The Picture of Dorian Gray: Novel Summary: Chapters 4-6

A month passes. Dorian is in the library of Lord Henrys house, waiting for him to return. He meets Victoria, Henrys wife, who leaves after Henry arrives. Dorian tells his friend that he is in love with an unknown actress named Sibyl Vane whom he has known for three weeks. He fell in love with her after he saw her act in Romeo and Juliet in a small theatre in a very unfashionable part of London. He met her backstage two nights later and he now goes to see her perform every night. He invites Basil and Henry to see her act; he is certain they will think she is a genius.
After Dorian leaves, Henry reflects on how pleased he is that Dorian is in love with Sibyl. It makes him more interesting. He feels that the young man is awakening and beginning to fulfil his desire and live more fully. He takes credit for influencing Dorian in this direction. He sees Dorian as part of a scientific experiment he is conducting. After dinner, Henry finds a note has been delivered to him from Dorian, announcing that he and Sibyl are engaged to be married.
Sibyl tells her mother, who is an actress herself, how happy she is to be engaged to Dorian, whom she calls Prince Charming, but her mother is not pleased. She thinks Sybil is too young to fall in love, and besides, she knows nothing about her Prince Charming, not even his name. Mrs. Vane is under a strain because her sixteen-year-old son James is about to depart for Australia in order to make money. James and Sibyl go out for a walk together. James is morose at the prospect of leaving home, and he also feels that Sibyl is in danger. He is suspicious of her new friend and warns her about him, saying that if Prince Charming ever does her wrong, he, James, will kill him. Sibyl laughs this off; she is in love, and sees no clouds on her horizon. When they return home, Sybil goes to rest before her evening performance. James asks his mother whether she was ever married to his father. She replies that she was not, because he was not free to marry her. But they loved each other. James says he regrets asking her about a painful subject. He repeats his threat to kill Sibyls new love if he wrongs her, and his mother admires the passionate way he speaks. Then he departs to begin his long journey.
At dinner in a hotel, Henry tells Basil of Dorians engagement. Basil does not approve, and hopes it is some short-lived infatuation. Dorian arrives late, full of happiness. The previous night he saw Sibyl in Shakespeares As You Like It, and he kissed her for the first time. He is determined to marry her no matter what anyone else thinks. Basil is disturbed by the impending marriage, although he does not admit it. The three men go off to theatre to watch Sibyl perform in Romeo and Juliet.
Much has been written about the homoerotic content of the novel. Certainly, Basil and Henry are extremely attracted to Dorian in part because of his physical beauty. They are also emotionally drawn to him. Basil openly admits it and Henry, although he hides behind a veil of detachment, is obviously fascinated by Dorian also. In the beginning of chapter 4, his wife reveals that Henry possesses seventeen or eighteen photographs of Dorian. Henrys relationship with his wife is cool (she later leaves him), and throughout the novel, Henry makes many misogynist remarks, such as “No woman is a genius. Women are a decorative sex. They never have anything to say, but they say it charmingly” [ch.4]). Since Henry does not have a high opinion of women, he seems to prefer male company. There is a deeper emotional charge in the relationship between Dorian and Henry than between Henry and his wife. This is suggested in a telling moment in chapter 4, when Henry returns to find his wife talking to Dorian. It is clear that the two men do not want her to stay. After she says she must leave, there is an awkward silence, broken by her “silly” laugh. Neither of the men wants to contradict her; they would sooner spend their time just in each others company.
Chapter 4 reveals that Henry has started to have the desired influence on Dorian. He now has a “wild desire to know everything about life.” He says he has a “passion for sensation,” exactly what Henry told him to seek out. Even danger gives him a sense of delight.
What lies behind Dorians love of Sibyl is that she is able to create the beauty of art, which is in contrast with the sordid reality of life. This is why Dorian falls in love with her. Under Henrys tutelage, he has become a lover of art. The contrast between art and life is clearly delineated in chapter 4. The theatre where Sibyl performs is located in an ugly part of London; Dorian describes the “labyrinth of grimy streets and black, grassless squares” that he walks to get there. The whole atmosphere in and around the theatre is squalid, but Sibyl rises above it because she is able to give life to the great Shakespearean heroines such as Imogen, Rosalind and Cordelia. Dorian admits that ordinary women do not interest him; he loves Sibyl because she is an actress and becomes interesting through the roles she creates on the stage. The underlying idea is that art imposes a form on the chaos and ugliness of life. As Lord Henry says in chapter 6, “I love acting, It is so much more real than life.”