Because Dorian is likened to Actaeon, Narcissus, and Adonis, one must infer that each of them reveals an aspect of him, although none of them describe him fully. The myths associated with them are all concerned with the feminine, and therefore cast light on his relationship with Sibyl. Actaeon stumbles on an image suggestive of sexuality before his own image of the feminine is ready to integrate this new element. The myth of Narcissus suggests that he cannot relate to an image of female sexuality. The myth of Adonis shows that his desire is not sufficiently developed for his image of the feminine to reveal her sexuality. The common issue in all three myths is that the male protagonist is not ready to acknowledge sexuality in his image of the feminine (= his anima).
Two of these myths — those of Actaeon and Adonis — are specifically concerned with a confusion between Artemis and Aphrodite. This suggests that they are about one image of the feminine on the threshold of becoming another. In terms of Dorian's experience, this implies that his inherent image of the feminine as a "virgin goddess" is endeavouring to become "Aphrodite'. It cannot do so because, like Actaeon, Dorian's unconscious image of the feminine is not ready to accomodate sexuality. His unconscious desires have moved ahead of his ability to relate with women. Thus, he "sees" sexuality where it is not (yet) appropriate. Sibyl's burning love reflects Dorian's unacknowledged desire: it represents an element of his own personality endeavouring to be recognized and responded to. But, like Narcissus, he turns his back on an image of a young woman when she reveals her sexuality to him. The myth of Adonis explains why he does so. It is a symbolic representation of a man who wanders away from commitment to a sexual relationship because he is more engrossed in his own pursuits. In order to evade her demands, he requires Aphrodite to behave "as if" she were Artemis. Dorian is only able to relate to an image of the feminine corresponding to pre-sexual girlhood. He "sees" every woman as an Artemis: Sibyl, Gladys, and Hetty all have the same Artemis-attributes. He evades Aphrodite. Since all three mythological motifs may be regarded as male fantasies, Dorian's behaviour suggests that the author's relationship with women was correspondingly flawed, for only this could cause such a fixation with an image of a virgin huntress. Wilde's marriage had started to show signs of stress shortly before be began writing his novel.
The day after cruelly rejecting Sibyl, Dorian awakens, afraid to look at Basil's altered canvas: "He shuddered, and felt afraid, and going back to the couch, lay there, gazing at the picture in sickened horror" (p. 95). This fear is of his own nature, and this nature is the result of his evasion of the feminine as an experience embodying sexual union, rather than as a creature from Shakespeare's plays (p. 75). This is confirmed when, a few moments later, he admits to Lord Henry:
"Then came that dreadful night — was it really only last night? — when she played so badly, and my heart almost broke. She explained it all to me. It was terribly pathetic. But I was not moved a bit. I thought her shallow. Suddenly something happened that made me afraid. I can't tell you what it was, but it was terrible." [p. 99]
The mythological or archetypal patterns on which Dorian's relation with Sibyl is unconsciously modelled suggest that his fear results from an intimation of his own sexual desires. Dorian sees Sibyl's declaration, not only as pathetic, but as frightening. Just as Actaeon is afraid of Artemis; Narcissus, of Echo; and Adonis, of Venus — so Dorian Gray is afraid of Sibyl Vane. His fear is similar to the fear which Diana plants in Actaeon after transforming him into a stag: "And last of all she planted fear within his heart" (Ovid, 1977, p. 139). That is, it represents a fear of his own unconscious desires.
The heart of Lord Henry's new Hedonism is the credo that "Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul" (p. 20). If either of these requires curing, this can only be because Dorian has paid them insufficient attention; in other words, that he has not invested them with sufficient value (= feeling). Thus, Lord Henry's advocation could be translated thus: "Sexual commitment to a woman is necessary in order to develop the anima, just as the anima is necessary in order to develop sexual commitment to a woman." In other words, Dorian — the protagonist of this drama — must commit himself to Sibyl in order for her to develop from an image of virginal purity into an image of womanhood: he must relate to her as a projection of his "inner" image of the feminine if he is to develop a mature relationship with her as a woman. Neither his infatuation with Sibyl Vane, nor his cruel rejection of her, signal feeling, in Jung's sense of this word. His infatuation is excessive; his cold indifference to her declaration, equally excessive. They both refer to emotion. Dorian's tragedy is that he cannot invest his inherent image of the feminine with sufficient value for it, and by extension him, to develop. If his first words — his desire to learn to play a piece of music — suggest that the challenge facing him is to discover how to relate to his feelings, then the novel records a "failed initiation." His relation with Sibyl symbolizes a failure to translate adolescent emotion into adult feeling.
- Introduction: Fear of the Feminine-Private in the Picture of Dorian Gray
- Music: Emotion and Feeling
- Actaeon and Artemis
- Narcissus and Echo
- Adonis and Venus
- Fear of the Feminine
- Confusion of the Anima and the Self
- Wilde: The Persona and the Authentic Unconscious
Last modified 7 March 2002