The Picture of Dorian Gray Chapters 1 - 2 Summary

Basil Hallward and his friend Lord Henry Wotton are enjoying a fine summer day in the garden of Basil's home. Lord Henry is admiring Basil's portrait of a young man. He tells Basil he must exhibit the picture at the Grosvenor, because in his estimation it is the best work Basil has ever done. But, Basil is adamant in his refusal to display the picture in public. Lord Henry is dismayed by his friend's reluctance, as it is the only way for an artist to become recognized in the art world. He feels if others see the painting, then Basil's reputation as a great artist will be forever set in the minds of his contemporaries. Basil has his own reasons for keeping the painting to himself and he is also unwilling to tell Lord Henry who the young man in the picture is.

Lord Henry is insistent in trying to find out why Basil will not show the painting. Basil, in the end, capitulates to Lord Henry's request to satisfy his curiosity. He tells Lord Henry the portrait reveals too much of himself to the viewer. This explanation only serves to intensify Lord Henry's curiosity. He now is insistent to hear the real reason Basil will not display his art for public viewing.

Basil, in his desire to change the topic, tells Lord Henry the picture does not reflect his own physical self, but that of his friend Dorian Gray. He regrets saying Dorian's name the minute it slips past his lips. He is a man who likes to keep all aspects of his life secret. Lord Henry is now totally caught up in finding out more about this Dorian Gray, and the real reason Basil refuses to show the painting.

Basil tries to answer his questions, by telling the story of how he and Dorian met. They were both at a party given by Lady Brandon. Basil saw Dorian and their eyes locked on each other; he knew from the start this man could cause him great sorrow and also engulf his whole being. He tried to leave the party to get away from Dorian as quickly as possible but, Lady Brandon stopped him and he was introduced to Dorian. The two of them have become inseparable, as Dorian has become Basil's muse. He feels everything he paints is enhanced by the mere presence of Dorian. He tells Lord Henry he is doing the best work of his life, because Dorian has allowed him to see things differently. He feels he is painting in an entirely new style and that his life as an artist depends on Dorian Gray.

While the two men are talking, Dorian is announced by the butler. Lord Henry insists on being introduced to this extraordinary young man. Basil entreats him not to do or say anything which might spoil Dorian's beautiful way of looking at the world. Dorian is introduced to Lord Henry, who tells him of their connection though Lord Henry's Aunt Agatha. It seems Dorian and Aunt Agatha are friends, who also, periodically perform piano duets together.

Basil is ready to continue his painting of Dorian, so he asks Lord Henry to leave, to allow him to concentrate on his work. But, Dorian protests, because Basil does not speak while he is painting and it becomes boring for Dorian to stand posing, with no one to talk to. Basil allows Lord Henry to stay to keep Dorian company, little does he know how this decision will affect his friend. Lord Henry forgets his promise to not upset or fill Dorian's mind with new ideas, so he begins to expound on the idea of influence being immoral, even so called good influence. His reasoning is that influence takes a person's natural thoughts and ideas, and shapes them to conform to the thoughts and ideas of another person. This keeps a person from living out the thoughts and desires of his own life. This new thought process is too much for the naïve Dorian and he tells Lord Henry to stop talking.

The two men retire to the garden to give Dorian a break from posing, which gives Lord Henry the opportunity to expound about beauty. He explains to Dorian, his beauty is only a temporary part of his life and one day he will be a wrinkled haggard old man, who looks back at his handsome self with sadness. Dorian had never contemplated the possibility his looks might one day fade. He is taken aback by this sudden revelation and he is shocked by the thought of losing his looks.

Basil calls the men back into his studio and finishes the painting. He is proud of his work, calling it the finest painting he has ever done. He is waiting for Dorian to tell him how much he loves the portrait, but instead the young man can only see it as the reminder of lost beauty it will be to him as he ages. He wishes he could allow the painting to age, while he remains his handsome youthful self.

He hurts Basil's feelings with his reaction to the painting, so much so that Basil is prepared to destroy it. Dorian stops him, telling him he loves the painting. Later Dorian and Lord Henry make plans to go the theater together. Basil strongly disapproves of this arrangement, but he is not able to dissuade Dorian from his plans.

Lord Henry takes Basil's friend and muse, Dorian, from a young and innocent man to a man who is frightened of aging. He, through his words, makes Dorian aware the world is not the bright and wonderful place he thinks it is. He, instead, lets him know how much influence and the ravages of time can change a person. Meanwhile, Basil will do anything to keep Dorian the way he is, so he can continue being his muse.

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