This novel is about a boy who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. It starts with Basil Hallward painting a picture of Dorian Gray while his friend, Lord Henry, observes. After talking with Lord Henry on many occasions, Dorian soon believes that beauty is the only aspect of life really worth striving for and keeping. He wishes that the picture Basil painted of him would grow old in his place so he can stay young and beautiful forever. Soon after, Dorian finds Sybil Vane preforming Romeo and Juliet in a dingy playhouse and proposes to her within a week. She thinks she is completely perfect and goes home to tell her skeptical mother and brother about him. Her brother, James, says that if Dorian (whom she refers to as Prince Charming) harms her, James will kill him.
Dorian invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sybil preform one night and she does a horrendous job. He goes to speak with her after the play and realizes he feels nothing for her because she can no longer produce beautiful preformances and tells her the engagement is off. In a fit, she kills herself. When Dorian comes home and looks at the painting, there is a subtle, cruel sneer on his face. This is the last of Dorian's love affairs. Over the next eighteen years, Dorian does everything wrong that he can think of mainly under the influence of a novel given to him by Lord Henry as a gift.
One night, before he leaves for Paris, Basil arrives to question Dorian about rumors of his indulgences. Dorian doesn't deny his debauchery. He takes Basil to the portrait, which is as hideous as Dorian's soul. In anger, Dorian blames Basil for his fate and stabs him to death. He then blackmails an old friend into destroying Basil's body. Wishing to escape this crime, Dorian travels to an opium den. James Vane is nearby and hears someone refer to Dorian as "Prince Charming." He follows Dorian outside and attempts to shoot him, but is deceived when Dorian asks James to look at him in the light, saying he is too young to have been involved with Sibyl 18 years earlier. James releases Dorian but is approached by a woman from the opium den who chastises him for not killing Dorian and tells him Dorian has not aged for 18 years.
While at dinner, Dorian sees James stalking the grounds and fears for his life. However, during a game-shooting party a few days later, James is accidentally shot and killed by one of the hunters. After returning to London, Dorian informs Lord Henry that he will be good from now on, and has started by not breaking the heart of his latest innocent conquest, named Hetty Merton. At his apartment, Dorian wonders if the portrait has begun to change back, losing its senile, sinful appearance now that he has given up his immoral ways. He unveils the portrait to find it has become worse. Seeing this, he questions the motives behind his "mercy," whether it was merely vanity, curiosity, or the quest for new emotional excess.
1. Do you think Dorian and Lord Henrey are right in thinking that beauty and the conquest for it are the only important things in life? Why or why not?
2.If you had the option of never aging past 17, would you take it? What would you do if you stayed 17 forever?
3. The last aphorism in the preface of the novel is "All art is quite useless." Do you agree or disagree with this?