The Picture of Dorian Gray: Novel Summary: Chapters 10-12
After looking at the painting one more time, and loathing what he sees, Dorian wraps it in a coverlet and gets two men to carry it to a large room at the top of the house that has not been opened for five years. He plans to keep the room locked so that no one will be able to observe the corruption of his soul.
At five in the evening, he reads an account in the newspaper of the inquest on Sibyl, which reached the verdict of death by misadventure. The newspaper was sent to him by Henry. Henry also sent him a book, and Dorian reads it immediately. It is a novel in the French Symbolist school, about the sensual life of a young man in Paris who loves virtue and sin alike and seems to taste them both to the full. Dorian is fascinated by the book even as he is repelled by it.
Dorian is influenced by this book for years. He sees himself in the life of the hero, whose life seems to be his own. As the years go by, rumors about Dorian's sensually indulgent lifestyle circulate in London clubs, and people fall silent when he enters a room. But his physical appearance remains unchanged; he still looks innocent and charming. However, the face in the picture now looks evil and aging. Dorian occasionally feels pity for the ruination of his soul, but more usually he remains curious about life and wants to continually add to the pleasure and knowledge he seeks through his worship of the senses. He sees his search for beauty as the key element in a new spirituality that Lord Henry had called a new Hedonism, focused on passionate experience. For a while, attracted by the mystical ritual, he thinks of joining the Roman Catholic church; then he is attracted to the materialism of Darwinism; but theories of life seem unimportant to him when compared with life itself. He devotes himself to studying perfumes, and then to music, collecting instruments from all over the world; he studies jewels and tapestries. For a year he collects textiles and embroidered work. He hints at sins he has committed, although he does not name them. But all the time he is haunted by the picture, and what the face must now look like. He fears it may be discovered by someone else when he is away. Many people are fascinated by him, but others do not trust him. Stories circulate about him, that he had been seen brawling with foreign sailors in a rough area of London, or that he consorted with thieves. Sometimes former friends shun him. But the whispered scandals only increase his charm for many people.
On the eve of his thirty-eighth birthday, Dorian meets Basil in the street. They have not met for some while, and Basil is about to depart for Paris for six months. He wants to talk to Dorian, so they go to Dorian's house. Basil confronts him about the dreadful rumors that are circulating about him. Why do so many people refuse to have anything to do with him? Why does his friendship have such disastrous effects on young men? Basil explains how some of Dorian's friends commit suicide, are forced to leave the country, or ruin their careers. Dorian denies that he is to blame for any of this, but Basil is not satisfied by his explanation. Basil urges him to reform, to use his influence for good rather than evil. He urges Dorian to deny all the rumors. But Dorian merely smiles. He plans to take Basil upstairs and show him the picture. Then he will know the state of Dorian's soul.
The fact that Dorian hides the picture away shows that he does not want to be reminded of the consequences of his actions. He wants to live for the moment and take no responsibility for what he is doing to his soul, or to anyone else's. He lives apparently without ethical scruples.
Readers of A Picture of Dorian Gray are often puzzled by the oblique references to Dorian's supposedly sinful and dissolute conduct. Just what does he do that is so sinful? After all, studying perfumes, collecting jewels and tapestries and musical instruments, all of which are detailed in chapter 11, might establish his reputation as an aesthete but not much else. Dorian continually searches for new and delightful sensations, but Wilde seems deliberately to veil the nature of what some of those "delightful sensations" might be. And the statement that concludes chapter 11, "There were moments when he looked on evil simply as a mode through which he could realize his conception of the beautiful" gives no clue at all about what is meant by evil.
And yet Dorian is shunned by former friends, and young men come to grief after their encounters with him. Perhaps a clue is provided by Basil, when he confronts Dorian in chapter 12. Basil talks about "stories that you have been seen creeping at dawn out of dreadful houses and slinking in disguise into the foulest dens in London."
Many readers at the time, and since, have taken these cryptic references to imply that Dorian indulged in homosexual activities. These activities were illegal at the time in England, and were thought to be shameful. Discovery could lead to prosecution and/or public disgrace. Wilde himself was later convicted of "gross indecency" and sentenced to prison.