“I know you will laugh at me,” he replied, “but I really can’t exhibit it. I have put too much of myself into it.”
After Lord Henry compliments Basil on the portrait, Basil responds with why he cannot show it publicly. Lord Henry misinterprets Basil as feeling the portrait looks like himself, but Basil means that his adoration of Dorian shows plainly through the painting. To Basil, good artists must not let any of themselves show in their art. The reader can see immediately Basil’s integrity in his commitment to pure art.
There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the faltering steps of kings. It is better not to be different from one’s fellows. The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world.
Basil responds to Lord Henry’s ideas about the differences between physical beauty and intellectual power. Basil explains why he wouldn’t want to have the beauty of Dorian Gray. He even seems to regret his artistic talent, as greatness of any kind can have fatal consequences. Basil’s words reveal that he has no desire for power or fame, but cares only for his friends and his art.
“Dorian Gray is my dearest friend,” he said. “He has a simple and a beautiful nature. Your aunt was quite right in what she said of him. Don’t spoil him. Don’t try to influence him. Your influence would be bad. The world is wide, and has many marvelous people in it. Don’t take away from me the one person who gives to my art whatever charm it possesses: my life as an artist depends on him. Mind, Harry, I trust you.” He spoke very slowly, and the words seem wrung out of him almost against his will.
Here, Basil speaks to Lord Henry before Dorian enters the studio. Although Basil appears naïve in other parts of the novel, here he proves savvy in his wariness of Lord Henry’s interest in Dorian and issues him this warning. Basil knows that with the wrong influence, someone as young and attractive as Dorian could go down the wrong path. Dorian’s good influence on his art motivates Basil’s impulse to preserve Dorian’s innocence that informs his outer beauty.
I understand what you mean, and I believe in this girl. Any one you love must be marvelous, and any girl that 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 all the adoration of the world.
After Dorian describes his love for Sibyl and her talent as an actress, Basil agrees with Dorian’s assessment of her. Basil’s support reveals his affection for Dorian, as well as his respect for Sibyl’s art. Basil clearly believes art can change the lives of others when done well, and in his mind only a talented artist deserves Dorian’s affection.
But you, Dorian, with your pure, bright, innocent face, and your marvelous, untroubled youth—I can’t believe anything against you.
Here, Basil speaks to Dorian about the rumors going around about Dorian’s corruption. Although Basil has heard horrible things about Dorian from many sources, in his naïveté he believes that Dorian’s appearance argues against him as capable of any immoral acts. Basil’s refusal to consider the apparent contradiction about Dorian also stems from his previous feelings of affection for him and Dorian’s influence on his art.
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