The way in which the hero of a novel is introduced is often a key to the subsequent events. Dorian is introduced at the beginning of chapter two "seated at the piano ... turning over the pages of a volume of Schumann's "Forest Scenes." "You must lend me these, Basil," he cried. "I want to learn them." (p. 14)

Jung (1973) maintains that "Music expresses, in some way, the movement of the feelings (or emotional values) that cling to the unconscious processes" (p. 542). The words used to describe feelings very often have a slightly but significantly different meaning for each individual. For Jung (1921), feeling was the function of consciousness which tells one "how and to what extent a thing is important or unimportant for us" (p. 518). Feeling is thus a psychological function which establishes a "criterion of acceptance or rejection" (p. 434). As such, it is a necessary aspect of every process in which the ego is involved, for an experience can only become real or meaningful when an individual has established the specific "value" it holds for him or her. In contrast, Jung used the words emotion and affect to describe any excessive reaction. Emotion and affect are "characterized by marked physical innervation on the one hand and a peculiar disturbance of the ideational process on the other" (p. 411). They refer to any reaction which the individual cannot control: excessive pleasure, pain, guilt, anger, or even feeling.

Prior to the events described in the novel, Dorian's experience of music has referred to emotion, as is evident from his reflection on first hearing Lord Henry expound his philosophy of Individualism:

Music had stirred him like that. Music had troubled him many times. But music was not articulate. It was not a new world, but rather another chaos, that it created in us. [p. 19]

Such "chaos" refers to emotion. His determination to learn Schumann's "Forest Scenes" thus represents a desire to give form to chaos. In Jung's sense of the words, he is seeking to translate emotion into feeling.

Dorian reacts to Sibyl Vane, the first girl with whom he falls in love, as if she were music. He describes her to Lord Henry:

"And her voice — I never heard such a voice. It was very low at first, with deep mellow notes, that seemed to fall singly upon one's ear. Then it became a little louder, and sounded like a flute or a distant hautbois. In the garden-scene it had all the tremulous ecstasy that one hears just before dawn when nightingales are singing. There were moments, later on, when it had the wild passion of violins. You know how a voice can stir one." [p. 50]

Later, he reflects about Hetty Merton, the last girl with whom he falls in love: "What a laugh she had! — just like a thrush singing" (p. 219). The fact that he should associate them both with music suggests that a considerable degree of feeling (or emotional value) "clings" to them. This implies that Sibyl faces Dorian with a challenge to translate his immediate infatuation with her (= excessive reaction, and thus emotion) into a reaction in which he is capable of a balanced feeling towards her.

The relation between Sibyl and "emotion" is confirmed in chapter IX, when Basil comes to console Dorian after hearing the news of Sibyl's death. Dorian does not want to be reminded of an emotion he felt the previous evening: "I don't want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, to dominate them" (p. 108). In the space of only a few weeks, he has moved from infatuation to ice-cold indifference. In the following pages, I seek to illustrate how this mechanism can be interpreted by way of three mythic patterns to which Dorian's relationship with Sibyl can be compared.


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Last modified 7 March 2002