The Picture of Dorian Gray: Novel Summary: Chapters 16-18

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Chapters 16-18

Dorian arrives at an opium den in a rough part of town, near the docks. Once there, he meets his friend Adrian Singleton, who goes there frequently since he was disgraced. His friends will no longer speak to him. Dorian also meets a female acquaintance, and he gives her money so she will stop bothering him. As he leaves, she calls after him, using the name Prince Charming, which is the name Sibyl knew him by. A sailor in the bar overhears her.
As Dorian walks down the quay, the sailor attacks him, holding a gun to his head. It is Sibyl Vane's brother, and he intends to kill Dorian. But Dorian manages to persuade him to take a good look at his face in the light of the streetlamp. Since Sibyl died eighteen years ago, and Dorian still does not look more than about twenty, Vane concludes that he has made an error. He apologizes and lets Dorian go. After that, the woman from the bar emerges, and tells him that she was ruined eighteen years ago by the very same Prince Charming, who, she says, sold himself to the devil for a pretty face. Realizing his error, Vane rushes to the corner of the street, but Dorian has gone.
A week later, at his country estate, Dorian gives an afternoon tea-party. One of the guests is the Duchess of Monmouth, who although married is secretly in love with Dorian. After engaging in some clever talk with Henry and the other guests, Dorian faints in the conservatory. After he recovers, Henry tells him he should rest, and not come down for dinner. But Dorian insists that he does not want to be alone. He fainted because he saw the face of James Vane pressed up against the window of the conservatory.
The next day Dorian does not leave the house. He is conscious of being hunted, but he manages to convince himself that he only imagined seeing Vane's face at the window. But he is then assaulted by feelings of guilt and terror about his murder of Basil. When Henry comes in the evening, he finds his friend crying.
It is not until the third day that Dorian ventures to go out again. He goes to join the shooting-party led by Sir Geoffrey Clouston, the Duchess of Monmouth's brother. As he walks with Clouston, a hare bolts from out of the grass. Clouston shoots it, but the shot also accidentally hits a man, who had got in front of the guns. He is killed. Dorian fears that such may soon be his fate too. When Dorian discovers that the victim was James Vane, he feels relieved, because with Vane dead, he believes himself to be safe.
In spite of himself, Dorian does feel some pangs of conscience about the murder, but he manages to convince himself that Basil had said things he should not have said, and therefore deserved his fate. However, from this point until the end of he novel, he will not be able entirely to quell the voice of conscience. He is not so devoid of the knowledge of good and evil not to know the extent of his own descent into depravity.
Dorian's journey to the opium den through the ugliness of the London streets recalls his walk to the theatre, along similarly ugly streets, to see Sibyl Vane perform. But his attitude now is different. Before, he proclaimed the superiority of art to life, because art had form and beauty, as opposed to the shapelessness of real life. But now "Ugliness that had once been hateful to him because it made things real, became dear to him now for that very reason. Ugliness was the one reality" (chapter 16). Dorian needs all this ugliness to forget what he has done to his soul, and he indulges in opium in an effort to put into action Lord Henry's dictum that the soul could be cured by means of the senses. The second part of Henry's dictum, curing the senses by means of the soul, is more obscure, and does not trouble Dorian at the point. (It may mean maintaining a certain detachment, or distance, from the sensual experience at the same time as it is being fully experienced, which is the paradox that Henry tries to live.) The fact that Dorian seems to have abandoned his love of beauty and art at this point-or failed to maintain the detachment that art requires-shows that he has failed in his quest to embody what Henry called the new Hedonism. He has become a mere sensualist, devoid of any vision of a higher beauty.

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