The Curse of Basil Hallward

Summary: Basil Hallward painted a picture which aged instead of it's subject. Could this have been a fluke, or is there something more sinister going on behind the scenes of Wilde's novel?

Note: This was just a random idea which spawned plot bunnies while I wasn't looking. Do tell me if you think it's crap. Also tell me if you think it isn't. . .


It was raining in Edinburgh. The thick, heavy, oppressive kind of rain which doesn't merely make one wet, but thumps and stings, and saturates clothing, skin, hair, sentiments. No one else was out, but Basil Hallward pulled his coat tightly around him and pattered down the dank grey cobbles, away from the small, neat house on the corner of the street, and in the direction of the nearest cab which was parked, not patiently – for patience requires expectation – but almost lazily by its driver at the far end of the street. The man inside was reading a paper, and the ferocious drumming of the rain meant that he could not hear Basil's frantic shouting until the desperate man thumped his fists against the cab's window. The window was swiftly opened, and Basil demanded to be taken to the station, before tugging open the door and leaping inside.

"I should kick you right out again, chum," growled the driver, pulling on the reigns. "I don't like bossy so-an-so's in my cab, but the cut of your coat says you can afford my aggravation."

"Yes, yes. I'll pay what you want," muttered Basil, sliding down in the seat, so only his eyes and his hat showed above the window. He peered behind him, back down the street. There was someone standing on the far corner, staring after him, clutching something in their hands. Even from this distance, he could tell the figure was distraught.

"So what're we running away from, governor? Debt? Women? Crime?"

"No, art," said Basil, before he could control his tongue. This was not something insolent cab drivers needed to know about.

"I knew an artist once. Knew a couple actually. All completely rubbish painters, but artists nevertheless. Dangerous fellow, your artist."

The rain, if it was possible, grew even more intense. Basil felt a shiver run down his spine, but perhaps it was because of the chill in the air more than the horror of what had just happened. Or perhaps he was being fanciful again. Of course, that was what had gotten him into this mess in the first place; his flights of fantasy, his little infatuations, his creative nature. He glanced at the cab driver, who was staring straight ahead, barely noticing Basil any more. With a sigh, he removed his rain-hammered hat and ran his fingers through his damp hair.

"Yes," he said eventually. "Yes, I know."


Two days later he was safely back in London, and the weather had cleared significantly. It would probably be a nice summer after all, or so Lord Henry had said. Of course, Basil knew better than to listen to Harry, who knew absolutely nothing about meteorology. However, Harry did know about art. Not because he created it – no, that rather made you a poor judge on the subject – but he was a connoisseur of art in the same way that other people are connoisseurs of fine confectionary. He would admire it's beauty, comment on it's deeper meaning briefly, before devouring it's essence. Basil had never figured out how, but once Harry had admired a painting to his satisfaction, he would then discard it and move onto the next one, leaving the first a meaningless, empty husk of canvas, in which no one else could ever find any pleasure. Although Basil did not know how it was done, he was perfectly sure it was done wholly on purpose.

Of course, Basil's own art was a different matter. Basil and Harry had been friends since their schooldays, and although Harry often grew tired of the painter's romantic obsessions, and the periods of plain boringness he went through between them, he could never bring himself to ruin Basil's masterpieces. And indeed, Basil was a great painter. All men, Harry had said once, have at least one skill. His own was his wicked charm, coupled with a finely tuned wit. He could win anyone over with a smile and half a dozen words. Basil merely had his art and his talent for making people feel interesting. Harry had followed Basil's artistic career doggedly, from the first sketches of chapels and cathedrals, to the first exhibitions and finally to the present day, where Basil no longer needed to paint specifically to be noticed or to earn money, and so painted precisely what he wanted at any given moment. Basil's latest string of love interests had, naturally, surfaced in his art. Harry had seldom seen these pictures, because Basil didn't like him identifying the objects of his affections. He did not fear that his friend would betray his trust, merely that Harry would mock him horribly, as he had so many times. Oh, it was all in jest, but Harry could be quite tiresome when he was on a roll.

Basil was back in London for the first time in months. Lord Henry had, characteristically, decided to mark the occasion with a garden party. Any excuse to show off would suffice.

"Who are you inviting?" Basil asked, not because he was interested but because he had to say something to save himself from dying of tedium. Harry had been scribbling furiously at his desk for some time, and Basil had long since exhausted the drawing room's limited supply of entertainment, namely several large, badly-done paintings in ugly frames, an even more hideous statue of Aphrodite, and a slim volume on flower arrangement. It was perfectly obvious who was the most frequent visitor to this room, and it wasn't Henry.

"Everyone, naturally."

"Surely not Mr and Mrs –"

"Everyone, Basil! Every single person I can think of. That's a lot of people."

"And will any of them know they're being invited to a party held in my honour?"

"They'll know they're being invited to a party."

"That's not really the same thing, is it?"

"Basil, are you really so egotistic as that? No, of course you aren't. You know I'm having this party because I'm pleased to have you back here, and I think it would do you good. And it *will* do you good, Basil. It always does. Now while I try to remember a few names, tell me what brought you back from Edinburgh – what happened there, for goodness sake?"

Basil examined his own finger nails nervously. "Nothing happened, Harry, I simply grew tired of Edinburgh. It is not a difficult thing to do you know."

"Now, Basil, you know better than that." Henry peered over the top of his reading glasses. "Are you really going to keep this thing secret from me? I will be most upset if you are."

"No, of course not. How could I?"

"Well then?"

With a small sigh, Basil rose from his chair and walked across to the window. Outside, the view was dull, but he needed the air. He took in a deep lungful before Henry made an impatient clucking noise behind him.

"You intrigue me Basil, you really do. . .For such a boring fellow you lead a dangerous and interesting life. It was another of your little liaisons, wasn't it? And you very nearly got caught, didn't you?"


"No to which? Or to both?"

"No to the last."

"Ah-ha! So I was right, as I invariably am. And you're not going to tell me who they were, are you? At least tell me if I should refer to them as he or she? I hate not knowing the correct pronoun. . .A thing which happens all too often with you."

"No, Harry."

"How infuriating of you. Why is it so impossible to get a decent scandal out of you?"

Basil leaned out of the window again. Below him, the street was empty. "I am going to tell you. Harry, do you remember when we were at Oxford and I painted that young lady from America?"

"Of course. I can't recall her name. . ."

"Jane Lee. You remember me telling you how she wished that she could smile like I painted her all the time?"

Harry suddenly let out a roaring laugh. "And you told me her face stuck exactly like that! Oh yes! Basil, that was the day when I realised you were far from dull. Quite an amusing story."

"It did, Harry. It really did. The painting took on a glum expression and she never stopped smiling."

"You are perfectly ridiculous, Basil! Now stop trying to change the subject and tell me what happened with this lover of yours."

"She asked me to paint her brother from a photo," said Basil, after a heavy pause. "He died years ago, and she didn't have a suitable painting of him to place over the fireplace, and she asked me to paint him for her."

"So this was a female. How unusual."

Basil stopped suddenly, his line of thought lost. "Why, Henry? Why should that be unusual?"

"You have patterns – I've been observing you. You were due a sweet, perfect youth. . .a blond most likely. Was she blonde? Perhaps that would make up for the irregularity of the situation."

"Harry! How could you?"

"Quite easily. But on with your story."

Flustered and perspiring, Basil ploughed on. "I painted what she wanted. And when she saw it, she was overcome with grief. Can you imagine it! My painting was the perfect image of her brother. And Harry, it is amazing what people do when they look at a picture of something they know. They are invariably overcome with regret. Like the girl who seldom laughed, but who's portrait wore the most charming of smiles. And there have been others, Harry. And every time I think it will be different –"

"Basil! What of your girl's brother?"

"It was the most horrible yet. . .She exclaimed a desire to see her brother again, to see him real and tangible, exactly like he was in my painting. Exactly like it! And the next morning, when I came down, there he was, seated exactly as I painted him, motionless, silent, blank eyes staring into the middle distance, just as she had so rashly wished. . .He couldn't speak, could scarcely move. Well, Harry, I was struck dumb, but I knew something had to be done before she woke."

"You killed him, didn't you?" Lord Henry did not sound repulsed by this idea – in fact he sounded as if it fascinated him.

"What could I do, Harry? And besides, the man was already dead, it was hardly a murder. Or at least, it would have been hardly a murder if when she finally came down, she hadn't been so perfectly oblivious to the presence of her brother. At the same time, there were still signs of a struggle. I was so distraught I had to get out of there immediately."

Lord Henry regarded his friend with an even gaze. "Yes, Basil," he said. "Should you ever be overcome by the desire to tell me the true story of your flight from Edinburgh, I can assure you, I'll have lost interest by then."

"You don't believe me?"

"Don't be absurd. Of course not. Now if you're staying for lunch, you can spend the time between now and then productively and help me with these invitations. After we've eaten, we'd better find you a suitable project to channel your imagination. Maybe a nice landscape. There's a gap in my hallway which needs filling, I'm sure a beautiful landscape would do the job well."

"Harry – "

"Are you arguing with me, Basil?" Lord Henry wore a wounded expression. Basil sighed.

"No, Harry."


To be continued. . . ?