Summary: Chapter Thirteen
Dorian leads Basil to the room in which he keeps the painting locked. Inside, Dorian lights a candle and tears the curtain back to reveal the portrait. The painting has become hideous, a “foul parody” of its former beauty. Basil stares at the horrifying painting in shock: he recognizes the brushwork and the signature as his own. Dorian stands back and watches Basil with “a flicker of triumph in his eyes.” When Basil asks how such a thing is possible, Dorian reminds him of the day he met Lord Henry, whose cautionary words about the ephemeral nature of beauty caused Dorian to pledge his soul for eternal, unblemished youth. Basil curses the painting as “an awful lesson,” believing he worshipped the youth too much and is now being punished for it. He begs Dorian to kneel and pray for forgiveness, but Dorian claims it is too late. Glancing at his picture, Dorian feels hatred welling up within him. He seizes a knife and stabs Basil repeatedly. He then opens the door and listens for the sound of anyone stirring. When he is satisfied that no one has heard the murder, he locks the room and returns to the library. Dorian hides Basil’s belongings in a secret compartment in the wall, then slips quietly out to the street. After a few moments, he returns, waking his servant and thus creating the impression that he has been out all night. The servant reports that Basil has been to visit, and Dorian says he is sorry to have missed him.
Summary: Chapter Fourteen
The next morning, Dorian wakes from a restful sleep. Once the events of the previous night sink in, he feels the return of his hatred for Basil. He decides not to brood on these things for fear of making himself ill or mad. After breakfast, he sends for Alan Campbell, a young scientist and former friend from whom he has grown distant. While waiting for Campbell to arrive, Dorian passes the time with a book of poems and reflects on his once intimate relationship with the scientist: the two were, at one point, inseparable. He also draws pictures and reflects on his drawings’ similarity to Basil’s likeness. Dorian then wonders if Campbell will come and is relieved when the servant announces his arrival.
Campbell has come reluctantly, having been summoned on a matter of life and death. Dorian confesses that there is a dead man locked in the uppermost room of his house, though he refrains from discussing the circumstances of the man’s death. He asks Campbell to use his knowledge of chemistry to destroy the body. Campbell refuses. Dorian admits that he murdered the man, and Campbell reiterates that he has no interest in becoming involved. Dorian blackmails Campbell, threatening to reveal a secret that would bring great disgrace on him. With no alternative, Campbell agrees to dispose of the body and sends a servant to his home for the necessary equipment. Dorian goes upstairs to cover the portrait and notices that one of the hands on the painting is dripping with red, “as though the canvas had sweated blood.” Campbell works until evening, then leaves. When Dorian returns to the room, the body is gone, and the odor of nitric acid fills the room.
Analysis: Chapters Thirteen–Fourteen
Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen take a decided turn for the macabre: the murder of Basil and the gruesome way it is reflected in the portrait—“as though the canvas had sweated blood”—root the novel firmly in the Gothic tradition, where darkness and supernatural horrors reign. In this setting, it becomes a challenge for Wilde to keep his hero from becoming a flat archetype of menacing evil. Much to his credit, he manages to keep Dorian a somewhat sympathetic character, even as he commits an unspeakable crime and blackmails a once dear friend to help him cover it up. Dorian remains worthy of sympathy because we see clearly the failure of his struggle to rise above a troubled conscience. With a murder added to his growing list of sins, Dorian wants nothing more than to be able to shrug off his guilt: he perceives Basil’s corpse as a “thing” sitting in a chair and tries to lose himself in the lines of a French poet. The most telling evidence of Dorian’s guilt can be seen as he sits waiting for the arrival of Alan Campbell; Dorian draws and soon remarks that “every face that he drew seemed to have a fantastic likeness to Basil Hallward.” This scene resonates with the Chapter Nine scene in which Dorian asks the artist to draw a picture of Sibyl Vane so that he may better remember her: in both instances, the hedonistic Dorian betrays his gnawing conscience.
Throughout the novel, Basil acts as a sort of moral ballast, reminding Lord Henry and Dorian of the price that must be paid for their pleasure seeking. In these chapters, he provides a fascinating counterpoint to the philosophy by which Dorian lives. Refusing to believe that the dissipation of a soul can occur without notice, he claims that “[i]f a wretched man has a vice, it shows itself in the lines of his mouth, the droop of his eyelids, the moulding of his hands even.” The introduction of such an opposing view discloses Wilde’s love of contradiction. In his essay “The Truth of Masks,” Wilde wrote that “[a] Truth in art is that whose contradictory is also true.” Indeed, the truth of The Picture of Dorian Gray, if one is to be found, emerges from oppositions. After all, as Dorian reflects while gazing upon his ruined portrait, art depends as much upon horror as it does upon “marvellous beauty,” just as one’s being is always the synthesis of a “Heaven and Hell.”
Like the other secondary characters in the novel, Alan Campbell is introduced and rather quickly ignored. His appearance, however, plays a vital role in establishing the darkening mood of the novel. The macabre experiments that he is accustomed to conducting as a chemist provide him with the knowledge that Dorian finds so necessary. Furthermore, the secrets that surround his personal life contribute to the air of mystery that surrounds Dorian. It is significant that the reader never learns the details of the circumstances by which Dorian blackmails Campbell. Given Wilde’s increasingly indiscreet lifestyle and the increasingly hostile social attitudes toward homosexuality that flourished at the end of the nineteenth century, the reader can assume that Campbell’s transgression is of a sexual nature. In 1885, the British Parliament passed the Labouchere Amendment, which widened prohibitions against male homosexual acts to include not only sodomy (which was punishable by death until 1861) but also “gross indecency” (meaning oral sex), an offense that carried a two-year prison term. Oscar Wilde himself was eventually found guilty of the latter offense. This new law was commonly known as the Blackmailer’s Charter. Thus, Alan Campbell, a seemingly inconsequential character, serves as an important indicator of the social prejudices and punishments in Wilde’s time.