In The Picture of Dorian Gray, there are at least four specific references to Narcissus (pp. 3, 105, 114, & 128). The myth of him and Echo reveals a further facet of Dorian's encounter with Sibyl Vane. Ovid's portrait of Echo represents one of the earliest and most powerfully conveyed examples of unrestrained female sexuality in literature:

Now when she saw Narcissus wandering through the fields, she was inflamed with love and followed him by stealth; the more she followed, the more she burned by a nearer flame; as when quick-burning sulphur, smeared round the tops of torches, catches fire from another fire brought near. Oh, how often does she long to approach him with alluring words and make soft prayers to him. [1977, p. 151]

Sibyl experiences love as just such an inner fire. She greets Dorian after her "ridiculous" performance: "Her eyes were lit with an exquisite fire. There was a radiance about her" (p. 85). She begs him to take her away with him where they can be alone, away from the world of the theatre: "I might mimic a passion that I do not feel, but I cannot mimic one that burns me like fire" (p. 86).

Like Narcissus, Dorian is "pale, proud, and indifferent" to Sibyl's love (p. 84). He treats her equally cruelly: "You simply produce no effect," he tells her. Echo pines away for love of Narcissus. Sibyl commits suicide for love of Dorian. Just as Narcissus cannot gain the thing he loves (his own reflection), so Dorian is punished with "mad hungers" that grow more ravenous the more he feeds them (p. 128). Narcissus is infatuated by his own too muchness, just as Dorian grows "more and more enamoured of his own beauty" (p. 128). Narcissus eventually seeks release from his body, and wishes his reflection longer life:

Oh, that I might be parted from my own body! And, strange prayer for a lover, I would that what I love were absent from me! ... Death is nothing to me, for in death I shall leave my troubles; and I would he that is loved might live longer; but as it is, we too shall die together in one breath. (1977, p. 157)

Dorian also separates himself from himself, and confines one aspect of himself to his old school-room. He too eventually seeks release from the condition which he had prayed to be allowed to enjoy. He too feels a strange pity for his other self: "A sense of infinite pity, not for himself, but for the painted image of himself, came over him" (p. 91). The parallel is confirmed by something Dorian says towards the end of the novel:

"I wish I could love, ... But I seem to have lost the passion, and forgotten the desire. I am too much concentrated on myself." (p. 205)

Thus, both Echo and Sibyl represent images of the feminine endeavouring to waken their respective male protagonists to eros — that is, relationship through sexual commitment. Narcissus and Dorian represent a protagonist unable to relate to such an image of the feminine.


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Last modified 7 March 2002