The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray Summary and Analysis of Chapter 19


Several months later, Dorian is back in London, conversing with Lord Henry at the older man's house. Dorian, it seems, has decided to change his ways. Henry tells him that he is perfect the way he is and that there's no use trying to change, but Dorian replies that "I have done too many dreadful things in my life," and that "I began my good actions yesterday." His so-called "good action" was his treatment of Hetty, a beautiful young peasant girl who reminded him of Sibyl Vane. She fell in love with Dorian, but instead of taking advantage of her and breaking her heart, as was his usual way, he "determined to leave her as flower-like as [he] had found her."

Henry mocks him and asks whether he's sure that Hetty "isn't floating at the present moment in some star-lit Ophelia." This upsets Dorian, as he desperately wants to believe in the value of his good intentions. The conversation turns towards the whereabouts of Basil Hallward. The painter's disappearance, now six weeks old, is still the talk of the town, along with Henry's divorce and the suicide of Alan Campbell. Henry asks Dorian to play Chopin for him, because "The man with whom my wife ran away played Chopin exquisitely."

At the piano, Dorian nonchalantly asks what Henry would think if he told him that he had murdered Basil. "I would say," he responds, "that you were posing for a character that didn't suit you." Such crimes, Henry believes, are the specialty of the lower classes. Besides, Henry cannot imagine that Basil would have met such a romantic end, because his paintings had steadily declined in the years following his soiled friendship with Dorian. His painting of Dorian was, apparently, his final masterpiece. Henry believes that the painting was stolen a long time ago, and Dorian claims to have forgotten all about it.

Henry catches Dorian off-guard by paraphrasing the Bible, asking him: "what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose...his soul?" When Dorian is startled by this statement, Henry just laughs, telling him that he heard a preacher posing this quesiton to a crowd during a walk through the park on a rainy day. Henry describes his amusement at the spectacle of the somber crowd standing in the rain, listening to "an uncouth Christian in a macintosh." He apparently wanted to tell the preacher that "Art had a soul, but that man did not."

Henry's light-heartedness offends Dorian, who says that "The soul is a terrible reality...It can be poisoned or made perfect." He tells Henry that he is certain of this fact, to which Henry replies, "then it must be an illusion. The things one feels absolutely certain about are never true." Dorian begins to play a nocturne by Chopin, which greatly affects Henry and prompts a rambling tirade on romance and how exquisite Dorian's life has been. Dorian agrees, but reminds Henry that he has turned over a new leaf, and that he will never forgive him for his corrupting influence. On his way out, Henry invites Dorian to lunch the next day, and Dorian reluctantly agrees to accompany the older man.


When telling Henry about Hetty, Dorian insists that she will "live, like Perdita, in her garden," to which Henry asks "how do you know that Hetty isn't Ophelia?" These are both Shakespearean characters (from The Winter's Tale and Hamlet, respectively) that Sibyl used to play on stage. Dorian has already stated that Hetty reminds him of Sibyl, whom he loved because of all the characters she represented to him. Dorian now seeks to make amends for his treatment of Sibyl vicariously, through Hetty; he thinks of her as Perdita, a character who meets a happy ending. Lord Henry's allusion to the tragic character of Ophelia is unbearable to Dorian because it reminds him of the actual circumstances of Sibyl's death, and his callous decision to view it as a theatrical drama.

Shakespeare is also evoked after Henry inquires about the state of Basil's painting. While playing the piano, Dorian says that the picture reminded him of certain lines from Hamlet: "Like the painting of a sorrow,/ A face without a heart." This lines relate directly and poignantly to Dorian's condition. They not only refer to the painting, but to Dorian himself, who now feels reduced to "a face without a heart." When Henry tires to coax Dorian out of his somber mood with the line "If a man treats life artistically, his brain is his heart", Dorian only repeats the quotation. It is if Dorian is trying to obliquely communicate his true plight to Henry. He has already attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to confess to Basil's murder. Dorian is hopelessly isolated even from his oldest remaining friend. Before leaving to return home, Dorian hesitates at the door, "as if he had something more to say," but says nothing, a further indication of his pathetic lonliness.

Although Henry fancies himself to be Dorian's best friend, he tells Dorian that, after all their years together, "you are still the same." This reminds us that, for all of his seeming wisdom, Lord Henry can still only take things at face value; to him, looking the same and being the same are one and the same thing. He has no clue as to the true degradation of Dorian's character.

Henry's earlier comment that a man ought to "treat life artistically," one of the major themes of the book, is best considered in conjunction with the closing remark of the preface, that "All art is quite useless." Considering that this is the opinion of the author, it is clear that trying to make a work of art out of one's life will not be very rewarding in Dorian Gray.

Dorian remarks that Henry "poisoned me with a book once," and tells his friend to "promise me that you will never lend that book to anyone. It does harm." Dorian has done precisely what the preface warns against when it declares that "All art is...surface," and that "Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril." He has gone so deeply "beneath the surface" of the book that he has transformed it into a sort of outline for his own life. The corruption of his soul, and the ruin of his life, is what this "peril" has wrought on Dorian.