The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
Wilde. In his preface to this, the only novel that he ever wrote, Wilde remarked "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all."
The novel begins with Lord Henry Wotton observing the artist Basil Hallward painting the portrait of a handsome, young man named Dorian Gray in his London studio. Dorian arrives to sit for the artist, and Lord Henry tells him that youth is the only thing worth having, and that Dorian will soon age and lose his beauty. Once the portrait is finished, Dorian looks at it and wishes that he would stay like the picture, and it will bear his age for him.
Under the influence of Lord Henry, Dorian begins an exploration of his senses. He begins by discovering a brilliant actress, Sibyl Vane, who performs Shakespeare in a dingy theatre. Dorian approaches her, and very soon, proposes marriage to her. Sibyl, who only knows Dorian as "Prince Charming", rushes home to tell her sceptical mother and brother. Her brother tells her that if Dorian harms her, he shall kill him. Dorian invites Basil and Lord Henry to see Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet. Sibyl, whose only knowledge of love was through the theatre, loses all her abilities after experiencing true love with Dorian, and performs very badly. Dorian rejects her, saying that her beauty was in her art. Once he returns to his apartment, Dorian notices that Basil's portrait of him has changed. The smile on his mouth has become crueller and less friendly. Dorian realises that his wish has come true, and the portrait is bearing his sins. The next morning, Dorian decides to reconcile with Sibyl, but Lord Henry arrives to say that Sibyl has killed herself by swallowing prussic acid.
Dorian accepts his fate, and over the next eighteen years indulges in the seven deadly sins, under the influence of a "poisonous" French novel given to him by Lord Henry, probably Joris-Karl Huysmans's À rebours (Against the Grain). One day, Basil arrives to question Dorian about rumours of his indulgences. Dorian does not deny the debauchery, and endeavours to show Basil his soul. He takes Basil to the portrait, which is revealed to have become montrously ugly under Dorian's sins. Dorian blames the artist for his fate, and stabs him to death. He then blackmails an old friend into destroying the body.
Dorian seeks escape from the deed he has done in an opium parlour. After being rejected by the proprietor, who calls him by the name "Prince Charming", he leaves. Sibyl Vane's brother, who is in the parlour, recognises the name, and follows him. He attempts to kill Dorian, but is deceived when Dorian tells him that he would have been too young to have been involved with his sister. The sailor goes back to the opium den, where the woman tells him that Dorian has never aged for the past eighteen years.
At a shooting party at a country house, Dorian sees the brother stalking the grounds. However, an accident occurs during the shooting and the brother is shot. After returning to London Dorian informs Lord Henry that he will be good from now on, and has started by not eloping with a vicar's daughter. At his apartment, he wonders if the portrait would have changed, now that he has changed his ways. He unveils the portrait to see that it has got worse: there is blood on his hands. He has been vain in imagining that he could redeem himself. In a fit of rage, he picks up the knife that killed Basil Hallward, and plunges it into the painting. His servants send for the police, who find a bloated, ugly old man with a knife in his heart, and the portrait of Dorian, as beautiful as he was eighteen years ago.