Far from the aristocratic world of aesthetes, Sibyl’s brother James is a sailor, burly and strong, almost incongruous with the novel’s other characters. Indeed, James is the most artless character in the novel, in multiple senses of the word. He eschews art itself, disliking that Sibyl is an actress, on display for others. In addition, he also hates all falsehoods. He won’t pretend to be happy for Sibyl and voices his fear of her relationship with Dorian. He forces his mother to tell him the truth about his father. He initiates all of these uncomfortable conversations without cushioning or sugarcoating what he wants to say. With his complete lack of artifice, his brotherly love for Sibyl is one of the most genuine instances of love in the novel, based in care, concern. Even his desire to kill Dorian to avenge Sibyl has a kind of earnestness to it, as demonstrated by his horror at the thought of accidentally killing the wrong man.

James does not appear in the original novella version of Dorian Gray. His addition adds context to Sibyl’s character and introduces an element of class struggle to the novel. James actively shows disdain for the middle and upper classes. While his mother wants him to become a solicitor, which would grant him social mobility, James refuses. He claims that any aristocrat wooing Sibyl would “enslave” her, suggesting he views the power imbalance insurmountable and degrading. His hatred may stem from the fact that his father is an aristocrat who had an affair with his mother. Whoever his father may be, he maintains a comfortable, respectable life while his mother bears the social stigma of being a single mother who had children out of wedlock. This backstory ties into the novel’s themes of superficiality by emphasizing that the callousness of the wealthy has tangible effects on other people’s lives. James’s death, being accidentally shot at a society hunting party, thus seems fitting. He dies by the careless acts of the upper class in an accident which goes unpunished and is swept under the rug.