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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPicture Of Dorian Gray - Chapter V: 36-43
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Picture Of Dorian Gray - Chapter V: 36-43 Post by :temudry Category :Long Stories Author :Oscar Wilde Date :June 2011 Read :2867

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Picture Of Dorian Gray - Chapter V: 36-43

Chapter V: 36-43


(...36) For some reason or other, the house was crowded that night,
and the fat Jew manager who met them at the door was beaming from ear
to ear with an oily, tremulous smile. He escorted them to their box
with a sort of pompous humility, waving his fat jewelled hands, and
talking at the top of his voice. Dorian Gray loathed him more than
ever. He felt as if he had come to look for Miranda and had been met
by Caliban. Lord Henry, upon the other hand, rather liked him. At
least he declared he did, and insisted on shaking him by the hand,
and assured him that he was proud to meet a man who had discovered a
real genius and gone bankrupt over Shakespeare. Hallward amused
himself with watching the faces in the pit. The heat was terribly
oppressive, and the huge sunlight flamed like a monstrous dahlia with
petals of fire. The youths in the gallery had taken off their coats
and waistcoats and hung them over the side. They talked to each
other across the theatre, and shared their oranges with the tawdry
painted girls who sat by them. Some women were laughing in the pit;
their voices were horribly shrill and discordant. The sound of the
popping of corks came from the bar.

"What a place to find one's divinity in!" said Lord Henry.

"Yes!" answered Dorian Gray. "It was here I found her, and she is
divine beyond all living things. When she acts you will forget
everything. These common people here, with their coarse faces and
brutal gestures, become quite different when she is on the stage.
They sit silently and watch her. They weep and laugh as she wills
them to do. She makes them as responsive as a violin. She
spiritualizes them, and one feels that they are of the same flesh and
blood as one's self."

"Oh, I hope not!" murmured Lord Henry, who was scanning the occupants
of the gallery through his opera-glass.

"Don't pay any attention to him, Dorian," said Hallward. "I
understand what you mean, and I believe in this girl. Any one you
love must be marvellous, and any girl that has the effect you
describe must be fine and noble. To spiritualize one's age,--that is
something worth doing. If this girl can give a soul to those who
have lived without one, if she can create the sense of beauty in
people whose lives have been sordid and ugly, if she can strip them
of their selfishness and lend them tears for sorrows that are not
their own, she is worthy of all your adoration, worthy of the
adoration of the world. This marriage is quite right. I did not
think so at first, but I admit it now. God made Sibyl Vane for you.
Without her you would have been incomplete."

"Thanks, Basil," answered Dorian Gray, pressing his hand. "I (37)
knew that you would understand me. Harry is so cynical, he terrifies
me. But here is the orchestra. It is quite dreadful, but it only
lasts for about five minutes. Then the curtain rises, and you will
see the girl to whom I am going to give all my life, to whom I have
given everything that is good in me."

A quarter of an hour afterwards, amidst an extraordinary turmoil of
applause, Sibyl Vane stepped on to the stage. Yes, she was certainly
lovely to look at,--one of the loveliest creatures, Lord Henry
thought, that he had ever seen. There was something of the fawn in
her shy grace and startled eyes. A faint blush, like the shadow of a
rose in a mirror of silver, came to her cheeks as she glanced at the
crowded, enthusiastic house. She stepped back a few paces, and her
lips seemed to tremble. Basil Hallward leaped to his feet and began
to applaud. Dorian Gray sat motionless, gazing on her, like a man in
a dream. Lord Henry peered through his opera-glass, murmuring,
"Charming! charming!"

The scene was the hall of Capulet's house, and Romeo in his pilgrim's
dress had entered with Mercutio and his friends. The band, such as
it was, struck up a few bars of music, and the dance began. Through
the crowd of ungainly, shabbily-dressed actors, Sibyl Vane moved like
a creature from a finer world. Her body swayed, as she danced, as a
plant sways in the water. The curves of her throat were like the
curves of a white lily. Her hands seemed to be made of cool ivory.

Yet she was curiously listless. She showed no sign of joy when her
eyes rested on Romeo. The few lines she had to speak,--

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss,--

with the brief dialogue that follows, were spoken in a thoroughly
artificial manner. The voice was exquisite, but from the point of
view of tone it was absolutely false. It was wrong in color. It
took away all the life from the verse. It made the passion unreal.

Dorian Gray grew pale as he watched her. Neither of his friends
dared to say anything to him. She seemed to them to be absolutely
incompetent. They were horribly disappointed.

Yet they felt that the true test of any Juliet is the balcony scene
of the second act. They waited for that. If she failed there, there
was nothing in her.

She looked charming as she came out in the moonlight. That could not
be denied. But the staginess of her acting was unbearable, and grew
worse as she went on. Her gestures became absurdly artificial. She
over-emphasized everything that she had to say. The beautiful
passage,--

Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face,
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night,--

(38) was declaimed with the painful precision of a school-girl who
has been taught to recite by some second-rate professor of elocution.
When she leaned over the balcony and came to those wonderful lines,--

Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract to-night:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say, "It lightens." Sweet, good-night!
This bud of love by summer's ripening breath
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet,--

she spoke the words as if they conveyed no meaning to her. It was
not nervousness. Indeed, so far from being nervous, she seemed
absolutely self-contained. It was simply bad art. She was a
complete failure.

Even the common uneducated audience of the pit and gallery lost their
interest in the play. They got restless, and began to talk loudly
and to whistle. The Jew manager, who was standing at the back of the
dress-circle, stamped and swore with rage. The only person unmoved
was the girl herself.

When the second act was over there came a storm of hisses, and Lord
Henry got up from his chair and put on his coat. "She is quite
beautiful, Dorian," he said, "but she can't act. Let us go."

"I am going to see the play through," answered the lad, in a hard,
bitter voice. "I am awfully sorry that I have made you waste an
evening, Harry. I apologize to both of you."

"My dear Dorian, I should think Miss Vane was ill," interrupted
Hallward. "We will come some other night."

"I wish she was ill," he rejoined. "But she seems to me to be simply
callous and cold. She has entirely altered. Last night she was a
great artist. To-night she is merely a commonplace, mediocre
actress."

"Don't talk like that about any one you love, Dorian. Love is a more
wonderful thing than art."

"They are both simply forms of imitation," murmured Lord Henry. "But
do let us go. Dorian, you must not stay here any longer. It is not
good for one's morals to see bad acting. Besides, I don't suppose
you will want your wife to act. So what does it matter if she plays
Juliet like a wooden doll? She is very lovely, and if she knows as
little about life as she does about acting, she will be a delightful
experience. There are only two kinds of people who are really
fascinating,--people who know absolutely everything, and people who
know absolutely nothing. Good heavens, my dear boy, don't look so
tragic! The secret of remaining young is never to have an emotion
that is unbecoming. Come to the club with Basil and myself. We will
smoke cigarettes and drink to the beauty of Sibyl Vane. She is
beautiful. What more can you want?"

"Please go away, Harry," cried the lad. "I really want to be alone.-
-Basil, you don't mind my asking you to go? Ah! can't you see that
my heart is breaking?" The hot tears came to his eyes. His (39)
lips trembled, and, rushing to the back of the box, he leaned up
against the wall, hiding his face in his hands.

"Let us go, Basil," said Lord Henry, with a strange tenderness in his
voice; and the two young men passed out together.

A few moments afterwards the footlights flared up, and the curtain
rose on the third act. Dorian Gray went back to his seat. He looked
pale, and proud, and indifferent. The play dragged on, and seemed
interminable. Half of the audience went out, tramping in heavy
boots, and laughing. The whole thing was a fiasco. The last act was
played to almost empty benches.

As soon as it was over, Dorian Gray rushed behind the scenes into the
greenroom. The girl was standing alone there, with a look of triumph
on her face. Her eyes were lit with an exquisite fire. There was a
radiance about her. Her parted lips were smiling over some secret of
their own.

When he entered, she looked at him, and an expression of infinite joy
came over her. "How badly I acted to-night, Dorian!" she cried.

"Horribly!" he answered, gazing at her in amazement,--"horribly! It
was dreadful. Are you ill? You have no idea what it was. You have
no idea what I suffered."

The girl smiled. "Dorian," she answered, lingering over his name
with long-drawn music in her voice, as though it were sweeter than
honey to the red petals of her lips,--"Dorian, you should have
understood. But you understand now, don't you?"

"Understand what?" he asked, angrily.

"Why I was so bad to-night. Why I shall always be bad. Why I shall
never act well again."

He shrugged his shoulders. "You are ill, I suppose. When you are
ill you shouldn't act. You make yourself ridiculous. My friends
were bored. I was bored."

She seemed not to listen to him. She was transfigured with joy. An
ecstasy of happiness dominated her.

"Dorian, Dorian," she cried, "before I knew you, acting was the one
reality of my life. It was only in the theatre that I lived. I
thought that it was all true. I was Rosalind one night, and Portia
the other. The joy of Beatrice was my joy, and the sorrows of
Cordelia were mine also. I believed in everything. The common
people who acted with me seemed to me to be godlike. The painted
scenes were my world. I knew nothing but shadows, and I thought them
real. You came,--oh, my beautiful love!--and you freed my soul from
prison. You taught me what reality really is. To-night, for the
first time in my life, I saw through the hollowness, the sham, the
silliness, of the empty pageant in which I had always played. To-
night, for the first time, I became conscious that the Romeo was
hideous, and old, and painted, that the moonlight in the orchard was
false, that the scenery was vulgar, and that the words I had to speak
were unreal, were not my words, not what I wanted to say. You had
brought me something higher, something of which all art is but a
reflection. You have made me understand what love really is. My
love! my love! I am sick (40) of shadows. You are more to me than
all art can ever be. What have I to do with the puppets of a play?
When I came on to-night, I could not understand how it was that
everything had gone from me. Suddenly it dawned on my soul what it
all meant. The knowledge was exquisite to me. I heard them hissing,
and I smiled. What should they know of love? Take me away, Dorian--
take me away with you, where we can be quite alone. I hate the
stage. I might mimic a passion that I do not feel, but I cannot
mimic one that burns me like fire. Oh, Dorian, Dorian, you
understand now what it all means? Even if I could do it, it would be
profanation for me to play at being in love. You have made me see
that."

He flung himself down on the sofa, and turned away his face. "You
have killed my love," he muttered.

She looked at him in wonder, and laughed. He made no answer. She
came across to him, and stroked his hair with her little fingers.
She knelt down and pressed his hands to her lips. He drew them away,
and a shudder ran through him.

Then he leaped up, and went to the door. "Yes," he cried, "you have
killed my love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don't even
stir my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you
because you were wonderful, because you had genius and intellect,
because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and
substance to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You
are shallow and stupid. My God! how mad I was to love you! What a
fool I have been! You are nothing to me now. I will never see you
again. I will never think of you. I will never mention your name.
You don't know what you were to me, once. Why, once . . . . Oh, I
can't bear to think of it! I wish I had never laid eyes upon you!
You have spoiled the romance of my life. How little you can know of
love, if you say it mars your art! What are you without your art?
Nothing. I would have made you famous, splendid, magnificent. The
world would have worshipped you, and you would have belonged to me.
What are you now? A third-rate actress with a pretty face."

The girl grew white, and trembled. She clinched her hands together,
and her voice seemed to catch in her throat. "You are not serious,
Dorian?" she murmured. "You are acting."

"Acting! I leave that to you. You do it so well," he answered,
bitterly.

She rose from her knees, and, with a piteous expression of pain in
her face, came across the room to him. She put her hand upon his
arm, and looked into his eyes. He thrust her back. "Don't touch
me!" he cried.

A low moan broke from her, and she flung herself at his feet, and lay
there like a trampled flower. "Dorian, Dorian, don't leave me!" she
whispered. "I am so sorry I didn't act well. I was thinking of you
all the time. But I will try,--indeed, I will try. It came so
suddenly across me, my love for you. I think I should never have
known it if you had not kissed me,--if we had not kissed each other.
Kiss me again, my love. Don't go away from me. I couldn't bear it.
Can't you forgive me for to-night? I will work so hard, and try to
(41) improve. Don't be cruel to me because I love you better than
anything in the world. After all, it is only once that I have not
pleased you. But you are quite right, Dorian. I should have shown
myself more of an artist. It was foolish of me; and yet I couldn't
help it. Oh, don't leave me, don't leave me." A fit of passionate
sobbing choked her. She crouched on the floor like a wounded thing,
and Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his
chiselled lips curled in exquisite disdain. There is always
something ridiculous about the passions of people whom one has ceased
to love. Sibyl Vane seemed to him to be absurdly melodramatic. Her
tears and sobs annoyed him.

"I am going," he said at last, in his calm, clear voice. "I don't
wish to be unkind, but I can't see you again. You have disappointed
me."

She wept silently, and made no answer, but crept nearer to him. Her
little hands stretched blindly out, and appeared to be seeking for
him. He turned on his heel, and left the room. In a few moments he
was out of the theatre.

Where he went to, he hardly knew. He remembered wandering through
dimly-lit streets with gaunt black-shadowed archways and evil-looking
houses. Women with hoarse voices and harsh laughter had called after
him. Drunkards had reeled by cursing, and chattering to themselves
like monstrous apes. He had seen grotesque children huddled upon
door-steps, and had heard shrieks and oaths from gloomy courts.

When the dawn was just breaking he found himself at Covent Garden.
Huge carts filled with nodding lilies rumbled slowly down the
polished empty street. The air was heavy with the perfume of the
flowers, and their beauty seemed to bring him an anodyne for his
pain. He followed into the market, and watched the men unloading
their wagons. A white-smocked carter offered him some cherries. He
thanked him, wondered why he refused to accept any money for them,
and began to eat them listlessly. They had been plucked at midnight,
and the coldness of the moon had entered into them. A long line of
boys carrying crates of striped tulips, and of yellow and red roses,
defiled in front of him, threading their way through the huge jade-
green piles of vegetables. Under the portico, with its gray sun-
bleached pillars, loitered a troop of draggled bareheaded girls,
waiting for the auction to be over. After some time he hailed a
hansom and drove home. The sky was pure opal now, and the roofs of
the houses glistened like silver against it. As he was passing
through the library towards the door of his bedroom, his eye fell
upon the portrait Basil Hallward had painted of him. He started back
in surprise, and then went over to it and examined it. In the dim
arrested light that struggled through the cream-colored silk blinds,
the face seemed to him to be a little changed. The expression looked
different. One would have said that there was a touch of cruelty in
the mouth. It was certainly curious.

He turned round, and, walking to the window, drew the blinds up. The
bright dawn flooded the room, and swept the fantastic shadows (42)
into dusky corners, where they lay shuddering. But the strange
expression that he had noticed in the face of the portrait seemed to
linger there, to be more intensified even. The quivering, ardent
sunlight showed him the lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly
as if he had been looking into a mirror after he had done some
dreadful thing.

He winced, and, taking up from the table an oval glass framed in
ivory Cupids, that Lord Henry had given him, he glanced hurriedly
into it. No line like that warped his red lips. What did it mean?

He rubbed his eyes, and came close to the picture, and examined it
again. There were no signs of any change when he looked into the
actual painting, and yet there was no doubt that the whole expression
had altered. It was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing was
horribly apparent.

He threw himself into a chair, and began to think. Suddenly there
flashed across his mind what he had said in Basil Hallward's studio
the day the picture had been finished. Yes, he remembered it
perfectly. He had uttered a mad wish that he himself might remain
young, and the portrait grow old; that his own beauty might be
untarnished, and the face on the canvas bear the burden of his
passions and his sins; that the painted image might be seared with
the lines of suffering and thought, and that he might keep all the
delicate bloom and loveliness of his then just conscious boyhood.
Surely his prayer had not been answered? Such things were
impossible. It seemed monstrous even to think of them. And, yet,
there was the picture before him, with the touch of cruelty in the
mouth.

Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It was the girl's fault, not his. He
had dreamed of her as a great artist, had given his love to her
because he had thought her great. Then she had disappointed him.
She had been shallow and unworthy. And, yet, a feeling of infinite
regret came over him, as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing
like a little child. He remembered with what callousness he had
watched her. Why had he been made like that? Why had such a soul
been given to him? But he had suffered also. During the three
terrible hours that the play had lasted, he had lived centuries of
pain, aeon upon aeon of torture. His life was well worth hers. She
had marred him for a moment, if he had wounded her for an age.
Besides, women were better suited to bear sorrow than men. They
lived on their emotions. They only thought of their emotions. When
they took lovers, it was merely to have some one with whom they could
have scenes. Lord Henry had told him that, and Lord Henry knew what
women were. Why should he trouble about Sibyl Vane? She was nothing
to him now.

But the picture? What was he to say of that? It held the secret of
his life, and told his story. It had taught him to love his own
beauty. Would it teach him to loathe his own soul? Would he ever
look at it again?

No; it was merely an illusion wrought on the troubled senses. The
horrible night that he had passed had left phantoms behind it.
Suddenly there had fallen upon his brain that tiny scarlet speck that
(43) makes men mad. The picture had not changed. It was folly to
think so.

Yet it was watching him, with its beautiful marred face and its cruel
smile. Its bright hair gleamed in the early sunlight. Its blue eyes
met his own. A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the
painted image of himself, came over him. It had altered already, and
would alter more. Its gold would wither into gray. Its red and
white roses would die. For every sin that he committed, a stain
would fleck and wreck its fairness. But he would not sin. The
picture, changed or unchanged, would be to him the visible emblem of
conscience. He would resist temptation. He would not see Lord Henry
any more,--would not, at any rate, listen to those subtle poisonous
theories that in Basil Hallward's garden had first stirred within him
the passion for impossible things. He would go back to Sibyl Vane,
make her amends, marry her, try to love her again. Yes, it was his
duty to do so. She must have suffered more than he had. Poor child!
He had been selfish and cruel to her. The fascination that she had
exercised over him would return. They would be happy together. His
life with her would be beautiful and pure.

He got up from his chair, and drew a large screen right in front of
the portrait, shuddering as he glanced at it. "How horrible!" he
murmured to himself, and he walked across to the window and opened
it. When he stepped out on the grass, he drew a deep breath. The
fresh morning air seemed to drive away all his sombre passions. He
thought only of Sibyl Vane. A faint echo of his love came back to
him. He repeated her name over and over again. The birds that were
singing in the dew-drenched garden seemed to be telling the flowers
about her.

Content of Chapter V: 36-43 (Oscar Wilde's novel: Picture of Dorian Gray)

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