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Commentary on an extract from O. Wilde, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” chapter 2

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The relationships between the three characters.
    1. The influence of Lord Henry on Dorian.
    2. The ambiguity of the relationship between Basil and Dorian.
    3. The rivalry between Lord Henry and Basil.
  3. The pact with the portrait and the issue of Dorian's identity.
    1. The status of the portrait.
    2. The portrait and Dorian's identity.
    3. The pact with the portrait.
  4. Dramatic irony.
    1. The threat of ageing and degradation.
    2. The premonition of death.
    3. The pact and the transformation of the picture.
  5. Conclusion.

This passage takes place in the middle of chapter II, in which Lord Henry has just been introduced for the first time to Dorian by his friend Basil. During this scene of first encounter Lord Henry made an impressive philosophic speech about one's self and soul, moral influence, virtues and sins, desires and temptation, but also about youth and beauty and the passing of time, that is another version of the Latin ?carpe diem? and Greek Hedonism.. In the meantime Basil was painting Dorian's portrait and as Dorian was listening to Lord Henry's terrible words, falling into great trouble and fascination, Basil could paint all these emotions on the picture. The passage that follows and that we are going to study is a key moment : it is the turning point of the novel because it will have decisive consequences for the rest of the story. Actually Basil has just finished the portrait and he lets his friends look at his masterpiece and judge it.

[...] It therefore suggests that the picture will allow Dorian to do what he likes (even crimes) without it being visible on his face. Another rhetorical question is ?What had happened?? by which the narrator implies ?what had happened to Dorian??, and suggests that Lord Henry is a bad influence on Dorian, but the reader can also ask himself what had happened between Dorian and his portrait. This sentence can be used to characterise the whole passage and to suggest the strange and fantastic event that had happen and which constitutes the turning point of the novel. [...]


[...] First part The relationships between the three characters 5 The influence of Lord Henry on Dorian First of all this passage is marked by the arrival of a new character in the relationship between Basil and Dorian. This fact is a motive of inequality and disequilibrium. Thus The relationship Dorian has with Lord Henry is not the same as the one he has with Basil. Lord Henry comes in between them in a way, the phrase ?broke when he asserts his major role in the success of the painting is entirely due to shows this contrast, and can be understood as a symbol of his breaking the relationship between Dorian and Basil. [...]


[...] On the contrary, to Lord Henry, is the real Dorian that sets the issue of being in opposition with being or but also of being ?changed? or ?influenced? by someone. Is it a revelation of the true self or the construction of an altered self ? The pact with the portrait The wish The transfer and the reversal between Dorian and the portrait is wished by Dorian who expresses twice his desire to inverse and to exchange his appearance devoted to degradation with that of the immutable portrait : the key phrase that is repeated and which constitutes the fatal pact is : only it was the other way Dorian adds the redundant phrases that explain his wish in a sort of chiasmus : it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old and If the picture could change, and I could be always what I am now In exchange Dorian is ready to give ?everything?, but the element that he proposes is no less than his Reversal of lives and deaths The transfer seems to be effective with the paradoxical declarations that Dorian makes about his own death and that of the portrait : thinking of his own unbearable physical degradation, he declares : ?When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself?, and thus announces a suicide : he does not fear to kill himself in the future ; but when Basil is about to destroy the portrait, Dorian cries :?Don't, Basil, don't ! [...]

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