“Don’t spoil him,” Basil begs Lord Henry just before introducing him to Dorian. “Don’t try to influence him. Your influence would be bad.” But influence is what Lord Henry does best and what he enjoys most; inevitably, his charm, wit, and intellect hold tremendous sway over the impressionable Dorian. This influence, as Basil foresees, is primarily negative if Dorian is like Faust, the fictional character who sells his soul for knowledge, then Lord Henry is something of a Mephistopheles, the devil who tempts Faust into the bargain. Lord Henry is a cynical aesthete, a lover of beauty with a contempt for conventional morality, and he views Dorian as a disciple with the potential to live out his philosophy of hedonism.
One must not overstate Lord Henry’s role as a villain, however. Indeed, above all else, Lord Henry prizes individualism, which allows one to live one’s life boldly, freely, and according to one’s own edicts. Because Dorian so willingly assumes the role of disciple, the real source of his downfall rests in his willingness to sacrifice himself to another’s vision. Following Lord Henry’s advice and influenced by the “yellow book” that Lord Henry gives him, Dorian gradually allows himself to fall deep into a life of sin, all in the name of pursuing pleasure which, according to Lord Henry, is the highest good. But, significantly, Lord Henry himself never seems to stray from the straight and narrow: he shocks cocktail guests with his ideas but never puts them into practice himself. He is a thinker, not a doer, and by the end of the novel, he seems curiously naïve about where his philosophy, if put into action, would lead him. Unwilling (or unable) to see the effects of his philosophy, he continues to champion his ideas even after they have ruined his protégé’s life.