‘The soul in the picture’
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
The studio was filled with the intense smell of roses, and when the gentle summer wind moved through the trees in the garden, the strong essence of lilac entered the room. In the corner, spread out over a divan and smoking one cigarette after another, Lord Henry Woton contemplated the new honey-coloured flowers.
In the middle of the room, on an easel, was the life-size portrait of a young man of extraordinary beauty, and standing in front of it, a little further away, the painter Basil Hallward was sitting, admiring the painting.
‘This is your best work, Basil. It’s the best you’ve done’, Lord Henry told the painter. ‘Next year you must send it to the Grosvenor Exhibition.’
‘I don’t think so’, replied the painter. ‘I will never send this anywhere.’
Lord Henry raised his eyes and looked with astonishment through the blue smoke of the opium cigarette.
‘And why ever not, my dear friend? Painters are such strange people. They seek fame and then don’t want it. It’s absurd. It’s crazy because there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
‘I know you’re going to laugh’ replied the painter, but really, I can’t exhibit the painting; there’s too much of myself in it.
Lord Henry laughed.
‘I don’t mind you laughing!’ said Basil.
‘But it is nothing like you! You are an intelligent man, but intelligence has nothing to do with beauty. I am sure that your mysterious young friend never thinks. He is a beautiful, brainless creature. You are nothing like each other.
‘You don’t understand me’ replied the painter. ‘I already know that Dorian Gray and I are nothing alike.’
‘Dorian Gray? Is that his name?’ Asked Lord Henry.
‘Yes, that’s his name. I didn’t want you to know.’
‘Because when I like someone a lot I don’t tell say their name. For me it’s betrayal. I love secrecy. When I leave this city, I don’t tell anyone where I am going. It is a bad habit, I know, but in that way life is like a novel. You must think I am mad.’
‘No, my dear Basil,’ said Lord Henry. Remember that I am married and the only delight to be had in a marriage is that the partners cheat regularly. I never know where my wife is and my wife never knows what I am doing.
‘I don’t like you speaking like that,’ replied Basil Hallward, as he walked towards the door that led to the garden. I believe that you are a good husband. You are a great person. Your shamelessness is just a front.’
The two men walked together towards the garden and sat on a bench, under the shade of the trees. Moments later, Lord Henry looked at his watch.
‘I must go, Basil’ he said quietly ‘but before I go I would like to know why you don’t want to exhibit the picture of Dorian Gray.’
‘I repeat: it scares me to show the secret of my soul through a picture.’
‘And what is it?’
‘I’m going to tell you.’
‘I’m listening to you, Basil’
‘This is the story’ said the painter
‘Two months ago I went to a meeting at Lady Brandon’s house. I was in the lounge talking to various old ladies when I felt someone looking at me. I turned and saw, for the first time, Dorian Gray. Our eyes met and I was scared. I knew instantly that he was fascinating. I felt that something terrible was going to happen to me. I froze and wanted to leave the room. I ran towards the door, but Lady Brandon wouldn’t leave me.’
Suddenly I found myself face to face with Dorian Gray. We were almost touching. We made eye contact. Then I asked Lady Brandon to introduce us.
‘And what did Lady Brandon say of this marvellous young man?’
‘She said that he was charming. She said that she was a close friend of his mother and that she had forgotten what he did. Dorian Gray and I both laughed and suddenly we became friends.’
‘It’s a good start’ said Lord Henry
Basil turned his head.
‘You don’t understand what friendship is, Harry’ he murmured. ‘nor what is enmity.’ You love everybody, which is the same as not loving anybody.’
‘That’s not fair!’ said Lord Henry. I know the difference between people. I choose my best friends by their good looks, my colleagues by their personality and my enemies by their intelligence. I don’t have stupid enemies. Let’s speak about Dorian Gray. Do you see him often?’
‘I see him every day. I must see him every day. I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t see him.’
‘Amazing! I must meet Dorian Gray!’
Then Basil Hallward got up and walked around the garden. A few moment later he returned.
‘He is my art’ said the painter seriously. ‘I know that my work, since I met Dorian Gray, is the best I have ever done. The simple presence of this young man – he is little over 20 years old – makes one see things in another light. I think in a different way.’
‘Tell me:- does Dorian Gray affect you so much?’
‘Yes’ he replied after a silence. ’I know he likes me. He is charming with me and we talk for days, in the studio, although at times it seems that he enjoys hurting me. I think I have given my soul to a person who doesn’t appreciate it enough.’
‘My dear friend. Now I remember...’
‘Remember what, Harry?’
‘Where I heard the name Dorian Gray!’
‘Where?’ asked the painter, a little angry.
‘Don’t look at me like that, Basil. It was at my aunt Agatha’s house. She told me that she had met a marvellous young man called Dorian Gray. She didn’t tell me that he was beautiful. She told me that he was very serious and was good-natured. I imagined a person with glasses, spots and enormous feet.’
‘I don’t want you to meet him’ said Basil
‘You don’t want me to meet him?’
‘Mister Dorian Gray is in the studio, sir’ Said the butler, coming into the garden.
‘Well, now you will have to introduce him to me’ Said Lord Henry, laughing.
Basil Hallward looked at Lord Henry.
‘Dorian Gray is my dear friend’ he said. He has a pure and simple nature. Don’t corrupt him. You would be a bad influence. The world is big and there are many interesting people. Don’t take him away from me. My life as an artist depends on him. Please take it into account. I confide in you.’
‘Don’t talk rubbish’ replied Lord Henry, who took Hallward by the arm and took him into the house.