SAT Critical Reading : Understanding Organization and Argument in Literary Fiction Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SAT Critical Reading

varsity tutors app store varsity tutors android store varsity tutors amazon store varsity tutors ibooks store

Example Questions

← Previous 1 3

Example Question #122 : Content Of Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)

For a moment or two she could say no more; but when this emotion had passed away, she added, in a firmer tone, "Elinor, I have been cruelly used; but not by Willoughby."

"Dearest Marianne, who but himself? By whom can he have been instigated?"

"By all the world, rather than by his own heart. I could rather believe every creature of my acquaintance leagued together to ruin me in his opinion, than believe his nature capable of such cruelty. This woman of whom he writes—whoever she be—or any one, in short, but your own dear self, mama, and Edward, may have been so barbarous to bely me. Beyond you three, is there a creature in the world whom I would not rather suspect of evil than Willoughby, whose heart I know so well?"

Elinor would not contend, and only replied, "Whoever may have been so detestably your enemy, let them be cheated of their malignant triumph, my dear sister, by seeing how nobly the consciousness of your own innocence and good intentions supports your spirits. It is a reasonable and laudable pride which resists such malevolence."

"No, no," cried Marianne, "misery such as mine has no pride. I care not who knows that I am wretched. The triumph of seeing me so may be open to all the world. Elinor, Elinor, they who suffer little may be proud and independent as they like—may resist insult, or return mortification—but I cannot. I must feel—I must be wretched—and they are welcome to enjoy the consciousness of it that can."

"But for my mother's sake and mine—"

"I would do more than for my own. But to appear happy when I am so miserable—Oh! who can require it?"

Again they were both silent. 

It can be reasonably inferred from the passage that Marianne would agree with which of the following viewpoints?

Possible Answers:

Anybody can be unfaithful.

A friend's secrets should never be disclosed without his or her permission.

True emotions cannot and should not be suppressed.

Never trust a man who has betrayed you once.

Self-control is more important than enthusiasm.

Correct answer:

True emotions cannot and should not be suppressed.

Explanation:

Marianne states that "they who suffer little may be proud and independent as they like—may resist insult, or return mortification—but I cannot. I must feel—I must be wretched..." This implies that she suffers too much to hide her feelings, so one can reasonably infer that she would agree that true emotions cannot and should not be suppressed.

Example Question #1 : Understanding Organization And Argument In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, Volume 16: Anna Karenina (1877; 1917 ed., trans. Garnett)

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.

This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household were painfully conscious of it. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before just at dinner-time; the kitchen maid and the coachman had given warning.

Three days after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky—Stiva, as he was called in the fashionable world—woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o clock in the morning, not in his wife's bedroom, but on the leather-covered sofa in his study. He turned over his stout, well-cared-for person on the springy sofa, as though he would sink into a long sleep again; he vigorously embraced the pillow on the other side and buried his face in it; but all at once he jumped up, sat up on the sofa, and opened his eyes.

“Yes, yes, how was it now?” he thought, going over his dream. “Alabin was giving a dinner at Darmstadt; no, not Darmstadt, but something American. Yes, but then, Darmstadt was in America. Yes, Alabin was giving a dinner on glass tables, and the tables sang, II mio tesoro—not II mio tesoro, though, but something better, and there were some sort of little decanters on the table, and they were women too,” he remembered. 

Noticing a gleam of light peeping in beside one of the serge curtains, he cheerfully dropped his feet over the edge of the sofa, and felt about with them for his slippers, a present on his last birthday, worked for him by his wife on gold-colored morocco. And, as he had done every day for the last nine years, he stretched out his hand, without getting up, towards the place where his dressing-gown always hung in his bedroom. And thereupon he suddenly remembered that he was not sleeping in his wife’s room, but in his study, and why: the smile vanished from his face, he knitted his brows. 

Most unpleasant of all was the first minute when, on coming, happy and good-humored, from the theatre, with a huge pear in his hand for his wife, he had not found his wife in the drawing-room, to his surprise had not found her in the study either, and saw her at last in her bedroom with the unlucky letter that revealed everything in her hand. She, his Dolly, forever fussing and worrying over household details, and limited in her ideas, as he considered, was sitting perfectly still with the letter in her hand, looking at him with an expression of horror, despair, and indignation.

“What’s this? This?” she asked, pointing to the letter.

And at this recollection, Stepan Arkadyevitch, as is so often the case, was not so much annoyed at the fact itself as at the way in which he had met his wife’s words.

There happened to him at that instant what does happen to people when they are unexpectedly caught in something very disgraceful. He did not succeed in adapting his face to the position in which he was placed towards his wife by the discovery of his fault. Instead of being hurt, denying, defending himself, begging forgiveness, instead of remaining indifferent even—anything would have been better than what he did do—his face utterly involuntarily (reflex spinal action, reflected Stepan Arkadyevitch, who was fond of physiology)—utterly involuntarily assumed its habitual, good-humored, and therefore idiotic smile.

This idiotic smile he could not forgive himself. Catching sight of that smile, Dolly shuddered as though at physical pain, broke out with her characteristic heat into a flood of cruel words, and rushed out of the room. Since then she had refused to see her husband.

“It’s that idiotic simile that’s to blame for it all,” thought Stepan Arkadyevitch.

The narrator makes a general, sweeping statement about __________ in the passage.

Possible Answers:

why interpreting the meaning of one’s own dreams is difficult

why people have affairs

how one should go about apologizing after gravely offending someone else

how impossible it is to run a large household

what people do when they are discovered in a compromising situation

Correct answer:

what people do when they are discovered in a compromising situation

Explanation:

The narrator’s first line can certainly be considered a sweeping (general) statement, but it doesn’t line up with any of the available answer choices. Paragraphs two through eight detail the specifics of the Oblonskys’ situation, but at the start of paragraph nine, the author begins, “There happened to him at that instant what does happen to people when they are unexpectedly caught in something very disgraceful. He did not succeed in adapting his face to the position in which he was placed towards his wife by the discovery of his fault.” Here, the author declares that when people are discovered in compromising situations, they often make the wrong facial expression.

Example Question #80 : Passage Meaning And Construction

Adapted from “The Rise of Pancho Villa” in Insurgent Mexico by John Reed (1913)

The roar began at the back of the crowd and swept like fire in heavy growing crescendo until it seemed to toss thousands of hats above their heads. The band in the courtyard struck up the Mexican national air, and Villa came walking down the street.

He was dressed in an old plain khaki uniform, with several buttons lacking. He hadn't recently shaved, wore no hat, and his hair had not been brushed. He walked a little pigeon-toed, humped over, with his hands in his trousers pockets. As he entered the aisle between the rigid lines of soldiers he seemed slightly embarrassed, and grinned and nodded to a friend here and there in the ranks. At the foot of the grand staircase, Governor Chao and Secretary of State Terrazzas joined him in full-dress uniform. The band threw off all restraint, and, as Villa entered the audience chamber, at a signal from someone in the balcony of the palace, the great throng in the Plaza de Armas uncovered, and all the brilliant crowd of officers in the room saluted stiffly. It was Napoleonic!

Villa hesitated for a minute, pulling his mustache and looking very uncomfortable, finally gravitated toward the throne, which he tested by shaking the arms, and then sat down, with the Governor on his right and the Secretary of State on his left.

Señor Bauche Alcalde stepped forward and pronounced a short discourse, indicting Villa for personal bravery on the field on six counts, which he mentioned in florid detail. He was followed by the Chief of Artillery, who said: "The army adores you. We will follow you wherever you lead. You can be what you desire in Mexico." Then three other officers spoke in the high-flung, extravagant periods necessary to Mexican oratory. They called him "The Friend of the Poor," "The Invincible General," "The Inspirer of Courage and Patriotism," "The Hope of the Indian Republic." And through it all Villa slouched on the throne, his mouth hanging open, his little shrewd eyes playing around the room. Once or twice he yawned, but for the most part he seemed to be speculating, with some intense interior amusement, like a small boy in church, what it was all about. He knew, of course, that it was the proper thing, and perhaps felt a slight vanity that all this conventional ceremonial was addressed to him. But it bored him just the same.

Finally, with an impressive gesture, Colonel Servin stepped forward with the small pasteboard box which held the medal. General Chao nudged Villa, who stood up. The officers applauded violently; the crowd outside cheered; the band in the court burst into a triumphant march.

Villa put out both hands eagerly, like a child for a new toy. He could hardly wait to open the box and see what was inside. An expectant hush fell upon everyone, even the crowd in the square. Villa looked at the medal, scratching his head, and, in a reverent silence, said clearly: "This is a hell of a little thing to give a man for all that heroism you are talking about!" And the bubble of Empire was pricked then and there with a great shout of laughter.

The third paragraph serves the purpose of highlighting Pancho Villa’s __________ with the situation.

Possible Answers:

ambivalence

excitement

discomfort 

disgust 

enthusiasm 

Correct answer:

discomfort 

Explanation:

In the third paragraph, the author says: ”Villa hesitated for a minute, pulling his mustache and looking very uncomfortable, finally gravitated toward the throne, which he tested by shaking the arms, and then sat down, with the Governor on his right and the Secretary of State on his left.” The purpose of this short paragraph is to emphasize how much like a common man Pancho Villa is. It highlights his discomfort with the formality and grandeur of the ceremony. The author uses the words “hesitated” and “very uncomfortable” to underscore this point.

Example Question #2 : Understanding Organization And Argument In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome (1889)

There were four of us—George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were—bad from a medical point of view I mean, of course.

We were all feeling seedy, and we were getting quite nervous about it. Harris said he felt such extraordinary fits of giddiness come over him at times, that he hardly knew what he was doing; and then George said that he had fits of giddiness too, and hardly knew what he was doing. With me, it was my liver that was out of order. I knew it was my liver that was out of order, because I had just been reading a patent liver-pill circular, in which were detailed the various symptoms by which a man could tell when his liver was out of order. I had them all.

It is a most extraordinary thing, but I never read a patent medicine advertisement without being impelled to the conclusion that I am suffering from the particular disease therein dealt with in its most virulent form. The diagnosis seems in every case to correspond exactly with all the sensations that I have ever felt.

I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch—hay fever, I fancy it was. I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally. I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into—some fearful, devastating scourge, I know—and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.

I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages. I came to typhoid fever—read the symptoms—discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it—wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance—found, as I expected, that I had that too,—began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically—read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight. Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years. Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with. I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight. Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee? Why this invidious reservation? After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed. I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee. Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood. There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.

Why does the narrator mention his trip to the British Museum in the passage's fourth paragraph?

Possible Answers:

To contrast the medicine advertisements with a legitimate source of information

To describe the everyday pursuits of an invalid

To suggest an useful source for information on hay fever

To give an example of a time he read about the symptoms of a disease and believed he was suffering from it

Correct answer:

To give an example of a time he read about the symptoms of a disease and believed he was suffering from it

Explanation:

The narrator mentions going to the museum directly after his general claim that every diagnoses he reads about fits his own symptoms. It is a specific example of a general claim. He does not offer a contrast from previous claims, he does not suggest that the reader follow his advice, and he does not seem to be concerned with describing his everyday routine.

Example Question #1 : Analyzing Sequence In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from Once on a Time by A. A. Milne (1922)

The Princess was still puzzled. "But I'm grown up," she said. "I don't want a mother so much now."

The King turned his flagon round and studied the other side of it.

"A mother's—er—tender hand," he said, "is—er—never——" and then the outrageous thing happened.

It was all because of a birthday present to the King of Barodia, and the present was nothing less than a pair of seven-league boots. The King being a busy man, it was a week or more before he had an opportunity of trying those boots. Meanwhile he used to talk about them at meals, and he would polish them up every night before he went to bed. When the great day came for the first trial of them to be made, he took a patronizing farewell of his wife and family, ignored the many eager noses pressed against the upper windows of the palace, and sailed off. The motion, as perhaps you know, is a little disquieting at first, but one soon gets used to it. After that it is fascinating. He had gone some two thousand miles before he realized that there might be a difficulty about finding his way back. The difficulty proved at least as great as he had anticipated. For the rest of that day he toured backwards and forwards across the country, and it was by the merest accident that a very angry King shot in through an open pantry window in the early hours of the morning. He removed his boots and went softly to bed.

It was, of course, a lesson to him. He decided that in the future he must proceed by a recognized route, sailing lightly from landmark to landmark. Such a route his geographers prepared for him—an early morning constitutional, of three hundred miles or so, to be taken ten times before breakfast. He gave himself a week in which to recover his nerve and then started out on the first of them.

In the second paragraph, the information about the King of Barodia's birthday present __________.

Possible Answers:

explains the conflict between the two Kings

shows that the King being interrupted has many friends

explains the interruption

emphasizes the Princess's love for the King of Barodia

is not connected to the passage's first five lines in any way

Correct answer:

explains the interruption

Explanation:

Although the second paragraph does begin a story that seems unrelated, we know that the author is, in a convoluted way, explaining the interruption to the conversation as the passage goes straight from the interruption into the explanation “It was all because of a birthday present to the King of Barodia.”

Example Question #24 : Understanding Causes And Effects In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from A Room with a View by E. M. Forster (1908)

Mr. Beebe was right. Lucy never knew her desires so clearly as after music. She had not really appreciated the clergyman's wit, nor the suggestive twitterings of Miss Alan. Conversation was tedious; she wanted something big, and she believed that it would have come to her on the wind-swept platform of an electric tram. This she might not attempt. It was unladylike. Why? Why were most big things unladylike? Charlotte had once explained to her why. It was not that ladies were inferior to men; it was that they were different. Their mission was to inspire others to achievement rather than to achieve themselves. Indirectly, by means of tact and a spotless name, a lady could accomplish much. But if she rushed into the fray herself she would be first censured, then despised, and finally ignored. Poems had been written to illustrate this point.

There is much that is immortal in this medieval lady. The dragons have gone, and so have the knights, but still she lingers in our midst. She reigned in many an early Victorian castle, and was Queen of much early Victorian song. It is sweet to protect her in the intervals of business, sweet to pay her honor when she has cooked our dinner well. But alas! the creature grows degenerate. In her heart also there are springing up strange desires. She too is enamored of heavy winds, and vast panoramas, and green expanses of the sea. She has marked the kingdom of this world, how full it is of wealth, and beauty, and war—a radiant crust, built around the central fires, spinning towards the receding heavens. Men, declaring that she inspires them to it, move joyfully over the surface, having the most delightful meetings with other men, happy, not because they are masculine, but because they are alive. Before the show breaks up she would like to drop the august title of the Eternal Woman, and go there as her transitory self.

Lucy does not stand for the medieval lady, who was rather an ideal to which she was bidden to lift her eyes when feeling serious. Nor has she any system of revolt. Here and there a restriction annoyed her particularly, and she would transgress it, and perhaps be sorry that she had done so. This afternoon she was peculiarly restive. She would really like to do something of which her well-wishers disapproved. As she might not go on the electric tram, she went to Alinari's shop.

The mention of dragons in the second paragraph serves to __________.

Possible Answers:

illustrate Lucy’s romantic imagination

explain the origins of a system of thought

conjure nostalgia for a bygone age

suggest that the medieval lady is a myth

exemplify the dangers of rushing into the fray

Correct answer:

suggest that the medieval lady is a myth

Explanation:

The comparison with the obviously mythical dragons suggests that the "medieval lady" never existed; the "strange desires" she is later described as having confirm that the ideal lady is not as ideal as everyone believed. The dragons aren't portrayed as a threat, so they can't exemplify dangers; the passage is not nostalgic about the medieval lady's world because it suggests that the philosophy of that world is restrictive; the dragons themselves are unrelated to the origins of the system of thought described; and there is no indication that the dragons are in Lucy's imagination.

Example Question #411 : Isee Upper Level (Grades 9 12) Reading Comprehension

Adapted from Candide by Voltaire (1918 trans.)

"Grandeur," said Pangloss, "is extremely dangerous according to the testimony of philosophers. For, in short, Eglon, King of Moab, was assassinated by Ehud; Absalom was hung by his hair, and pierced with three darts; King Nadab, the son of Jeroboam, was killed by Baasa; King Ela by Zimri; Ahaziah by Jehu; Athaliah by Jehoiada; the Kings Jehoiakim, Jeconiah, and Zedekiah, were led into captivity. You know how perished Croesus, Astyages, Darius, Dionysius of Syracuse, Pyrrhus, Perseus, Hannibal, Jugurtha, Ariovistus, Cæsar, Pompey, Nero, Otho, Vitellius, Domitian, Richard II of England, Edward II, Henry VI, Richard III, Mary Stuart, Charles I, the three Henrys of France, the Emperor Henry IV! You know—" 

"I know also," said Candide, "that we must cultivate our garden." 

"You are right," said Pangloss, "for when man was first placed in the Garden of Eden, he was put there ut operaretur eum, that he might cultivate it; which shows that man was not born to be idle." 

"Let us work," said Martin, "without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable.”

The whole little society entered into this laudable design, according to their different abilities. Their little plot of land produced plentiful crops. Cunegonde was, indeed, very ugly, but she became an excellent pastry cook; Paquette worked at embroidery; the old woman looked after the linen. They were all, not excepting Friar Giroflée, of some service or other; for he made a good joiner, and became a very honest man.

Pangloss sometimes said to Candide: "There is a concatenation of events in this best of all possible worlds; for if you had not been kicked out of a magnificent castle for love of Miss Cunegonde, if you had not been put into the Inquisition, if you had not walked over America, if you had not stabbed the Baron, if you had not lost all your sheep from the fine country of El Dorado, you would not be here eating preserved citrons and pistachio-nuts."

"All that is very well," answered Candide, "but let us cultivate our garden."

What is the purpose of the paragraph beginning, "The whole little society entered . . ."?

Possible Answers:

To overcome a bias that Pangloss expresses in his long explanations

To show the accomplishments possible when people, no matter their skills, work simply together

To recount the many hardships of the small group of people working in their garden

None of the other answers

To show that paradise on earth can in fact be created

Correct answer:

To show the accomplishments possible when people, no matter their skills, work simply together

Explanation:

There are several clues in this paragraph that help you to answer. The first is that the author stresses that each worked "according to their different abilities." Then, on several occasions, he notes that in spite of limitations, each person could give something to the little community. This is particularly emphasized in the case of Cunegonde and Friar Giroflée. Each gave a particular skill to the group, simply working according to the laudable design of Martin who said, "Let us work without disputing; it is the only way to render life tolerable."

Example Question #1 : Understanding Organization And Argument In Literary Fiction Passages

Adapted from Can You Forgive Her? By Anthony Trollope (1864)

Who these were and the special nature of the relationship, I shall be called upon to explain hereafter, but at present it will suffice to say that Alice Macleod gave great offence to all her friends by her marriage. She did not, however, give them much time for the indulgence of their anger. Having given birth to a daughter within twelve months of her marriage, she died, leaving in abeyance that question as to whether the fault of her marriage should or should not be pardoned by her family.

When a man marries an heiress for her money, if that money be within her own control, as was the case with Miss Macleod's fortune, it is generally well for the speculating lover that the lady's friends should quarrel with him and with her. She is thereby driven to throw herself entirely into the gentleman's arms, and he thus becomes possessed of the wife and the money without the abominable nuisance of stringent settlements. But the Macleods, though they quarrelled with Alice, did not quarrel with her à l'outrance. They snubbed herself and her chosen husband, but they did not so far separate themselves from her and her affairs as to give up the charge of her possessions. Her four hundred a year was settled very closely on herself and on her children, without even a life interest having been given to Mr. Vavasor, and therefore when she died the mother's fortune became the property of the little baby. Under these circumstances, the big people did not refuse to interest themselves to some extent on behalf of the father. I do not suppose that any actual agreement or compact was made between Mr. Vavasor and the Macleods, but it came to be understood between them that if he made no demand upon them for his daughter's money, and allowed them to have charge of her education, they would do something for him. He was a practising barrister, though his practice had never amounted to much, and a practising barrister is always supposed to be capable of filling any situation which may come his way. Two years after his wife's death Mr. Vavasor was appointed assistant commissioner in some office that had to do with insolvents, and which was abolished three years after his appointment.

Who got the fortune after Alice?

Possible Answers:

Her mother

A cousin

None of the other answers

Her daughter

Mr. Vavasor

Correct answer:

Her daughter

Explanation:

The text states that the fortune goes to the child: "Her four hundred a year was settled," and "mother's fortune became the property of the little baby."

Example Question #2 : Analyzing Sequence In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from Can You Forgive Her? By Anthony Trollope (1864)

Who these were and the special nature of the relationship, I shall be called upon to explain hereafter, but at present it will suffice to say that Alice Macleod gave great offence to all her friends by her marriage. She did not, however, give them much time for the indulgence of their anger. Having given birth to a daughter within twelve months of her marriage, she died, leaving in abeyance that question as to whether the fault of her marriage should or should not be pardoned by her family.

When a man marries an heiress for her money, if that money be within her own control, as was the case with Miss Macleod's fortune, it is generally well for the speculating lover that the lady's friends should quarrel with him and with her. She is thereby driven to throw herself entirely into the gentleman's arms, and he thus becomes possessed of the wife and the money without the abominable nuisance of stringent settlements. But the Macleods, though they quarrelled with Alice, did not quarrel with her à l'outrance. They snubbed herself and her chosen husband, but they did not so far separate themselves from her and her affairs as to give up the charge of her possessions. Her four hundred a year was settled very closely on herself and on her children, without even a life interest having been given to Mr. Vavasor, and therefore when she died the mother's fortune became the property of the little baby. Under these circumstances, the big people did not refuse to interest themselves to some extent on behalf of the father. I do not suppose that any actual agreement or compact was made between Mr. Vavasor and the Macleods, but it came to be understood between them that if he made no demand upon them for his daughter's money, and allowed them to have charge of her education, they would do something for him. He was a practising barrister, though his practice had never amounted to much, and a practising barrister is always supposed to be capable of filling any situation which may come his way. Two years after his wife's death Mr. Vavasor was appointed assistant commissioner in some office that had to do with insolvents, and which was abolished three years after his appointment.

What seems likely to occur next?

Possible Answers:

An essay about marriage

None of the other answers

Details about Mr. Vavasor and the child

Details about Trollope's own life

Details about the rest of Alice's life

Correct answer:

Details about Mr. Vavasor and the child

Explanation:

The story is concerned with this family; since Alice is no longer a part of this section of the story, it seems most likely it will continue with the widower and child.

Example Question #3 : Analyzing Sequence In Prose Fiction Passages

Adapted from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

From the corner of the divan of Persian saddle-bags on which he was lying, smoking, as usual, innumerable cigarettes, Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-colored blossoms of the laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flame-like as theirs.

In the center of the room, clamped to an upright easel, stood the full-length portrait of a young man of extraordinary personal beauty, and in front of it, some little distance away, was sitting the artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago caused, at the time, such public excitement, and gave rise to so many strange conjectures. 

As he looked at the gracious and comely form he had so skilfully mirrored in his art, a smile of pleasure passed across his face, and seemed about to linger there. But he suddenly started up, and, closing his eyes, placed his fingers upon the lids, as though he sought to imprison within his brain some curious dream from which he feared he might awake.

"It is your best work, Basil, the best thing you have ever done," said Lord Henry, languidly. "You must certainly send it next year to the Grosvenor. The Academy is too large and too vulgar. The Grosvenor is the only place."

"I don't think I will send it anywhere," he answered, tossing his head back in that odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him at Oxford. "No: I won't send it anywhere."

Lord Henry elevated his eyebrows, and looked at him in amazement through the thin blue wreaths of smoke that curled up in such fanciful whorls from his heavy cigarette. "Not send it anywhere? My dear fellow, why? Have you any reason? What odd chaps you painters are! You do anything in the world to gain a reputation. As soon as you have one, you seem to want to throw it away. It is silly of you, for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about. A portrait like this would set you far above all the young men in England, and make the old men quite jealous, if old men are ever capable of any emotion." 

"I know you will laugh at me," he replied, "but I really can't exhibit it. I have put too much of myself into it." 

Lord Henry stretched his long legs out on the divan and shook with laughter.

"Yes, I knew you would laugh; but it is quite true, all the same."

"Too much of yourself in it! Upon my word, Basil, I didn't know you were so vain; and I really can't see any resemblance between you, with your rugged strong face and your coal-black hair, and this young Adonis, who looks as if he was made of ivory and rose-leaves. Why, my dear Basil, he is a Narcissus, and you—well, of course you have an intellectual expression, and all that. But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself an exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid. Look at the successful men in any of the learned professions. How perfectly hideous they are! Except, of course, in the church. But then in the church they don't think. A bishop keeps on saying at the age of eighty what he was told to say when he was a boy of eighteen, and consequently he always looks absolutely delightful. Your mysterious young friend, whose name you have never told me, but whose picture really fascinates me, never thinks. I feel quite sure of that. He is a brainless, beautiful thing, who should be always here in winter when we have no flowers to look at, and always here in summer when we want something to chill our intelligence. Don't flatter yourself, Basil: you are not in the least like him.”

Which of the following did NOT occur at some point in the past of the story?

Possible Answers:

Lord Henry met Dorian Gray.

Basil Hallward painted Dorian Gray’s portrait.

Basil Hallward disappeared without warning.

Lord Henry obtained cigarettes.

Basil Hallward attended Oxford University.

Correct answer:

Basil Hallward painted Dorian Gray’s portrait.

Explanation:

It’s important to keep Basil Hallward, the artist, distinct from Lord Henry, the man who is sitting and chatting with him. We can tell that Basil Hallward painted Dorian Gray’s portrait at some point in the past, because he and Lord Henry are sitting and admiring it in the passage. We are also told that Basil “disappeared without warning” at some point in the past; the second paragraph introduces Basil as, “the artist himself, Basil Hallward, whose sudden disappearance some years ago caused, at the time, such public excitement, and gave rise to so many strange conjectures.” We can also tell that Basil attended Oxford University from a detail provided in the fifth paragraph: “"I don't think I will send it anywhere," [Basil] answered, tossing his head back in that odd way that used to make his friends laugh at him at Oxford.” We can also tell that Lord Henry must have obtained cigarettes, because he smokes them throughout the passage. This leaves us with one answer choice, the correct one: Lord Henry met Dorian Gray. We can infer that this not (yet) happened, as in the last paragraph, Lord Henry says, “Your mysterious young friend, whose name you have never told me, but whose picture really fascinates me, never thinks.” If he does not know Dorian Gray’s name, we can assume that the two have not met.

← Previous 1 3
Learning Tools by Varsity Tutors