It is to the ideals hidden by shadows of shame that many look for comfort in secret, and it is the darker side of life that many yearn for. The general body of humanity struggles hopelessly through the age-old routine of daily life, praying and begging for guidance of some sort. Their eyes, starved by lack of guidance and by the starkness of the earth, look most eagerly toward those ideas that appeal to the sense, though perhaps not to the rationale. Thus are people more inclined to turn toward those who would give them these answers and weave them these tales. Lord Henry Wotton, a superlative example of such a person, is the speaker of the darkest of truths and the most enticing lies. Even those who see him as wicked are attracted to the manner in which he behaves toward others, the truths—oft unspoken by others for their dark nature—and eloquent lies that he whispers, and most importantly to the overall gentle force of his influence.
Towards others, Lord Henry acts in whatever way he deems suitable for the time being; this occasionally makes his manner seems somewhat capricious. Overall, however, his actions are more premeditative than a whimsical nature would allow. He accepts others to his liking, promotes them when he chooses, and takes from them when the urge strikes him. He knows whom he must work more firmly with to keep within his grasps, and whom he already has a hold of. In the way of controlling relations, he has a complete mastery. Take, for instance, the situation with Dorian Gray and Basil Hallward. Lord Henry coaxes Dorian further away from Basil, who had explicitly asked that Henry not interfere with the relationship of the two. Instead of heeding these words, Lord Henry takes Dorian closer to himself, treating Dorian in a manner that he knows the young man will enjoy, while keeping Basil away from Dorian and on an ever-present leash of sorts.
Lord Henry can occasionally, by way of a serpent tongue, provide a feeling that he sympathizes with the individual. He gives a certain comfort to those around him by complimenting them, or by making snide remarks about those who are disdained. In reality, he holds little interest in what others what, shoving their passions aside as insignificant and passing; this can be well seen in his referral to Dorian’s great love as “some little actress or other” and his complete initial rejection of the girl. Bail Hallward recognizes this general apathy, voicing that Lord Henry is “indifferent to everyone.” The fact that he realizes this, however, does not stop the painter from returning to the artistic language of Lord Henry.
Lord Henry is entirely able to make the cruder truths seem like the occurrences of an everyday lifestyle, and utter nonsense seem to be the most prodigious of all truths. He speaks what he believes will work to his advantage, acting through the manipulation of words and phrases. Lord Henry is able to convince Dorian that the part of the boy in the death of Sibyl, the death that he had initially accepted his part in, was to be paid no mind to. Murder, as he showed it, would be a terrible thing for Dorian to waste his pretty head thinking over, and it had been of no real trouble. Through his words, Lord Henry manages to warp the idea of a nasty murder into something entirely commonplace and inconsequential. “To cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul,” he says. This is simply ridiculous, and yet Dorian takes it to heart, believing it to be beautiful. In a way, the way that he speaks is a form of art. The images that he creates are those that he wishes others to see and follow.
Through use of his persuasive tongue, Lord Henry exercises immeasurable influence over those around him. One of the first things that he tells Dorian is that “all influence is immoral”; he even explains why this is so. The fact that it is immoral does not stop him from influencing others, however. Even as he speaks these words to Dorian, he is influencing the boy, showing Dorian a view of life from the policy of Lord Henry. Why should he do such things? Lord Henry finds amusement in his influence, as he finds it most interesting to watch the impact that he might have upon others through the work of a few words. It is for the purpose of amusing his own self, therefore, that he toys with the lives and minds of others. His initial introduction to Dorian changes the life of the boy entirely, and Lord Henry continues to work against any natural good in Dorian as the story continues. Though this, he creates in Dorian an absolute infatuation with immoral urges.
Using his words, Lord Henry binds others to himself, enrapturing them. Even those—such as Basil—who see that many of his intentions are ill, are caught into his life. Lord Henry influences in a way that is often rather surreptitious, but always quite comforting to the individual being altered. As in the case of Dorian, Lord Henry can make the individual whom he molds feel as if the new path is the one that was meant to be taken. Because Lord Henry holds such a power to comfort, and a seemingly high level of intellect, and because he can make others feel wanted, he is welcomed most everywhere. Because he can make a person feel as if a new world has been opened, he is seen as an important and indispensable individual.
At one point, a woman with whom Lord Henry is dining remarks “ Lord Henry, I am not at all surprised that the world says that you are extremely wicked.” To this, Henry simply retorts “But what world says that? …It can only be the next world. This world and I are on excellent terms.” His terms with the world are of his own device, as he is able to work those around him into doing what might please him. Through use of his eloquent language, Lord Henry is able to influence others. They hold strongly to his friendship because of this, as in the case of Dorian Gray. Basil Hallward, on the other hand, remains with Lord Henry out of a deep respect for the art of Lord Henry’s life. Because he is innately eloquent, seemingly accepting, and secretly serpentine, Lord Henry Wotton draws those around him with incredible force.