On a sunny summer day, the talented painter Basil Hallward takes in his workshop an old friend of Lord Henry Wotton – the epicurean esthete, the “Prince of Paradox”, by definition of one of the characters. In the latter one easily recognizes the features of Oscar Wilde, familiar to contemporaries, to whom the author of the novel “gives” and the prevailing number of his famous aphorisms. Captured by a new idea, Holluord enthusiastically works on a portrait of an unusually handsome young man whom he recently met. Tom is twenty years old; his name is Dorian Gray.
Soon a model appears, listening with interest to the paradoxical judgments of a weary hedonist; the young beauty of Dorian, captivating Basil, does not leave indifferent and Lord Henry. But here the portrait is finished; those present are delighted with his perfection. Golden-haired, adoring all the beautiful and pleasing to himself Dorian dreams out loud: “If the portrait was changing, and I could always remain as it is!” The touched Basil gives a portrait to the young man.
Ignoring Basil’s languid resistance, Dorian accepts the invitation of Lord Henry and, with the active participation of the latter, plunges into secular life; attends dinner parties, holds evenings at the opera. In the meantime, having paid a visit to his uncle Lord Farmer, Lord Henry learns about the dramatic circumstances of Dorian’s origin: he was brought up by a rich guardian, painfully survived the early death of his mother, contrary to family traditions, fallen in love and bound his fate with an unknown infantry officer.
Dorian himself, meanwhile, falls in love with the beginning actress Sybil Wayne – “a girl of seventeen, with a face as gentle as a flower, with a head of a Greek woman wrapped in dark braids, eyes – blue lakes of passion, lips – petals of roses”; it plays with amazing spirituality on the poor scaffolding of the beggar theater in the East Indies, the best roles of the Shakespearean repertoire. In turn, Sybil, dragging a half-starved existence with his mother and brother, a sixteen-year-old James, preparing to sail by a sailor on a merchant ship to Australia, Dorian appears to be an incarnate miracle – “The Perfect Prince”, descended from the transcendental heights. Her lover does not know that in her life there is also a mystery carefully guarded from extraneous views: both Sibylla and
James are illegitimate children, the fruits of a love union that once tied their mother to “tortured,
Found in Siberia, a living embodiment of beauty and talent, the naive idealist Dorian with triumph informs Basil and Lord Henry about his engagement. The future of their ward causes alarm in both; However, they both readily accept the invitation to the play, where the darling of Dorian should perform the role of Juliet. However, absorbed in her hopeful hopes for her real happiness with her beloved, Sybil this evening reluctantly, as if by coercion, pronounces the words of the role, seeing for the first time unvarnished the squalor of scenery, the falsity of the stage partners and the miserliness of entreprise. There is a loud failure, which provokes the skeptical jeers of Lord Henry, the restrained sympathy of the good Basil and the total collapse of Dorian’s air locks, in desperation tosses Sybile: “You killed my love!”
Spoiled in his beautiful illusions, confused by the belief in the indissolubility of art and reality, Dorian spends a sleepless night wandering around the deserted London. Sybile, his cruel confession turns out to be beyond his powers; the next morning, preparing to send her a letter with the words of reconciliation, he learns that the girl committed suicide the same evening. Friends, patrons and here react to the tragic news in their own way: Basil advises Dorian to strengthen his spirit, and Lord Henry – “do not pour vain tears on Sybile Wayne.” Seeking to console the young man, he invites him to the opera, promising to introduce his charming sister Lady Gwendolen. To the bewilderment of Basil, Dorian accepts the invitation. And only the portrait given to him recently by the artist becomes a ruthless mirror of the spiritual metamorphosis that is maturing in him: On the impeccable face of a young Greek god, a stiff wrinkle is indicated. Worryingly, Dorian cleans up the portrait from the eyes.
And again, his lenient friend-Mephistopheles-Lord Henry helps him to drown the alarming pricks of his conscience. On the advice of the latter, he goes headfirst into reading the strange book of the new-fangled French author – the psychological etude about a man who decided to experience all the extremes of being. For a long time fascinated by her, Dorian in the next twenty years – in the narrative of the novel they fit into one chapter – “he falls in love with his beauty and watches the dissolution of his soul with great interest”. As if soaked in his ideal shell, he seeks solace in the lavish rituals and rituals of other religions, in music, in the collection of antiquities and precious stones, in narcotic potions offered in dens with ill-known fame. Attracted by hedonistic temptations, over and over again falling in love, but not capable of loving, he does not shun dubious connections and suspicious acquaintances. Behind him is fixed the glory of the soulless seducer of young minds.
Recalling the fate of the fleeting elected and elected by his whims, Dorian tries to reason with Basil Holloword, who has long since interrupted all ties with him, but before going to Paris, he was going to visit. But in vain: in response to just reproaches, he laughingly offers the painter to see the true face of his former idol, imprinted on the Holward’s portrait, which is dusting in a dark corner. The bewildering face of the voluptuous old man opens to the astonished Basil. However, the sight turns out to be beyond the power of Dorian: believing the creator of the portrait to be responsible for his moral behavior, he, in an attack of uncontrollable rage, stabs the dagger in the neck of his friend’s young days. And then, calling to the aid of one of the former comrades-in-arms on binges and feasts, the chemist Alan Campbell, blackmailing that kind of shameful secret, known only to both of them,
Torn by belated remorse, he again seeks oblivion in drugs. And he almost dies when a drunken sailor finds him in a suspicious brothel on the very bottom of London: it’s James Wayne who, too late, had seen about the fateful fate of his sister and sworn at all costs to take revenge on her offender.
However, fate keeps him from physical death. But – not from the all-seeing eye of the Holluord portrait. “This portrait is like a conscience, yes, a conscience, and it is necessary to destroy it,” Dorian concludes, surviving all the temptations of the world, even more devastated and lonely than before, vainly envying the purity of the innocent village girl, and the dedication of his accomplice willy-nilly Alan Campbell, who found the strength to commit suicide, and even… the spiritual aristocracy of his friend-tempter Lord Henry, alien, it seems, any moral obstacle, but inconceivably believing that “every crime is vulgar.”
Late night, alone with himself in a luxurious London mansion, Dorian jumps with a knife on the portrait, seeking to shred and destroy it. The servants who have risen to cry reveal in the room the dead body of an old man in a dress coat. And a portrait, timeless in its radiant grandeur.
Thus ends the novel-parable of a man for whom “in some moments Evil was only one means of realizing what he considered the beauty of life.”