An Extraordinarily Beautiful Young Man
The room was filled with the smell of roses. Sitting on a sofa, smoking a cigarette, was Lord Henry Wotton. Through the open door came the distant sounds of the London streets.
In the centre of the room stood a portrait of an extraordinarily beautiful young man. Sitting a little distance in front of it was the artist himself, Basil Hallward. As the painter looked at the portrait, he smiled.
‘It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done,’ said Lord Henry, slowly. ‘You really must send it next year to the Grosvenor. The Grosvenor is really the only place to exhibit a painting like that.’
‘I don’t think I shall send it anywhere,’ the painter answered, moving his head in that odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him at Oxford University. ‘No: I won’t send it anywhere.’
Lord Henry looked at him in surprise through the thin blue smoke of his cigarette. ‘Not send it anywhere? My dear man, why not? What odd people you painters are!’
‘I know you will laugh at me,’ Basil replied, ‘but I really can’t exhibit it. I have put too much of myself into it.’
Lord Henry stretched himself out on the sofa and laughed. ‘Too much of yourself in it! Basil, this man is truly beautiful. He does not look like you.’
‘You don’t understand me, Harry,’ answered the artist. ‘Of course I am not like him. I would be sorry to look like him. It is better not to be different from other people. The stupid and ugly have the best of this world. Dorian Gray -‘
‘Dorian Gray? Is that his name?’ asked Lord Henry, walking across the room towards Basil Hallward.
‘Yes, that is his name. I wasn’t going to tell you.’
‘But why not?’
‘Oh, I can’t explain. When I like people enormously I never tell their names to anyone. I suppose you think that’s very foolish?’
‘Not at all,’ answered Lord Henry, ‘not at all, my dear Basil. You forget that I am married, so my life is full of secrets. I never know where my wife is, and my wife never knows what I am doing. When we meet we tell each other lies with the most serious faces.’
‘I hate the way you talk about your married life, Harry,’ said Basil Hallward, walking towards the door that led into the garden. ‘I believe you are really a very good husband, but that you are ashamed of it. You never say a good thing, and you never do a wrong thing.’
Lord Henry laughed and the two men went out into the garden together. After a pause, Lord Henry pulled out his watch. ‘I am afraid I have to go, Basil,’ he said in a quiet voice. ‘But before I go I want you to explain to me why you won’t exhibit Dorian Grays picture. I want the real reason.’
‘I told you the real reason.’
‘No, you did not. You said that it was because there was too much of yourself in it. Now, that is childish.’
‘Harry,’ said Basil Hallward, looking him straight in the face, ‘every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not the sitter. I will not exhibit this picture because I am afraid that I have shown in it the secret of my own soul.’
Lord Henry laughed. ‘And what is that?’ he asked.
‘Oh, there is really very little to tell, Harry,’ answered the painter, ‘and I don’t think you will understand. Perhaps you won’t believe it.’
Lord Henry smiled and picked a flower from the grass. ‘I am quite sure I’ll understand it,’ he replied, staring at the flower,’ and I can believe anything.’
‘The story is simply this,’ said the painter. ‘Two months ago I went to a party at Lady Brandon’s. After I had been in the room for about ten minutes, I suddenly realized that someone was looking at me. I turned around and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt the blood leaving my face. I knew that this boy would become my whole soul, my whole art itself.’
‘What did you do?’
‘We were quite close, almost touching. Our eyes met again. I asked Lady Brandon to introduce me to him.’
‘What did Lady Brandon say about Mr Dorian Gray?’
‘Oh, something like «Charming boy. I don’t know what he does — I think he doesn’t do anything. Oh, yes, he plays the piano — or is it the violin, dear Mr Gray?» Dorian and I both laughed and we became friends at once.’
‘Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship,’ said the young lord, picking another flower, ‘and it is the best ending for one.’
Hallward shook his head. ‘You don’t understand what friendship is, Harry. Everyone is the same to you.’
‘That’s not true!’ cried Lord Henry, pushing his hat back, and looking at the summer sky. ‘I choose my friends for their beauty and my enemies for their intelligence. A man cannot be too careful in choosing his enemies. Of course, I hate my relations. And I hate poor people because they are ugly, stupid and drunk -‘
‘I don’t agree with a word you have said. And I feel sure that you don’t agree either.’
Lord Henry touched his pointed brown beard with his finger, and the toe of his boot with his stick. ‘How English you are, Basil! An Englishman is only interested in whether he agrees with an idea, not whether it is right or wrong. But tell me more about Mr Dorian Gray. How often do you see him?’