I was reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In the 2nd chapter I read the following prose:

Yes, there would be a day when his face would be wrinkled and wizen, his eyes dim and colourless, the grace of his figure broken and deformed. The scarlet would pass away from his lips and the gold steal from his hair. The life that was to make his soul would mar his body. He would become dreadful, hideous, and uncouth.

From the above prose fragment it is obvious what Dorian the narcissist is thinking. But what bugs me is that "gold steal from his hair". What does it mean actually? I think that the time would steal gold from his hair (meaning that his hair would grow white). But then, the verb steal looks inappropriately handled.

In all the sentences I have read steal always has a thief. Excuse my blunt way of speaking , but in this example "Somebody is about to steal my paper" the thief "Somebody" is mentioned. Why then it is not mentioned in the above line? If I wrote in this way, would it be justified?

3 Answers 3


There are several meanings for steal as a verb. Either of these might apply

to move or convey stealthily - they stole along the corridor

to pass unnoticed - the hours stole by

Wilde could have been suggesting that his hair would fade little by little, almost unnoticed. Even more likely, he could be suggesting that the color of his hair would sneak away. Just as the color of his lips is the actor in the previous clause, the color of his hair is doing the moving in the clause in question.


To "steal from" means to leave. It often is suffixed with away or off, but this is not necessary. For example, the OED quotes:

1639 T. Fuller Hist. Holy Warre iii. xvi. 135 Other Captains secretly stole home. 1786 F. Burney Diary 18 July (1842) III. 22 The sub-governess, stole from her charges, and came to the window. 1869 H. F. Tozer Res. Highlands of Turkey II. 267 Maria stole off to the honey.

I think that, poetically, the association with robbing gold is also intended.


The "away" from "pass away" also belongs to the "steal". So it is "steal away".

gold steal (away) from his hair means that not only his lips will bleaker, but also the color will fade from his hair, when he gets older.

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