A painter, Basil Hallward, paints a most exquisite portrait of his muse, the handsome young man named Dorian Gray. During the last session of painting, Dorian, who has until this point been completely innocent both of his beauty and of the world, meets Basil’s friend Lord Henry Wotton, who opens his eyes to the ephemeral nature of his own beauty and tells him that he should experience life to the fullest. Upon the completion of the portrait, Dorian wishes out loud that the painting would grow old, and not he. Due to Harry’s influence, Dorian goes out looking for passion and falls in love with a young actress of considerable talent, Sibyl Vane. When she falls in love with him, however, she realizes the falseness of her stage life and performs very poorly in front of Basil and Harry when they come to meet her; Dorian is thoroughly disappointed, loses all respect and love for her, and breaks the engagement. He goes home to find that the painting has become slightly more cruel-looking, and the next morning, just after resolving to go back and marry her regardless, finds out that Sibyl has killed herself. The painting fills him with fear and he has it locked up in an old schoolroom in his house.
Dorian finds a certain joy, over the next years, in committing sinful or pleasurable deeds and watching the painting change; he loses none of his beauty or youth, but the painting grows old and ugly. He is constantly in touch with Harry, who feeds his beliefs about a new Hedonism-the search for pleasure, not morality-which should take over the world. When Dorian is thirty-eight, he runs into Basil, having not seen him for a long time, and finally shows him what has happened to his portrait. Basil is horrified and tries to make Dorian repent, but Dorian kills him, and has an old friend of his burn the body and get rid of the evidence.
Dorian becomes increasingly anxious and fearful that someone might discover his secret, and goes to an opium den to try to erase his bad feelings. Sibyl’s brother, James, who has been searching for him for eighteen years, knowing only that his sister called him Prince Charming, finds Dorian and threatens his life. He lets him go when Dorian tells him to look closely at his face; he could not have been more than twenty years old. While at a hunting party a few days later, a man is accidentally shot and killed, and Dorian finds out that this man was James. He decides that from this time on, he will be good; and to do this, he must get rid of the constant anxiety and fear he has been feeling-he must destroy the portrait. He stabs it, with the same knife he used to kill Basil, and when the servants enter they see the portrait as it was when it was new, and a horrible, old, ugly man lying dead on the floor.
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