Harry is Pan, the piper who leads Dorian on his path to destruction, decadence, and moral decay. As with Pan, the merry and much-loved god, the victim of the god’s attention does not fare well. As Pan had Syrinx and Echo, Harry has Dorian. Pan caused madness and panic with his passions; Harry seems to have had the same result with Dorian. Wilde reveals much of Harry’s character in the writing. His is the predominant voice; he delivers most of the dialogue. Is Harry the autobiographical character? He is shown as the clever, witty, blase sophisticate; jaded, bored, and poised for an interesting project.
Enter Dorian, whose innocence and beauty present an irresistible challenge. Before Harry, Dorian was unaware of his beauty. “The sense of his own beauty came on him like a revelation. He had never felt it before. ” (p. 18) It is Harry who makes him see and fall in love with his own beauty, and realize the brevity of youth. “Then had come Lord Henry Wotton with his strange panegyric on youth, his terrible warning of its brevity. ” (p. 18) In the space of an afternoon Harry has cast his spell; Dorian is convinced that youth is the only thing worth having.
The gods had an unfortunate lapse in their wisdom. While Sibyl and her fellow goddesses asked for eternal life but forgot to ask for eternal youth, Pan has it right- the object of his affection will never become ugly and grotesque. Harry toys with Dorian, takes pleasure in his game. “Talking to him was like playing upon an exquisite violin. He answered to every touch and thrill of the bowThere was something terribly enthralling in the exercise of influence. No other activity was like it. ” (p. 26) This becomes a satisfying entertainment for Harry. He creates and dominates.
He would make that wonderful spirit his own. ” (p. 27) He projects his soul into the pure and graceful form that is Dorian. The tension between Harry and Dorian heightens; he fascinates and is reflected more brilliant by Dorian’s gaze. “He felt that the eyes of Dorian Gray were fixed on him, and the consciousness that amongst his audience there was one whose temperament he wished to fascinate, seemed to give his wit keenness, and to lend colour to his imagination. ” (p. 31) Harry fills Dorian with the desire to know everything about life; that the search for beauty is the real secret of life.
Sadly for Dorian, beauty is elusive, empty, shallow. As his life spirals downward, beauty becomes a mockery. He is trapped in his eternal beauty; forever young and forever unwise, petulant, and self-centered. Dorian does not have the capacity to sift Harry’s theories through the sieve of wisdom. Lacking depth and dimension, he can only focus on his own desires. Harry teaches Dorian until the end. It is their final conversation that makes Dorian realize that his reformation is just another vanity, horribly revealed in the painting.
Harry is content with his creation; he is Marsyas listening to Apollo. If Harry knows the reality of Dorian’s torments, he does not care to acknowledge it. He wishes to keep his creation unsullied and unspoiled in his imagination, as pretty as a picture. The comforts of home can be deadly. Just look at Harry. Comfort killed him off long before his infection did the job. Comfort was the gangrene of his soul, surely and systematically invading and contaminating his interiority just as the infection dominated his body. Comfort dulled his mind, stifled his creativity, robbed him of his vitality.
Willingly or not, Harry found a home, and became afraid to venture out again. Harry’s home developed a high wall, a gate, a moat. Unpenetrable. Behind the walls of his castle he may have been bored, but he was safe. Who was Harry’s enemy? What did he fear? Why did he embrace the comforts of the woman- the money, the booze, the easiness? Harry was confrontational with danger; he had done it all. Guns, girls, treachery, torture- he had the guts and the glory. Harry’s gangrene, of course, was fear. The worst fear for a writer- not being able to write.
Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. ” (p. 5) Harry had been dying for a long time. Every story he didn’t write removed another page from his life. He denied his talent, stifled his flame. His body finally found a way to give him want he wanted. The fear kept him home, safe from confronting his torment. Could he write it? More adventures? Continued curiosity? Without the courage to confront his essential fear they were empty activities. As empty as the pages he never wrote.