The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15 & 16


Later that evening, Dorian attends a party thrown by Lady Narborough, a wealthy widow and popular socialite. He acts naturally and comfortably, charming his hostess and successfully masking his tortured conscience, but is unable to stomach any food. Most of the guests are dull and witless, so Dorian is glad when Lord Henry arrives. As usual, Dorian delights in Henry's paradoxical, slightly offensive witticisms. The evening goes smoothly until Dorian is asked how he spent the previous night. He founders and retracts several answers, clearly discombobulated and unnecessarily defensive. Henry can easily see that something is wrong, but when he tries to get Dorian to share his troubles, the younger man excuses himself, saying that he is "out of temper" and "must go home."

Once home, Dorian faces the fact that Basil's belongings, which he had left in Dorian's closet, still have to be destroyed. He throws them into his fireplace, feeling sick at the smell of burning fabric and leather. He is then overcome by an unspecified "mad craving." He examines "a small Chinese box of black and gold-dust lacquer" taken from one of his cabinets, and decides to leave. His cab driver at first refuses to take him where he wants to go, but soon relents and accepts Dorian's bribe.

During the long cab ride, Dorian remembers Lord Henry's words from their first meeting: "To cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul." He feels as if his soul is quite sick, and takes comfort in the idea of curing it. He dismounts from the cab and walks several blocks, nervously checking behind him, until he finds a small, dilapidated house hidden in an alley between two factories.

He enters the house, which is revealed to be an opium den. Inside are groups of haggard, complacent, disheveled individuals. Among them is Adrian Singleton, who joins Dorian at the bar. They are harassed by two women, and Dorian walks out of the place. As he is leaving, one of the women calls him "Prince Charming," at which point an unrecognized sailor springs to his feet and pursues Dorian outside. The sailor grabs Dorian by the throat, brings him to his knees, and points a revolver in his face, telling him that he is the brother of Sibyl Vane, whom Dorian drove to suicide. He only knew his sister's lover by the nickname "Prince Charming." Dorian pretends to have never heard of Sibyl Vane, and tells James to hold his face under the lamplight. James complies, and realizes that he has made a mistake: Sibyl died 18 years ago, making her lover nearly 40, but the person standing before him looks no older than 20. James is embarrassed, and begs Dorian's forgiveness. Dorian chides him for his behavior and flees.

James then speaks with the two women from the bar and learns that Dorian is much older than he seems. One of the women remarks that "it's nigh on eighteen year since Prince Charming made me what I am." Realizing that he has been deceived, James rushes after Dorian in an outrage, but turns the corner to find that the villain has already disappeared.


Dorian succumbs to paranoia at Lady Narborough's home, but his fear of being discovered prove unnecessary. His hostess tells him that "you are made to be good - you look so good." The inability to accept the possibility that a young, innocent appearance hides anything other than an innocent, beautiful personality is a common one in Dorian's social circle; this superficiality is what allows him to maintain a level of respect and admiration, despite the preponderance of nasty rumors, and even despite the guilt of a murder weighing on his conscience.

Wilde uses Dorian's group of friends to parody the superficiality of London's aristocracy. Lord Henry's convictions that beauty is the most important thing in the world and that physical beauty is the greatest asset a person can have seem to be shockingly accurate, at least amongst people such as those whom Dorian and Henry associate with. This raises an important question: if Lord Henry's morally shallow beliefs are justified, can we condemn his character for espousing them?

Dorian's odd mannerisms while handling the ornate box of opium and his discreet flight to the opium den reveal an addiction that we have been thus far unaware of. Dorian has always escaped his guilt by immersing himself in pleasurable distractions, but his lapse into addiction signifies that he has sunk to yet a lower level of degradation. This addiction also reminds us of the nature of Dorian's relationship to the portrait. Like an addict, Dorian cannot refrain from seeking out and indulging himself in new guilty pleasures. And, like an addict, Dorian cannot help but return to the attic and bask in the horror of his disfigured soul.

Adrian's presence in the opium den bothers Dorian because he "wanted to be where no one knew who he was. He wanted to escape from himself." His past, however, haunts him no matter where he turns. One might expect Dorian to take some solace from the fact that, unlike Alan Campbell, Adrian is willing to interact with Dorian, but other people mean so little to Dorian at this point that he can only view Adrian as a nuisance. Instead of taking pity on Adrian's deplorable state, Dorian is repulsed.

The inescapability of the past is also exemplified by the reappearance of Sibyl's vengeful brother. James Vane seeks revenge for the very first instance of Dorian's corruption: the act of selfish vanity that caused the initial change in the painting. James's determination to avenge his sister's death represents the culmination of all of Dorian's sins, returning to hunt him down. However, superficiality does not fail Dorian yet; in this first encounter with James, Dorian's face literally saves his life.