A reader cannot help but be struck by the parallels between Dorian's experience of Sibyl, and Basil's experience of Dorian. Just as Dorian discovers Sibyl as a result of a chance whim, so Basil comes across Dorian unexpectedly (p. 6). Dorian explains his infatuation to Lord Henry: "She has not merely art, consummate art-instinct, in her, but she has personality also; and you have often told me that it is personalities, not principles, that move the age" (p. 55). Similarly, Basil is fascinated by Dorian because he represents "a new personality for art" (p. 10). In the same way as Dorian manifests a fear of Sibyl when she reveals her Echo-like sexuality, Basil confesses that his first reaction on meeting Dorian at Lady Brandon's crush is fear: "A curious sensation of terror came over me" (p. 6). Dorian's desire to set Sibyl on a pedestal of gold and see the world worship her (p. 77) is clearly related to Basil's "curious artistic idolatry" of Dorian (p. 11).
The Picture of Dorian Gray proceeds from the studio of an artist who "worships" a young man of extraordinary personal beauty who, in turn, "worships" a young actress of extraordinary loveliness (pp. 114, 51, 77). Dorian is fascinated by Sibyl because she represents a girl awakening to womanhood. Similarly, Basil's portrait of Dorian captures the young man's first apprehension of his adult individuality:
A look had come into the lad's face that he had never seen before. ... For nearly ten minutes he stood there, motionless, with parted lips, and eyes strangely bright ... The few words that Basil's friend had said to him ... had touched some secret chord that had never been touched before, but that he felt was now vibrating and throbbing to curious pulses. [pp. 17 & 18]
The metaphor of music suggests that this moment refers to Dorian's initiation into feeling; to his recognition of a new dimension to life which suddenly holds a "value" for him. In other words, Basil is fascinated by an image of a young man of unstained purity in the process of becoming aware of his infinite passions. Thus, both Sibyl and Dorian represent a moment between the unconscious innocence of childhood and the different horizons and values of adulthood: the moment of "becoming self-conscious" (p. 57).
Significantly, they are both related to archetypal images that "personify" this stage in development. Dorian is fascinated by Sibyl's Artemis-qalities, and Basil is fascinated by Dorian as an image of "eternal youth," which, as shown by Dawson (1987), is an attribute of the young Dionysos. Thus Basil is fascinated by the kind of "god-image" which Jung called the self (1936, p. 11). Jung writes (1959): "I cannot "conquer" a numinosum, I can only open myself to it, ... trusting in its meaning" (p. 458). Basil has no choice but to give way before his fascination, trusting that in doing so he is doing what is right for him. Such trust, however, can be misplaced, as his murder by Dorian suggests. Dorian is fascinated by an image of eternal girlhood, Basil, by an image of eternal boyhood. The fact that so many parallels exist between their respective experiences suggests a confusion between an experience of the anima and an experience of the Jungian self.
An obvious example of the translation of the feminine into an experience of masculinity is Dorian's fascination with Sibyl in the role of Rosalind — i.e. of a young woman who disguises herself in "man's apparel" (As You Like It, II, iv). This, however, can scarcely constitute an unconscious confusion. But there is a passage in which just such a translation would appear to be unintentional. Lord Henry is reflecting on what his uncle has just told him of Dorian's background:
From a psychological point of view, how interesting he was! The new manner in art, the fresh mode of looking at life, suggested so strangely by the merely visible presence of one who was unconscious of it all; the silent spirit that dwelt in dim woodland, and walked unseen in open field, suddenly showing herself, Dryad-like and not afraid, because in his soul who sought for her there had been wakened that wonderful vision to which alone are wonderful things revealed. [p. 36]
These are arguably the only lines in the novel in which the sense is not immediately clear. The reader fastens onto the subsequent reference to Plato, without noticing the discrepancy between the platonic idea and Wilde's very different 'silent spirit." Plato's ideas are not Dryad-like, nor do they dwell in dim woodland. Lord Henry is describing a 'silent spirit" whose sex is evidently feminine, and whose relation to Artemis is suggested by virtue of her belonging to the forest, and by her showing herself to a male viewer when, although looking for her, he least expects her to appear. The passage thus represents a variant of the Actaeon and Artemis myth — with one all-important difference: Lord Henry is not referring to a young girl, as the passage would seem to imply. He is describing his reaction to Dorian, a young man.
- 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