She has been innocent, and the black hands of jealousy have
crushed her reedlike throat. I have seen her in every age and in
every costume. Ordinary women never appeal to one's imagination.
They are limited to their century. No glamour ever transfigures them.
One knows their minds as easily as one knows their bonnets.
One can always find them. There is no mystery in any of them. They ride
in the park in the morning and chatter at tea-parties in the afternoon.
They have their stereotyped smile and their fashionable manner.
They are quite obvious. But an actress! How different an actress is!
Harry! why didn't you tell me that the only thing worth loving is an
"Because I have loved so many of them, Dorian."
"Oh, yes, horrid people with dyed hair and painted faces."
"Don't run down dyed hair and painted faces. There is an extraordinary
charm in them, sometimes," said Lord Henry.
"I wish now I had not told you about Sibyl Vane."
"You could not have helped telling me, Dorian. All through your life
you will tell me everything you do."
"Yes, Harry, I believe that is true. I cannot help telling you things.
You have a curious influence over me. If I ever did a crime, I would come
and confess it to you. You would understand me."
"People like you - the wilful sunbeams of life - don't commit crimes, Dorian.
But I am much obliged for the compliment, all the same. And now tell me -
reach me the matches, like a good boy - thanks - what are your actual relations
with Sibyl Vane?"
Dorian Gray leaped to his feet, with flushed cheeks and burning eyes.
"Harry! Sibyl Vane is sacred!"
"It is only the sacred things that are worth touching, Dorian,"
said Lord Henry, with a strange touch of pathos in his voice.
"But why should you be annoyed? I suppose she will belong
to you some day. When one is in love, one always begins by
deceiving one's self, and one always ends by deceiving others.
That is what the world calls a romance. You know her, at any rate,
"Of course I know her. On the first night I was at the theatre,
the horrid old Jew came round to the box after the performance was over
and offered to take me behind the scenes and introduce me to her.
I was furious with him, and told him that Juliet had been dead
for hundreds of years and that her body was lying in a marble
tomb in Verona. I think, from his blank look of amazement,
that he was under the impression that I had taken too much champagne,
"I am not surprised."
"Then he asked me if I wrote for any of the newspapers.
I told him I never even read them. He seemed terribly disappointed
at that, and confided to me that all the dramatic critics
were in a conspiracy against him, and that they were every
one of them to be bought."
"I should not wonder if he was quite right there. But, on the other hand,
judging from their appearance, most of them cannot be at all expensive."
"Well, he seemed to think they were beyond his means,"
laughed Dorian. "By this time, however, the lights were being
put out in the theatre, and I had to go. He wanted me to try
some cigars that he strongly recommended. I declined.
The next night, of course, I arrived at the place again.
When he saw me, he made me a low bow and assured me that I
was a munificent patron of art. He was a most offensive brute,
though he had an extraordinary passion for Shakespeare.
He told me once, with an air of pride, that his five bankruptcies
were entirely due to 'The Bard,' as he insisted on calling him.
He seemed to think it a distinction."
"It was a distinction, my dear Dorian - a great distinction.
Most people become bankrupt through having invested too
heavily in the prose of life. To have ruined one's self over
poetry is an honour. But when did you first speak to Miss
"The third night. She had been playing Rosalind.
I could not help going round. I had thrown her some flowers,
and she had looked at me - at least I fancied that she had.
The old Jew was persistent. He seemed determined to take me behind,
so I consented. It was curious my not wanting to know her,
"No; I don't think so."
"My dear Harry, why?"
"I will tell you some other time. Now I want to know about the girl."
"Sibyl? Oh, she was so shy and so gentle. There is something of a
child about her. Her eyes opened wide in exquisite wonder when I
told her what I thought of her performance, and she seemed quite
unconscious of her power. I think we were both rather nervous.
The old Jew stood grinning at the doorway of the dusty greenroom,
making elaborate speeches about us both, while we stood looking at
each other like children. He would insist on calling me 'My Lord,'
so I had to assure Sibyl that I was not anything of the kind.
She said quite simply to me, 'You look more like a prince.
I must call you Prince Charming.'"
"Upon my word, Dorian, Miss Sibyl knows how to pay compliments."
"You don't understand her, Harry. She regarded me merely as a person
in a play. She knows nothing of life. She lives with her mother,
a faded tired woman who played Lady Capulet in a sort of magenta
dressing-wrapper on the first night, and looks as if she had seen
"I know that look. It depresses me," murmured Lord Henry,
examining his rings.
"The Jew wanted to tell me her history, but I said it did not interest me."
"You were quite right. There is always something infinitely mean
about other people's tragedies."
"Sibyl is the only thing I care about. What is it to me
where she came from? From her little head to her little feet,
she is absolutely and entirely divine. Every night of my life I
go to see her act, and every night she is more marvellous."
"That is the reason, I suppose, that you never dine with me now.
I thought you must have some curious romance on hand. You have;
but it is not quite what I expected."
"My dear Harry, we either lunch or sup together every day,
and I have been to the opera with you several times," said Dorian,
opening his blue eyes in wonder.
"You always come dreadfully late."
"Well, I can't help going to see Sibyl play," he cried, "even if it is
only for a single act. I get hungry for her presence; and when I think
of the wonderful soul that is hidden away in that little ivory body,
I am filled with awe."
"You can dine with me to-night, Dorian, can't you?"
He shook his head. "To-night she is Imogen," he answered,
"and to-morrow night she will be Juliet."
"When is she Sibyl Vane?"
"I congratulate you."
"How horrid you are! She is all the great heroines of the world in one.
She is more than an individual. You laugh, but I tell you she
has genius. I love her, and I must make her love me. You, who know
all the secrets of life, tell me how to charm Sibyl Vane to love me!
I want to make Romeo jealous. I want the dead lovers of the world
to hear our laughter and grow sad. I want a breath of our passion
to stir their dust into consciousness, to wake their ashes into pain.
My God, Harry, how I worship her!" He was walking up and down the room
as he spoke. Hectic spots of red burned on his cheeks. He was
Lord Henry watched him with a subtle sense of pleasure. How different
he was now from the shy frightened boy he had met in Basil Hallward's studio!
His nature had developed like a flower, had borne blossoms of scarlet flame.
Out of its secret hiding-place had crept his soul, and desire had come to meet
it on the way.
"And what do you propose to do?" said Lord Henry at last.
"I want you and Basil to come with me some night and see her act.
I have not the slightest fear of the result. You are certain to
acknowledge her genius. Then we must get her out of the Jew's hands.
She is bound to him for three years - at least for two years and eight months -
from the present time. I shall have to pay him something, of course.
When all that is settled, I shall take a West End theatre and bring
her out properly. She will make the world as mad as she has
"That would be impossible, my dear boy."
"Yes, she will. She has not merely art, consummate art-instinct,
in her, but she has personality also; and you have often told me
that it is personalities, not principles, that move the age."
"Well, what night shall we go?"
"Let me see. To-day is Tuesday. Let us fix to-morrow. She plays
"All right. The Bristol at eight o'clock; and I will get Basil."
"Not eight, Harry, please. Half-past six. We must be there
before the curtain rises. You must see her in the first act,
where she meets Romeo."
"Half-past six! What an hour! It will be like having a meat-tea, or reading
an English novel. It must be seven. No gentleman dines before seven.
Shall you see Basil between this and then? Or shall I write to him?"
"Dear Basil! I have not laid eyes on him for a week.
It is rather horrid of me, as he has sent me my portrait in
the most wonderful frame, specially designed by himself, and,
though I am a little jealous of the picture for being a whole
month younger than I am, I must admit that I delight in it.
Perhaps you had better write to him. I don't want to see him alone.
He says things that annoy me. He gives me good advice."
Lord Henry smiled. "People are very fond of giving away what they
need most themselves. It is what I call the depth of generosity."
"Oh, Basil is the best of fellows, but he seems to me to be just a bit
of a Philistine. Since I have known you, Harry, I have discovered that."
"Basil, my dear boy, puts everything that is charming in him
into his work. The consequence is that he has nothing left for
life but his prejudices, his principles, and his common sense.
The only artists I have ever known who are personally delightful
are bad artists. Good artists exist simply in what they make,
and consequently are perfectly uninteresting in what they are.
A great poet, a really great poet, is the most unpoetical of
all creatures. But inferior poets are absolutely fascinating.
The worse their rhymes are, the more picturesque they look.
The mere fact of having published a book of second-rate sonnets
makes a man quite irresistible. He lives the poetry that
he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare
"I wonder is that really so, Harry?" said Dorian Gray,
putting some perfume on his handkerchief out of a large,
gold-topped bottle that stood on the table. "It must be,
if you say it. And now I am off. Imogen is waiting for me.
Don't forget about to-morrow. Good-bye."
As he left the room, Lord Henry's heavy eyelids drooped, and he began
to think. Certainly few people had ever interested him so much
as Dorian Gray, and yet the lad's mad adoration of some one else
caused him not the slightest pang of annoyance or jealousy.
He was pleased by it. It made him a more interesting study.
He had been always enthralled by the methods of natural science,
but the ordinary subject-matter of that science had seemed to him
trivial and of no import. And so he had begun by vivisecting himself,
as he had ended by vivisecting others. Human life - that appeared
to him the one thing worth investigating. Compared to it there
was nothing else of any value. It was true that as one watched
life in its curious crucible of pain and pleasure, one could
not wear over one's face a mask of glass, nor keep the sulphurous
fumes from troubling the brain and making the imagination turbid
with monstrous fancies and misshapen dreams. There were poisons
so subtle that to know their properties one had to sicken of them.
There were maladies so strange that one had to pass through them
if one sought to understand their nature. And, yet, what a great
reward one received! How wonderful the whole world became to one!
To note the curious hard logic of passion, and the emotional
coloured life of the intellect - to observe where they met,
and where they separated, at what point they were in unison,
and at what point they were at discord - there was a delight in that!
What matter what the cost was? One could never pay too high a price for
He was conscious - and the thought brought a gleam of pleasure into
his brown agate eyes - that it was through certain words of his,
musical words said with musical utterance, that Dorian Gray's soul
had turned to this white girl and bowed in worship before her.
To a large extent the lad was his own creation. He had made
him premature. That was something. Ordinary people waited till
life disclosed to them its secrets, but to the few, to the elect,
the mysteries of life were revealed before the veil was drawn away.
Sometimes this was the effect of art, and chiefly of the art of literature,
which dealt immediately with the passions and the intellect.
But now and then a complex personality took the place and assumed
the office of art, was indeed, in its way, a real work of art,
life having its elaborate masterpieces, just as poetry has, or sculpture,
Yes, the lad was premature. He was gathering his harvest while it
was yet spring. The pulse and passion of youth were in him,
but he was becoming self-conscious. It was delightful to watch him.
With his beautiful face, and his beautiful soul, he was a thing to
wonder at. It was no matter how it all ended, or was destined to end.
He was like one of those gracious figures in a pageant or a play,
whose joys seem to be remote from one, but whose sorrows stir one's sense
of beauty, and whose wounds are like red roses.
Soul and body, body and soul - how mysterious they were! There was
animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality.
The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade. Who could
say where the fleshly impulse ceased, or the psychical impulse began?
How shallow were the arbitrary definitions of ordinary psychologists!
And yet how difficult to decide between the claims of the various schools!
Was the soul a shadow seated in the house of sin? Or was the body
really in the soul, as Giordano Bruno thought? The separation of spirit
from matter was a mystery, and the union of spirit with matter was a
He began to wonder whether we could ever make psychology so absolute
a science that each little spring of life would be revealed to us.
As it was, we always misunderstood ourselves and rarely understood others.
Experience was of no ethical value. It was merely the name men gave to
their mistakes. Moralists had, as a rule, regarded it as a mode of warning,
had claimed for it a certain ethical efficacy in the formation of character,
had praised it as something that taught us what to follow and showed
us what to avoid. But there was no motive power in experience.
It was as little of an active cause as conscience itself. All that it
really demonstrated was that our future would be the same as our past,
and that the sin we had done once, and with loathing, we would do many times,
and with joy.
It was clear to him that the experimental method was the only
method by which one could arrive at any scientific analysis
of the passions; and certainly Dorian Gray was a subject made
to his hand, and seemed to promise rich and fruitful results.
His sudden mad love for Sibyl Vane was a psychological phenomenon
of no small interest. There was no doubt that curiosity had much
to do with it, curiosity and the desire for new experiences,
yet it was not a simple, but rather a very complex passion.
What there was in it of the purely sensuous instinct of boyhood
had been transformed by the workings of the imagination,
changed into something that seemed to the lad himself to be remote
from sense, and was for that very reason all the more dangerous.
It was the passions about whose origin we deceived ourselves
that tyrannized most strongly over us. Our weakest motives
were those of whose nature we were conscious. It often happened
that when we thought we were experimenting on others we were
really experimenting on ourselves.
While Lord Henry sat dreaming on these things, a knock came to the door,
and his valet entered and reminded him it was time to dress for dinner.
He got up and looked out into the street. The sunset had smitten into
scarlet gold the upper windows of the houses opposite. The panes glowed
like plates of heated metal. The sky above was like a faded rose.
He thought of his friend's young fiery-coloured life and wondered how it was
all going to end.
When he arrived home, about half-past twelve o'clock, he saw a telegram
lying on the hall table. He opened it and found it was from Dorian Gray.
It was to tell him that he was engaged to be married to Sibyl Vane.
"Mother, Mother, I am so happy!" whispered the girl, burying her
face in the lap of the faded, tired-looking woman who,
with back turned to the shrill intrusive light, was sitting
in the one arm-chair that their dingy sitting-room contained.
"I am so happy!" she repeated, "and you must be happy, too!"
Mrs. Vane winced and put her thin, bismuth-whitened hands on her
daughter's head. "Happy!" she echoed, "I am only happy, Sibyl, when I
see you act. You must not think of anything but your acting.
Mr. Isaacs has been very good to us, and we owe him money."
The girl looked up and pouted. "Money, Mother?" she cried,
"what does money matter? Love is more than money."
"Mr. Isaacs has advanced us fifty pounds to pay off our debts and to get
a proper outfit for James. You must not forget that, Sibyl. Fifty pounds
is a very large sum. Mr. Isaacs has been most considerate."
"He is not a gentleman, Mother, and I hate the way he talks to me,"
said the girl, rising to her feet and going over to the window.
"I don't know how we could manage without him," answered the elder
Sibyl Vane tossed her head and laughed. "We don't want him
any more, Mother. Prince Charming rules life for us now."
Then she paused. A rose shook in her blood and shadowed
her cheeks. Quick breath parted the petals of her lips.
They trembled. Some southern wind of passion swept over her
and stirred the dainty folds of her dress. "I love him,"
she said simply.
"Foolish child! foolish child!" was the parrot-phrase flung in answer.
The waving of crooked, false-jewelled fingers gave grotesqueness to
The girl laughed again. The joy of a caged bird was in her voice.
Her eyes caught the melody and echoed it in radiance, then closed
for a moment, as though to hide their secret. When they opened,
the mist of a dream had passed across them.
Thin-lipped wisdom spoke at her from the worn chair,
hinted at prudence, quoted from that book of cowardice whose
author apes the name of common sense. She did not listen.
She was free in her prison of passion. Her prince, Prince Charming,
was with her. She had called on memory to remake him.
She had sent her soul to search for him, and it had brought him back.
His kiss burned again upon her mouth. Her eyelids were warm with
Then wisdom altered its method and spoke of espial and discovery.
This young man might be rich. If so, marriage should be thought of.
Against the shell of her ear broke the waves of worldly cunning.
The arrows of craft shot by her. She saw the thin lips moving,
Suddenly she felt the need to speak. The wordy silence troubled her.
"Mother, Mother," she cried, "why does he love me so much? I know why I
love him. I love him because he is like what love himself should be.
But what does he see in me? I am not worthy of him. And yet - why, I
cannot tell - though I feel so much beneath him, I don't feel humble.
I feel proud, terribly proud. Mother, did you love my father as I love
The elder woman grew pale beneath the coarse powder that daubed
her cheeks, and her dry lips twitched with a spasm of pain.
Sybil rushed to her, flung her arms round her neck, and kissed her.
"Forgive me, Mother. I know it pains you to talk about our father.
But it only pains you because you loved him so much. Don't look so sad.
I am as happy to-day as you were twenty years ago. Ah! let me be happy
"My child, you are far too young to think of falling in love.
Besides, what do you know of this young man? You don't
even know his name. The whole thing is most inconvenient,
and really, when James is going away to Australia, and I have
so much to think of, I must say that you should have shown
more consideration. However, as I said before, if he is rich
. . ."
"Ah! Mother, Mother, let me be happy!"
Mrs. Vane glanced at her, and with one of those false
theatrical gestures that so often become a mode of second
nature to a stage-player, clasped her in her arms.
At this moment, the door opened and a young lad with rough
brown hair came into the room. He was thick-set of figure,
and his hands and feet were large and somewhat clumsy in movement.
He was not so finely bred as his sister. One would hardly
have guessed the close relationship that existed between them.
Mrs. Vane fixed her eyes on him and intensified her smile.
She mentally elevated her son to the dignity of an audience.
She felt sure that the tableau was interesting.
"You might keep some of your kisses for me, Sibyl, I think,"
said the lad with a good-natured grumble.
"Ah! but you don't like being kissed, Jim," she cried.
"You are a dreadful old bear." And she ran across the room and
James Vane looked into his sister's face with tenderness.
"I want you to come out with me for a walk, Sibyl.
I don't suppose I shall ever see this horrid London again.
I am sure I don't want to."
"My son, don't say such dreadful things," murmured Mrs. Vane, taking up
a tawdry theatrical dress, with a sigh, and beginning to patch it.
She felt a little disappointed that he had not joined the group.
It would have increased the theatrical picturesqueness of the situation.
"Why not, Mother? I mean it."
"You pain me, my son. I trust you will return from Australia in a position
of affluence. I believe there is no society of any kind in the Colonies -
nothing that I would call society - so when you have made your fortune,
you must come back and assert yourself in London."
"Society!" muttered the lad. "I don't want to know anything about that.
I should like to make some money to take you and Sibyl off the stage.
I hate it."
"Oh, Jim!" said Sibyl, laughing, "how unkind of you!
But are you really going for a walk with me? That will be nice!
I was afraid you were going to say good-bye to some of your friends -
to Tom Hardy, who gave you that hideous pipe, or Ned Langton,
who makes fun of you for smoking it. It is very sweet of you
to let me have your last afternoon. Where shall we go?
Let us go to the park."
"I am too shabby," he answered, frowning. "Only swell people go to the park."
"Nonsense, Jim," she whispered, stroking the sleeve of his coat.
He hesitated for a moment. "Very well," he said at last,
"but don't be too long dressing." She danced out of the door.
One could hear her singing as she ran upstairs. Her little feet
He walked up and down the room two or three times. Then he turned
to the still figure in the chair. "Mother, are my things ready?"
"Quite ready, James," she answered, keeping her eyes on
her work. For some months past she had felt ill at ease
when she was alone with this rough stern son of hers.
Her shallow secret nature was troubled when their eyes met.
She used to wonder if he suspected anything. The silence,
for he made no other observation, became intolerable to her.
She began to complain. Women defend themselves by attacking,
just as they attack by sudden and strange surrenders.
"I hope you will be contented, James, with your sea-faring life,"
she said. "You must remember that it is your own choice.
You might have entered a solicitor's office. Solicitors are
a very respectable class, and in the country often dine with
the best families."
"I hate offices, and I hate clerks," he replied. "But you are quite right.
I have chosen my own life. All I say is, watch over Sibyl. Don't let her
come to any harm. Mother, you must watch over her."
"James, you really talk very strangely. Of course I watch over Sibyl."
"I hear a gentleman comes every night to the theatre and goes behind
to talk to her. Is that right? What about that?"
"You are speaking about things you don't understand, James. In the profession
we are accustomed to receive a great deal of most gratifying attention.