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The story begins as Basil Hallward, a painter, is working on a portrait depicting a young man named Dorian Gray. His friend, Lord Henry Wotton, is visiting and tells him that he thinks it is the best work Basil has ever done. He wants to know who the young man is in the painting, as his good looks are apparently very striking, but Basil is reluctant to talk about it. Lord Henry insists upon meeting Dorian, and eventually Basil introduces them, after warning Lord Henry not to try to "influence" Dorian, because he is a bad influence. Dorian instantly takes to Lord Henry, fascinated by the way he talks and his unique view of the world, which is pretty annoying, to me anyway. Lord Henry takes Dorian outside and makes a speech about how he thinks beauty is everything and that Dorian should not waste his youth because it is the "most important" thing in the world. Well, at least he's not shallow or anything like that. When Basil finishes that painting, Dorian throws a hissy fit because he realizes that while he grows old and ugly, the painting will remain forever young. He wishes that the painting would age and he would remain beautiful forever. Way to go, Dorian.
The next day, Lord Henry visits his uncle, Lord Fermor, and finds out more about Dorian's past and his parentage. He finds himself utterly obsessed with Dorian and the power he feels he has over him. Later, he visits his aunt, Lady Agatha, and Dorian is there. We get to hear more of his controversial opinions on several topics. Everybody seems appalled at the way he thinks, but I guess he is so charming that they eat it right up. Afterward, Dorian ditches Basil to go out with Lord Henry, which is pretty cold. Anyway, a month later, Dorian tells Lord Henry that he has fallen in love with an actress named Sybil Vane. They have a dialogue in which Dorian explains how he met Sybil (inspired by Lord Henry and wanting to know "everything about life," he went to a "playhouse" in a bad part of town, saw her in a Shakespearean play, and was so smitten that he returned to see her every night since) and Lord Henry offers even MORE of his views, which mainly consist of (more) uppity, self-centered generalizations, not to mention the constant objectifying of women.
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That night, he receives a telegram informing him that Dorian has been engaged to marry Sybil. Next, we are at Sybil's house, where she is telling her mother how happy she is about getting married to Dorian. Her mother is somewhat less than thrilled, and when Sybil goes for a walk with her 16-year-old brother James, he threatens to track down and murder Dorian if he ever hurts her. I'm glad her family is so supportive. To be fair, though, Sybil doesn't even know Dorian's name, she simply refers to him as "Prince Charming." And James is pissed that Dorian is so wealthy, because the Vanes are so poor. Anyway, Lord Henry gives Basil the news about the engagement at dinner that night, and when Basil asks whether or not Lord Henry "approves" of it, he launches into this huge, offensive speech, in which he doesn't even come close to answering Basil's question. Dorian shows up and tells them a more detailed version of the night he met Sybil backstage and they kissed. Scandalous! Basil pretends to be happy for Dorian, but he wallows in self-pity all the way home, probably because he has the hots for Dorian and wants him all to himself. You all know that there are a ton of homosexual themes in this book, right? You'd have to be illiterate to miss them.
On the night of the play, the three of them are sitting in the unusually packed theater waiting for the play to begin. Basil decides to be a total liar and assure Dorian that he thinks the marriage is a wonderful idea. It's not too convincing, though, because he's doodling "I love Dorian" all over the back of the chair in front of him. Dorian tells Basil exactly what he wanted to hear by saying, "Thanks, Basil. I knew that you would understand me. Not like Henry, who talks way too much." Well, he didn't say that second part. But he should have. Shortly, the play starts, and Sybil gives a horrible performance. Dorian, who can't believe it, turns all white and silent, and when he meets Sybil backstage to get mad at her, she looks "triumphant." She explains that before she met him, she considered the artificial world of the plays to be real, but he showed her what true love was. Therefore, she'll never act well again (whatever). Dorian rejects her and says that she "killed" his love and that he never wants to see her again. Ass. She begs for forgiveness, but he storms out without a backward glance and wanders the streets for a while before going home.
When he gets home, he looks at his portrait (because he just can't get enough of looking at himself) and notices that it has actually changed: the face in the portrait has acquired "a touch of cruelty around the mouth." This frightens Dorian, but he realizes right away what's going on because apparently on the way home, he accidentally acquired some intelligence. I'm sure that won't last long, though. After trying pathetically to justify his actions by saying that it was Sybil who had been cruel to him (I guess having the love of your life walk out on you in hatred is nothing compared to watching a bad play), he makes up his mind to get back together with her as soon as possible. However, the next day, Lord Henry stops by and tells Dorian that Sybil killed herself just after he left her the previous night. Stupid Dorian, that's what you get for being a prick-bastard. Dorian is crushed, but luckily, he has Lord Henry there to convince him that since Sybil was only a poverty-stricken actress, she was never really alive, so who cares if she's dead? That's so wonderful. And, just in case we didn't get enough of them the first time (which we did), Lord Henry presents more derogatory generalizations about women. Do you think that maybe he has issues with women? You don't suppose that maybe he's gay, do you? Hold on a moment while I have a heart attack with shock.
Anyway, when Lord Henry is through with him, Dorian is glad that Sybil killed herself, and calls it a "marvelous thing," for a variety of self-centered reasons. The next morning, Basil stops by and is horrified to hear that Dorian isn't even sad about what happened. After expressing that, he tells Dorian that he wants to exhibit his portrait. Dorian refuses to let him, mostly because the portrait contains his soul and will display his corruption and sinning ways as long as he lives. That might have a little bit to do with it. Dorian manages to persuade Basil to reveal the true reason why he didn't want to exhibit the portrait when it was first painted (he didn't want to show the world how much he idolized Dorian, which he believed one could tell by looking at the painting). He doesn't tell Basil about the changes he saw in the painting. When he lets Basil out, he decides that the portrait must be hidden as soon as possible. When his servant comes in, Dorian immediately suspects him of wanting to know what is behind the screen. I guess harboring a terrible secret doesn't do much to diminish paranoia. He tells the servant to call some people over to move the heavy frame and picture up to the attic, where the painting will remain hidden. He locks it with a key he acquires from the maid. Dorian checks his mail and finds something from Lord Henry: a newspaper, with a small story regarding Sybil's death circled in red. I'm sure that won't arouse any suspicion. Such a master of subtlety, Lord Henry is. So crafty. Perhaps he should have scrawled, "DON'T GET CAUGHT!" in Sybil's blood next to the article. Dorian pushes himself to his mental limit by realizing how stupid this was and even manages to be annoyed at Lord Henry.
Lord Henry also sends Dorian a "yellow book," about which we learn nothing except that it has a main character very similar to Dorian. Ha! That explains why he becomes practically obsessed with it. The next part of the novel skims over the next several years in Dorian's life, in which he lives a corrupt and sinful life, and grows fascinated with the changing of his portrait as his soul deteriorates. He lies awake at night thinking about it, and even leaves social events early to go visit the painting. His physical beauty stays the same, and he becomes obsessed with himself even more, if that's possible. The details of his sins are not discussed (but we all know that it involves having sex with men, right? I mean, come on), although it is mentioned that rumors are circulating about his "true nature." However, it also says that whenever people see how beautiful his face is, they find it hard to believe that he would do anything immoral.
Late at night on Dorian's 38th birthday, he is walking home from a roller-disco party (or something) at Lord Henry's when he sees Basil Hallward walking down the street. Because he is such a good and loyal friend, he pretends not to see him and hurries away, but Basil snags him and insists that he come over and talk to Dorian. When they get to Dorian's house, he tells Dorian that he's going to leave for Paris on a train in a little while, but he wants to tell him that there are lots of nasty rumors going around about him (as if Dorian didn't know, I'm sure). He says that he wonders if he knows Dorian at all, and then muses that he would "have to see [Dorian's] soul" to know that. Dorian goes berserk and shows the painting to Basil, mocking what he created and how devoutly he worshipped him. You can imagine how gross the portrait looks by now. Basil is appropriately horrified and suggests that they pray together. Apparently, these were not the magic words, as Dorian proceeds to STAB Basil in the HEAD with a knife, leaving him in the attic to keep his portrait company. Then Dorian calls a guy named Alan Campbell, an old friend of his, who is some sort of chemist. Alan Campbell hates Dorian, which I think is great, but Dorian blackmails him with information that is not revealed (you don't suppose... never mind, you get it) into dissolving Basil's body in nitric acid to destroy all the evidence. In the attic, Alan tells Dorian to get lost. You know, if Dorian had half a brain, he would realize that not only did he just admit that he's guilty of murder (better yet, he confessed it to someone who hates him), but he gave the guy all the opportunity in the world to gather enough proof to get Dorian thrown in jail. Maybe he missed that day in Criminal School where they tell you that when you commit a crime, you don't want people to find out.
The same night that Dorian has Basil dissolved in nitric acid, he goes off to Lady Narborough's party because I guess Basil wasn't very entertaining anymore. Unfortunately for Dorian, the party isn't much better. He's starting to feel sorry that he came, when Lady Narborough mentions that Lord Henry is supposed to show up. Strangely enough, Dorian doesn't leave immediately, like I would have, but feels relieved. Dorian and Lord Henry banter with Lady Narborough about marriage and other topics that Lord Henry knows absolutely nothing about before she takes off. Lord Henry then asks Dorian why he left his party so early last night, and Dorian gets all defensive, like that isn't suspicious at all, and then he leaves the party to go home and burn all of Basil's stuff. So sentimental, that Dorian is. After doing that, he feels "faint and sick," (poor, poor Dorian, not) so he decides to take a taxi to a bad part of town to crash an opium den. I'm glad that Dorian is so good at coping with his problems. Dorian speaks with the opium dealer and begins to leave, but a prostitute (I mean, probably) yells at him. He throws money at her and tells her to basically shut the hell up, and then she yells, "Prince Charming is what you like to be called, isn't it?" After Dorian has been walking a short distance away from the den, he is assaulted in an alley at gunpoint by a sailor who turns out to be me, because I can't stand reading about what a self-obsessed asshole he is anymore. No, it's James Vane, who has been searching for Dorian and seeking to avenge his sister's death. He threatens to kill Dorian, but Dorian points out that the man James must be looking for would be 38 years old, and that he has the face of a 20-year-old. James Vane apologizes and lets him go, but is shortly told by another prostitute (they're everywhere, I tell you) that Dorian was indeed the man he had sought after for 18 years, and that Dorian had been coming to the den for quite some time and had never shown signs of aging, and that she would kill for whatever Oil of Olay skin creams he has. Just kidding about that last part, har har. Feh. James tries to find Dorian again, but it is in vain (get it? Vain? Vane? Oh, never mind).
A week later, Dorian is at another party listening to Lord Henry not being quiet, which is a shame. After an extremely long dialogue, Dorian suddenly sees the face of James Vane watching him through the window, which is creepy, and he faints, which is kind of girly. No offense to any girls out there reading this. He spends the next few days holed up in his room, terrified of James Vane. After three days, he ventures out to go hunting with some guy named Sir Geoffrey. He shoots at a rabbit but ends up shooting a man instead (we've all made that mistake, haven't we? Admit it), which pisses him off because it "spoiled [his] shooting for the day." Oh, let's all feel bad for Sir Geoffrey. Except not. What an asshole.
So later in the day, some guy comes into Dorian's study and asks him to identify the man that was shot, because nobody else knows who it is. Suddenly hopeful, Dorian races over to the stable where the man's body is and, sure enough, the dead man is James Vane. Dorian is so happy that he cries tears of joy all the way home. What I like best about Dorian is his respect for human life. Oh wait, he doesn't have any. Later on, Dorian decides to turn over a new leaf and be a decent human being, which basically means that he'll have to find a new personality somewhere. He defends this new change of character by saying that he had the opportunity to seduce a young farm girl, but he decided not to. Wow, what a fucking saint. I bet his portrait is practically back to normal now. Is this book over yet? Lord Henry is hanging around Dorian and being annoying, talking constantly and ordering him to play the piano for him. They talk about Dorian's supposed 180º change in character (you know, the one that doesn't exist), and Lord Henry actually makes me laugh by suggesting that maybe the girl has already drowned herself in a nearby pond. Ha! Dorian doesn't find this nearly as amusing as I do. Then they talk about Basil's "disappearance," and Dorian asks, "What would you think if Basil was murdered?" Then he asks, "What would you think if I told you that I murdered Basil?" Dude, were people stupid back then, or what? Lord Henry doesn't get the hint, because apparently his skull is thicker than the latest Harry Potter book. I think Dorian should have said, "What would you say if I told you that I STABBED Basil in the HEAD and then dissolved him in nitric acid, just for kicks? No, of course that didn't really happen... I had my reasons."
He goes on to say that Dorian would be making himself "incomplete" if he decided to be a decent human being from now on, which doesn't make much sense to me, but what else is new? Near the end of the conversation, Lord Henry convinces Dorian to go to a party with him. He agrees, but he seems really weary of Lord Henry's constant jabbering, probably because he's had to listen to it for the last eighteen years. Nothing interesting happens at the party, but when he gets home, Dorian gets all optimistic and thinks that since he has decided to be good from now on, maybe the painting will show that by looking a little more like the young 20-year-old face it started out as. He gets all prepared, pulls the drape off the picture, and (surprise!) it looks worse than before. In fact, there is "the curved wrinkle of the hypocrite." Whatever the fuck that means. If I get hypocrite wrinkles, I'm using that Neutrogena shit that Mandy Moore is always yapping about on TV. Dorian goes nuts and decides to destroy the painting, because he's so shallow that he's willing to blame inanimate objects for his evil, corrupted ways rather than take responsibility for his actions. Have I mentioned that Dorian is a less-than-perfect human being? He is. So he uses a knife (the same one he used to kill Basil) to stab the painting. He ends up killing himself: his servants find the portrait, unharmed, in the attic, along with the body of a haggard old man barely recognizable as that of Dorian Gray.