some reason or other, the house was crowded that night, and the
fat Jew manager who met them at the door was beaming from ear
to ear with an oily tremulous smile. He escorted them to their
box with a sort of pompous humility, waving his fat jewelled
hands and talking at the top of his voice. Dorian Gray loathed
him more than ever. He felt as if he had come to look for Miranda
and had been met by Caliban. Lord Henry, upon the other hand,
rather liked him. At least he declared he did, and insisted on
shaking him by the hand and assuring him that he was proud to
meet a man who had discovered a real genius and gone bankrupt
over a poet. Hallward amused himself with watching the faces
in the pit. The heat was terribly oppressive, and the huge sunlight
flamed like a monstrous dahlia with petals of yellow fire. The
youths in the gallery had taken off their coats and waistcoats
and hung them over the side. They talked to each other across
the theatre and shared their oranges with the tawdry girls who
sat beside them. Some women were laughing in the pit. Their voices
were horribly shrill and discordant. The sound of the popping
of corks came from the bar.
"What a place to find one's
divinity in!" said Lord Henry.
"Yes!" answered Dorian
Gray. "It was here I found her, and she is divine beyond
all living things. When she acts, you will forget everything.
These common rough people, with their coarse faces and brutal
gestures, become quite different when she is on the stage. They
sit silently and watch her. They weep and laugh as she wills
them to do. She makes them as responsive as a violin. She spiritualizes
them, and one feels that they are of the same flesh and blood
as one's self."
"The same flesh and blood
as one's self! Oh, I hope not!" exclaimed Lord Henry, who
was scanning the occupants of the gallery through his opera-glass.
"Don't pay any attention
to him, Dorian," said the painter. "I understand what
you mean, and I believe in this girl. Any one you love must be
marvellous, and any girl who has the effect you describe must
be fine and noble. To spiritualize one's age
that is something worth doing. If this girl can give a soul to
those who have lived without one, if she can create the sense
of beauty in people whose lives have been sordid and ugly, if
she can strip them of their selfishness and lend them tears for
sorrows that are not their own, she is worthy of all your adoration,
worthy of the adoration of the world. This marriage is quite
right. I did not think so at first, but I admit it now. The gods
made Sibyl Vane for you. Without her you would have been incomplete."
"Thanks, Basil," answered
Dorian Gray, pressing his hand. "I knew that you would understand
me. Harry is so cynical, he terrifies me. But here is the orchestra.
It is quite dreadful, but it only lasts for about five minutes.
Then the curtain rises, and you will see the girl to whom I am
going to give all my life, to whom I have given everything that
is good in me."
A quarter of an hour afterwards,
amidst an extraordinary turmoil of applause, Sibyl Vane stepped
on to the stage. Yes, she was certainly lovely to look at
one of the loveliest creatures, Lord Henry thought, that he had
ever seen. There was something of the fawn in her shy grace and
startled eyes. A faint blush, like the shadow of a rose in a
mirror of silver, came to her cheeks as she glanced at the crowded
enthusiastic house. She stepped back a few paces and her lips
seemed to tremble. Basil Hallward leaped to his feet and began
to applaud. Motionless, and as one in a dream, sat Dorian Gray,
gazing at her. Lord Henry peered through his glasses, murmuring,
The scene was the hall of Capulet's
house, and Romeo in his pilgrim's dress had entered with Mercutio
and his other friends. The band, such as it was, struck up a
few bars of music, and the dance began. Through the crowd of
ungainly, shabbily dressed actors, Sibyl Vane moved like a creature
from a finer world. Her body swayed, while she danced, as a plant
sways in the water. The curves of her throat were the curves
of a white lily. Her hands seemed to be made of cool ivory.
Yet she was curiously listless.
She showed no sign of joy when her eyes rested on Romeo. The
few words she had to speak
Good pilgrim, you do wrong
your hand too much,with the brief dialogue that
follows, were spoken in a thoroughly artificial manner. The voice
was exquisite, but from the point of view of tone it was absolutely
false. It was wrong in colour. It took away all the life from
the verse. It made the passion unreal.
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss
Dorian Gray grew pale as he watched
her. He was puzzled and anxious. Neither of his friends dared
to say anything to him. She seemed to them to be absolutely incompetent.
They were horribly disappointed.
Yet they felt that the true test
of any Juliet is the balcony scene of the second act. They waited
for that. If she failed there, there was nothing in her.
She looked charming as she came
out in the moonlight. That could not be denied. But the staginess
of her acting was unbearable, and grew worse as she went on.
Her gestures became absurdly artificial. She overemphasized everything
that she had to say. The beautiful passage
Thou knowest the mask of night
is on my face,was declaimed with the painful
precision of a schoolgirl who has been taught to recite by some
second-rate professor of elocution. When she leaned over the
balcony and came to those wonderful lines
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night
Although I joy in thee,she spoke the words as though
they conveyed no meaning to her. It was not nervousness. Indeed,
so far from being nervous, she was absolutely self-contained.
It was simply bad art. She was a complete failure.
I have no joy of this contract to-night:
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say, "It lightens." Sweet, good-night!
This bud of love by summer's ripening breath
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet
Even the common uneducated audience
of the pit and gallery lost their interest in the play. They
got restless, and began to talk loudly and to whistle. The Jew
manager, who was standing at the back of the dress-circle, stamped
and swore with rage. The only person unmoved was the girl herself.
When the second act was over,
there came a storm of hisses, and Lord Henry got up from his
chair and put on his coat. "She is quite beautiful, Dorian,"
he said, "but she can't act. Let us go."
"I am going to see the play
through," answered the lad, in a hard bitter voice. "I
am awfully sorry that I have made you waste an evening, Harry.
I apologize to you both."
"My dear Dorian, I should
think Miss Vane was ill," interrupted Hallward. "We
will come some other night."
"I wish she were ill,"
he rejoined. "But she seems to me to be simply callous and
cold. She has entirely altered. Last night she was a great artist.
This evening she is merely a commonplace mediocre actress."
"Don't talk like that about
any one you love, Dorian. Love is a more wonderful thing than
"They are both simply forms
of imitation," remarked Lord Henry. "But do let us
go. Dorian, you must not stay here any longer. It is not good
for one's morals to see bad acting. Besides, I don't suppose
you will want your wife to act, so what does it matter if she
plays Juliet like a wooden doll? She is very lovely, and if she
knows as little about life as she does about acting, she will
be a delightful experience. There are only two kinds of people
who are really fascinating people who know absolutely
everything, and people who know absolutely nothing. Good heavens,
my dear boy, don't look so tragic! The secret of remaining young
is never to have an emotion that is unbecoming. Come to the club
with Basil and myself. We will smoke cigarettes and drink to
the beauty of Sibyl Vane. She is beautiful. What more can you
"Go away, Harry," cried
the lad. "I want to be alone. Basil, you must go. Ah! can't
you see that my heart is breaking?" The hot tears came to
his eyes. His lips trembled, and rushing to the back of the box,
he leaned up against the wall, hiding his face in his hands.
"Let us go, Basil,"
said Lord Henry with a strange tenderness in his voice, and the
two young men passed out together.
A few moments afterwards the
footlights flared up and the curtain rose on the third act. Dorian
Gray went back to his seat. He looked pale, and proud, and indifferent.
The play dragged on, and seemed interminable. Half of the audience
went out, tramping in heavy boots and laughing. The whole thing
was a fiasco. The last act was played to almost empty benches.
The curtain went down on a titter and some groans.
As soon as it was over, Dorian
Gray rushed behind the scenes into the greenroom. The girl was
standing there alone, with a look of triumph on her face. Her
eyes were lit with an exquisite fire. There was a radiance about
her. Her parted lips were smiling over some secret of their own.
When he entered, she looked at
him, and an expression of infinite joy came over her. "How
badly I acted to-night, Dorian!" she cried.
"Horribly!" he answered,
gazing at her in amazement. "Horribly! It was dreadful.
Are you ill? You have no idea what it was. You have no idea what
The girl smiled. "Dorian,"
she answered, lingering over his name with long-drawn music in
her voice, as though it were sweeter than honey to the red petals
of her mouth. "Dorian, you should have understood. But you
understand now, don't you?"
he asked, angrily.
"Why I was so bad to-night.
Why I shall always be bad. Why I shall never act well again."
He shrugged his shoulders. "You
are ill, I suppose. When you are ill you shouldn't act. You make
yourself ridiculous. My friends were bored. I was bored."
She seemed not to listen to him.
She was transfigured with joy. An ecstasy of happiness dominated
"Dorian, Dorian," she
cried, "before I knew you, acting was the one reality of
my life. It was only in the theatre that I lived. I thought that
it was all true. I was Rosalind one night and Portia the other.
The joy of Beatrice was my joy, and the sorrows of Cordelia were
mine also. I believed in everything. The common people who acted
with me seemed to me to be godlike. The painted scenes were my
world. I knew nothing but shadows, and I thought them real. You
came oh, my beautiful love! and
you freed my soul from prison. You taught me what reality really
is. To-night, for the first time in my life, I saw through the
hollowness, the sham, the silliness of the empty pageant in which
I had always played. To-night, for the first time, I became conscious
that the Romeo was hideous, and old, and painted, that the moonlight
in the orchard was false, that the scenery was vulgar, and that
the words I had to speak were unreal, were not my words, were
not what I wanted to say. You had brought me something higher,
something of which all art is but a reflection. You had made
me understand what love really is. My love! My love! Prince Charming!
Prince of life! I have grown sick of shadows. You are more to
me than all art can ever be. What have I to do with the puppets
of a play? When I came on to-night, I could not understand how
it was that everything had gone from me. I thought that I was
going to be wonderful. I found that I could do nothing. Suddenly
it dawned on my soul what it all meant. The knowledge was exquisite
to me. I heard them hissing, and I smiled. What could they know
of love such as ours? Take me away, Dorian take
me away with you, where we can be quite alone. I hate the stage.
I might mimic a passion that I do not feel, but I cannot mimic
one that burns me like fire. Oh, Dorian, Dorian, you understand
now what it signifies? Even if I could do it, it would be profanation
for me to play at being in love. You have made me see that."
He flung himself down on the
sofa and turned away his face. "You have killed my love,"
She looked at him in wonder and
laughed. He made no answer. She came across to him, and with
her little fingers stroked his hair. She knelt down and pressed
his hands to her lips. He drew them away, and a shudder ran through
Then he leaped up and went to
the door. "Yes," he cried, "you have killed my
love. You used to stir my imagination. Now you don't even stir
my curiosity. You simply produce no effect. I loved you because
you were marvellous, because you had genius and intellect, because
you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance
to the shadows of art. You have thrown it all away. You are shallow
and stupid. My God! how mad I was to love you! What a fool I
have been! You are nothing to me now. I will never see you again.
I will never think of you. I will never mention your name. You
don't know what you were to me, once. Why, once . . . Oh, I can't
bear to think of it! I wish I had never laid eyes upon you! You
have spoiled the romance of my life. How little you can know
of love, if you say it mars your art! Without your art, you are
nothing. I would have made you famous, splendid, magnificent.
The world would have worshipped you, and you would have borne
my name. What are you now? A third-rate actress with a pretty
The girl grew white, and trembled.
She clenched her hands together, and her voice seemed to catch
in her throat. "You are not serious, Dorian?" she murmured.
"You are acting."
"Acting! I leave that to
you. You do it so well," he answered bitterly.
She rose from her knees and,
with a piteous expression of pain in her face, came across the
room to him. She put her hand upon his arm and looked into his
eyes. He thrust her back. "Don't touch me!" he cried.
A low moan broke from her, and
she flung herself at his feet and lay there like a trampled flower.
"Dorian, Dorian, don't leave me!" she whispered. "I
am so sorry I didn't act well. I was thinking of you all the
time. But I will try indeed, I will try. It came
so suddenly across me, my love for you. I think I should never
have known it if you had not kissed me if we
had not kissed each other. Kiss me again, my love. Don't go away
from me. I couldn't bear it. Oh! don't go away from me. My brother
. . . No; never mind. He didn't mean it. He was in jest. . .
. But you, oh! can't you forgive me for to-night? I will work
so hard and try to improve. Don't be cruel to me, because I love
you better than anything in the world. After all, it is only
once that I have not pleased you. But you are quite right, Dorian.
I should have shown myself more of an artist. It was foolish
of me, and yet I couldn't help it. Oh, don't leave me, don't
leave me." A fit of passionate sobbing choked her. She crouched
on the floor like a wounded thing, and Dorian Gray, with his
beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his chiselled lips curled
in exquisite disdain. There is always something ridiculous about
the emotions of people whom one has ceased to love. Sibyl Vane
seemed to him to be absurdly melodramatic. Her tears and sobs
"I am going," he said
at last in his calm clear voice. "I don't wish to be unkind,
but I can't see you again. You have disappointed me."
She wept silently, and made no
answer, but crept nearer. Her little hands stretched blindly
out, and appeared to be seeking for him. He turned on his heel
and left the room. In a few moments he was out of the theatre.
Where he went to he hardly knew.
He remembered wandering through dimly lit streets, past gaunt,
black-shadowed archways and evil-looking houses. Women with hoarse
voices and harsh laughter had called after him. Drunkards had
reeled by, cursing and chattering to themselves like monstrous
apes. He had seen grotesque children huddled upon door-steps,
and heard shrieks and oaths from gloomy courts.
As the dawn was just breaking,
he found himself close to Covent Garden. The darkness lifted,
and, flushed with faint fires, the sky hollowed itself into a
perfect pearl. Huge carts filled with nodding lilies rumbled
slowly down the polished empty street. The air was heavy with
the perfume of the flowers, and their beauty seemed to bring
him an anodyne for his pain. He followed into the market and
watched the men unloading their waggons. A white-smocked carter
offered him some cherries. He thanked him, wondered why he refused
to accept any money for them, and began to eat them listlessly.
They had been plucked at midnight, and the coldness of the moon
had entered into them. A long line of boys carrying crates of
striped tulips, and of yellow and red roses, defiled in front
of him, threading their way through the huge, jade-green piles
of vegetables. Under the portico, with its grey, sun-bleached
pillars, loitered a troop of draggled bareheaded girls, waiting
for the auction to be over. Others crowded round the swinging
doors of the coffee-house in the piazza. The heavy cart-horses
slipped and stamped upon the rough stones, shaking their bells
and trappings. Some of the drivers were lying asleep on a pile
of sacks. Iris-necked and pink-footed, the pigeons ran about
picking up seeds.
After a little while, he hailed
a hansom and drove home. For a few moments he loitered upon the
doorstep, looking round at the silent square, with its blank,
close-shuttered windows and its staring blinds. The sky was pure
opal now, and the roofs of the houses glistened like silver against
it. From some chimney opposite a thin wreath of smoke was rising.
It curled, a violet riband, through the nacre-coloured air.
In the huge gilt Venetian lantern,
spoil of some Doge's barge, that hung from the ceiling of the
great, oak-panelled hall of entrance, lights were still burning
from three flickering jets: thin blue petals of flame they seemed,
rimmed with white fire. He turned them out and, having thrown
his hat and cape on the table, passed through the library towards
the door of his bedroom, a large octagonal chamber on the ground
floor that, in his new-born feeling for luxury, he had just had
decorated for himself and hung with some curious Renaissance
tapestries that had been discovered stored in a disused attic
at Selby Royal. As he was turning the handle of the door, his
eye fell upon the portrait Basil Hallward had painted of him.
He started back as if in surprise. Then he went on into his own
room, looking somewhat puzzled. After he had taken the button-hole
out of his coat, he seemed to hesitate. Finally, he came back,
went over to the picture, and examined it. In the dim arrested
light that struggled through the cream-coloured silk blinds,
the face appeared to him to be a little changed. The expression
looked different. One would have said that there was a touch
of cruelty in the mouth. It was certainly strange.
He turned round and, walking
to the window, drew up the blind. The bright dawn flooded the
room and swept the fantastic shadows into dusky corners, where
they lay shuddering. But the strange expression that he had noticed
in the face of the portrait seemed to linger there, to be more
intensified even. The quivering ardent sunlight showed him the
lines of cruelty round the mouth as clearly as if he had been
looking into a mirror after he had done some dreadful thing.
He winced and, taking up from
the table an oval glass framed in ivory Cupids, one of Lord Henry's
many presents to him, glanced hurriedly into its polished depths.
No line like that warped his red lips. What did it mean?
He rubbed his eyes, and came
close to the picture, and examined it again. There were no signs
of any change when he looked into the actual painting, and yet
there was no doubt that the whole expression had altered. It
was not a mere fancy of his own. The thing was horribly apparent.
He threw himself into a chair
and began to think. Suddenly there flashed across his mind what
he had said in Basil Hallward's studio the day the picture had
been finished. Yes, he remembered it perfectly. He had uttered
a mad wish that he himself might remain young, and the portrait
grow old; that his own beauty might be untarnished, and the face
on the canvas bear the burden of his passions and his sins; that
the painted image might be seared with the lines of suffering
and thought, and that he might keep all the delicate bloom and
loveliness of his then just conscious boyhood. Surely his wish
had not been fulfilled? Such things were impossible. It seemed
monstrous even to think of them. And, yet, there was the picture
before him, with the touch of cruelty in the mouth.
Cruelty! Had he been cruel? It
was the girl's fault, not his. He had dreamed of her as a great
artist, had given his love to her because he had thought her
great. Then she had disappointed him. She had been shallow and
unworthy. And, yet, a feeling of infinite regret came over him,
as he thought of her lying at his feet sobbing like a little
child. He remembered with what callousness he had watched her.
Why had he been made like that? Why had such a soul been given
to him? But he had suffered also. During the three terrible hours
that the play had lasted, he had lived centuries of pain, aeon
upon aeon of torture. His life was well worth hers. She had marred
him for a moment, if he had wounded her for an age. Besides,
women were better suited to bear sorrow than men. They lived
on their emotions. They only thought of their emotions. When
they took lovers, it was merely to have some one with whom they
could have scenes. Lord Henry had told him that, and Lord Henry
knew what women were. Why should he trouble about Sibyl Vane?
She was nothing to him now.
But the picture? What was he
to say of that? It held the secret of his life, and told his
story. It had taught him to love his own beauty. Would it teach
him to loathe his own soul? Would he ever look at it again?
No; it was merely an illusion
wrought on the troubled senses. The horrible night that he had
passed had left phantoms behind it. Suddenly there had fallen
upon his brain that tiny scarlet speck that makes men mad. The
picture had not changed. It was folly to think so.
Yet it was watching him, with
its beautiful marred face and its cruel smile. Its bright hair
gleamed in the early sunlight. Its blue eyes met his own. A sense
of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the painted image
of himself, came over him. It had altered already, and would
alter more. Its gold would wither into grey. Its red and white
roses would die. For every sin that he committed, a stain would
fleck and wreck its fairness. But he would not sin. The picture,
changed or unchanged, would be to him the visible emblem of conscience.
He would resist temptation. He would not see Lord Henry any more
would not, at any rate, listen to those subtle poisonous theories
that in Basil Hallward's garden had first stirred within him
the passion for impossible things. He would go back to Sibyl
Vane, make her amends, marry her, try to love her again. Yes,
it was his duty to do so. She must have suffered more than he
had. Poor child! He had been selfish and cruel to her. The fascination
that she had exercised over him would return. They would be happy
together. His life with her would be beautiful and pure.
He got up from his chair and
drew a large screen right in front of the portrait, shuddering
as he glanced at it. "How horrible!" he murmured to
himself, and he walked across to the window and opened it. When
he stepped out on to the grass, he drew a deep breath. The fresh
morning air seemed to drive away all his sombre passions. He
thought only of Sibyl. A faint echo of his love came back to
him. He repeated her name over and over again. The birds that
were singing in the dew-drenched garden seemed to be telling
the flowers about her.
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Oscar Wilde Collection