics the patterns of withdrawal and greater dependence commonly faced by drug addicts, an analogy that becomes much more explicit in later chapters, when we learn of Dorian's dependence on opium.

The struggle to deny the nagging guilt he feels when faced with the portrait lies beneath all of Dorian's actions, which brings the nature of his fervent passion for his capricious endeavors into question. Is he naturally such a passionate person, or does his passion spring from a desperate need to occupy his mind with anything other than the undeniable and monstrous corruption of his soul?