Sunday, May 20, 2018

BOOK: Oscar Wilde, "The Short Fiction"

The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde. Volume 8: The Short Fiction. Ed. by Ian Small. Oxford University Press, 2017. 0198119593. cvii + 521 pp.

This volume contains all of Wilde's short stories — the two collections of fairy tales, as well as the slightly more ‘realistic’ stories such as The Portrait of Mr. W. H. and the ones in Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories. It's been quite a long time since I've last read any of Wilde's short stories, so this book was a very enjoyable read. I had mostly forgotten what the stories were about, so they were for all practical purposes almost completely new to me now. There is a lot of diversity here in terms of style and subject matter, but pretty much every story here was enjoyable in its own way.

I remember reading somewhere that Wilde was very good at presenting very different faces to different segments of the market, and the short stories in this book are a good example of that. (See also p. xlvii in this volume for interesting remarks on the market for fairy tales in the 1880s and '90s.) On the one hand you have the fairly traditional-looking fairy tales for children in The Happy Prince and Other Tales, often with a very blunt and obvious moral lesson and in many instances relying surprisingly heavily on christian religious ideas, much more so than I would expect from someone like Wilde. On the other hand you have the fairy tales in A House of Pomegranates, which, as Wilde himself said (pp. xlviii–xlix), were aimed more at grown-ups than at children. Moral lessons are much less prominent here (perhaps with the notable exception of The Star-Child), and the focus is on showcasing Wilde's decadent sensibility and bathing the reader's mind in a thick soup of adjectives. And on the third hand there's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories, written in a more realistic style and set amongst the same sort of rich high-society people as Wilde's comedies (which he wrote a few years later, and for which he occasionally re-used quips, phrases, character names, etc., as is pointed out by the editor's commentary in this volume).

A Fire at Sea

The book starts with a tale I had never read before — Wilde's translation of Turgenyev's A Fire at Sea. I vaguely remember that I once read something about Wilde's translations from Turgenyev, and wondered how he did it without speaking any Russian. Well, it turns out that Turgenyev spent the last years of his life in France, living with a French woman, and he dictated this story to her in French so she could write it down (p. 291). So Wilde had to translate from French rather than from Russian.

This story didn't feel very Wildean to me, but felt very much like a work of Russian realist literature, so I'm guessing he did a pretty good job as a translator. What I've read of Russian realism so far was more or less entirely novels (mostly those by Dostoyevski, but also Tolstoy's War and Peace and Turgenyev's Fathers and Sons), so it was interesting to read a short story in that style for a change. I could easily imagine this sort of thing appearing as an episode in one of the long novels that Russian realist writers liked to write.

The story involves a shipwreck on a relatively short voyage in the Baltic. I liked this line where the narrator, having just reached the shore, watches the ship burn to ash: “ ‘Is this all?’ I thought, ‘and life itself — what is it but a handful of ashes strewn on the wind?’ ” (P. 9.)

The Happy Prince

The titular Prince is actually a statue. His eyes are precious stones, there's also one on his sword-hilt, and at his request, a Swallow distributes the gems to the poor people of the city. This turns out to be quite a big sacrifice; the Swallow was supposed to migrate to warmer climes, but distributing the Prince's gems takes him so long that winter comes and the Swallow freezes to death. Meanwhile, the statue, now devoid of its ornaments, ends up looking so unimpressive that the townsfolk decide to dismantle it without any further ceremony. No good deed goes unpunished :P Wilde isn't, I think, much of a person for happy-endings when it comes to fairy-tales.

There are many moving portrayals of poverty in this story, and the Prince's charity is commendable, but as usual in such situations, I couldn't help feeling that charity is the wrong way of trying to do anything about poverty; obviously the only thing that could actually make any difference in the bigger scheme of things is structural change — social reforms, preferably putting an end to capitalism, etc. I think Wilde was perhaps vaguely aware of this in The Soul of Man under Socialism, but there isn't any trace of it in this fairy-tale. But I shouldn't complain too much, as social and economic reforms are hardly the sort of thing that would fit into a fairy-tale.

One thing that surprised me (pleasantly) about this story is how much of the decadent sensibility there is in it, even though it isn't really supposed to be one of his explicitly decadent works. The Swallow describes Egypt, where he intends to spend the winter, in richly exotic terms that would not be out of place e.g. in The Sphinx or in some of the more purple parts of Dorian Gray.

The Nightingale and the Rose

This seems to be somewhat of a recurring motive in this book: someone makes an enormous sacrifice, and the world doesn't care one whit (we'll see it again in The Devoted Friend). A poor student wants to go to a dance with a rich girl, but she demands a red rose from him; the nightingale wants to help, but the nearby rose-bush has only white roses; but its rose will turn red if the nightingale impales itself on one of the rose-bush's thorns to the point where the thorn pierces the bird's heart. The nightingale agrees to do it, resulting in one of the most touching passages in this volume. It is always very affecting when someone dies while singing, and I was reminded of Tennyson's Lady of Shalott, dying in her last song while floating on her boat. Well, here the nightingale dies, the rose turns red, but it's all to no avail. The rich girl has changed her mind and went dancing with someone else, and the student throws the rose away and forgets about the whole thing.

This struck me as a rather grim ending of the story. I suppose that the lesson is supposed to be not to make pointless, enormous sacrifices for people who won't appreciate them, and that's surely very reasonable, but if so, then the message was somewhat undermined by the fact that the nightingale's act of sacrifice is described in such moving terms.

The Selfish Giant

This was a pleasant enough story, especially since it has a happy end, unlike so many others in this book. The Giant initially acts like the stereotypical grumpy old man telling those damn kids to get off his lawn — all he needs is a rocking-chair, a ketchup-stained wifebeater shirt, and perhaps a shotgun — but eventually changes his mind when he realizes that since there are no children playing in his orchard, spring has started to avoid it as well and he now has eternal winter in it. The smallest and weakest of the aforementioned children turns out to be none other than Christ himself — I winced a little when I got to that part, as I really wasn't expecting such conventional religious sentiments in something written by Wilde. But I shouldn't complain; I imagine that by the standards of Victorian-era fairy-tales, the amount of religion in Wilde's stories is probably rather mild.

The Devoted Friend

Well, there's a difference between being devoted and being a spineless fool, but that never seems to occur to the protagonist of this story. Hans is a poor farmer whose neighbour, a rich miller, professes great friendship for him, but never actually does anything for him, while constantly requesting all sorts of favours and goods from poor Hans. The latter never says no and eventually dies by drowning in a swamp while running yet another errand for the miller.

While reading this story, I wanted to scream in rage at the smug, self-satisfied, fat bastard of a miller, but occasionally also at the spineless Hans who should have stood up for himself early on and then none of this would have been happening in the first place. As a result, I thought that this tale is a bit short on likeable characters. Obviously we sympathise with the poor Hans, but we cannot help wishing that he weren't quite such a pushover.

The Remarkable Rocket

This was a pleasantly silly tale. The eponymous Rocket has a very high opinion of itself, on which it is happy to expound at interminable length in conversations with other bits of pyrotechnic equipment as well as anyone else in its general vicinity, but the poor thing ends up being thrown away and eventually going off without even being seen by anyone. Obviously it's meant to be an example of what not to act like, but the whole thing is so silly that you can't really dislike the Rocket. When such an insignificant thing takes itself so seriously, it ends up being funny rather than annoying. The editor's notes point out some interesting ideas on what may have inspired the story; the Rocket could very well have been inspired by Wilde's rivarly with Whistler (p. 365), and the conversation between the various rockets in the beginning of the story has some vague parallels with the conversation between pots in Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat in Fitzgerald's translation.

The Rocket is a veritable fountain of delightfully outrageous epigrams: “I am always thinking about myself, and I expect everyone else to do the same. That is what is called sympathy.” (P. 42.) “Why, anybody can have common sense, provided that they have no imagination.” (Ibid.) “The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated.” (Ibid.) “Indeed, I have always been of opinion that hard work is simply the refuge of people who have nothing whatever to do.” (P. 46.)

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime

Apparently palmistry or cheiromancy was ‘trending’ (as we might say nowadays) at the time Wilde wrote this story, and this gave him an inspiration. He was even interested in it enough to ask a cheiromantist to prepare a horoscope for his newly-born son (p. 317). Anyway, Lord Arthur Savile is a rich young man of the sort that appear as protagonists in so many of Wilde's works. A cheiromantist looks at his palm and predicts that he is going to commit murder at some point. Lord Arthur is planning to get married soon, and decides that he wants to get this unpleasant business of murdering out of the way before he gets married. He tries to poison an elderly aunt, but she dies of natural causes without taking his poison. He makes contact with anarchist terrorists and sends a bomb to another relative, but it fizzles out pathetically. Eventually Lord Arthur, quite desperate by now, simply murders the cheiromantist and then gets married happily.

I really enjoyed this story. Its great charm lies in the fact that it tells the whole absurd tale with a completely straight face. The idea that murder is morally wrong, or that Lord Arthur might, perhaps, just plain choose not to commit it, is scrupulously avoided. Thus, murder becomes simply funny, like a harmless lark, and we can have a good time following the failures of Lord Arthur's increasingly desperate plans to murder someone before he has to postpone his marriage yet again.

The Sphinx without a Secret

This is one of the shortest stories in this volume; not a bad story, but nothing to write home about either. The Sphinx of the title is a woman who is so keen to have something secret and mysterious in her life that she actually rents a spare apartment and occasionally there, with the air of great secrecy, only to do nothing but sit there for a while and then go back home. I suppose you could say it's a study of a curious mental quirk. I was reminded of the cargo cults of the Pacific islands; perhaps she hopes that mystery will come into her life if she starts to act as if there were some mystery in it already. Plus, the story is perhaps an extension of the familiar idea that women's nature is inscrutable and hard for a man to understand. Wilde would later reuse the idea of “sphinxes without secrets” in The Picture of Dorian Gray and in A Woman of No Importance (p. 342).

The Canterville Ghost

This is perhaps my favourite among Wilde's short stories, and certainly the funniest. A rich American family buys an old castle in Britain, haunted by the ghost of a medieval knight. The ghost has reduced many people into gibbering nervous wrecks over the centuries, but now the tables have turned; the Americans don't take him in the least bit seriously, the bloody stains that he likes to leave around are easily dispatched using modern chemical products, the children of the family play pranks on him mercilessly, etc.

I suppose that there must be a lot of stories based on the ‘culture clash’ of Americans and Europeans in the late 19th century (see also the editor's commentary, p. 349), but I haven't read much in that vein so far and this one has the added bonus of the paranormal element, so it was really great fun to read. Here are two of my favourite examples:

“Many American ladies on leaving their native land adopt an appearance of chronic ill-health, under the impression that it is a form of European refinement, but Mrs. Otis had never fallen into this error.” (P. 83.)

From a conversation between the ghost and Virginia, the American girl (p. 97): “ ‘I don't think I should like America.’/ ‘I suppose because we have no ruins and no curiosities,’ said Virginia satirically./ ‘No ruins! no curiosities!’ answered the Ghost; ‘you have your navy and your manners.’ ”

On a more serious note, you can't help feeling sorry for the poor ghost, who ends up being just another victim of modernity and progress, and who looks less and less like a fearsome paranormal entity and more and more like an unfortunate and increasingly pathetic actor who has a hard time facing the fact that his career on the stage is coming to an end. It was good to see that the story has a reasonably happy end.

One thing surprised me about the editor's notes to this story. Mr. Otis is described as “the United States Minister” (pp. 82, 87, 89, 90), and the notes interpret the word “minister” in the sense of a clergyman (p. 347). But clearly Mr. Otis is very rich (as he has bought Canterville Chase; p. 82), he got married to “a celebrated New York belle” (p. 83), he seems to be involved in politics (“My father will be only too happy to give you a free passage, and though there is a heavy duty on spirits of every kind, there will be no difficulty about the Custom House, as the officers are all Democrats”, p. 97) and is writing a book about the history of the Democratic Party (p. 94). I have a hard time imagining that a person like that would have become a clergyman (and why would he then move to Britain?). Nor does the story ever show him doing any sort of work that you might associate with a clergyman. Surely a more likely explanation is that “minister” refers to a diplomatic representative? American plutocrats don't usually become clergymen, but they do sometimes become diplomats. Admittedly, this theory also has a downside: the U.S. did not have a minister in Britain, but an ambassador (i.e. a higher-ranking diplomat). (See also my post about vol. 6, where a similar situation has occurred as well.)

The Model Millionaire

The title is a bit of a pun. A painter hires a grizzled beggar-man to pose for him as a model, but later it turns out that the beggar was really an eccentric millionaire, who appreciates having been treated kindly by the painter and gives him a lavish gift in return. Thus he is not only a millionaire model, but a model millionaire (p. 110). This was a pleasant story, but a very short one. As the editor's notes point out, it may have been inspired by one of Wilde's journalistic pieces about artists' models (p. xx).

The Young King

I really enjoyed this story. The old king dies and the only successor is his grandson from an illegitimate relationship, who has been brought up by a poor adoptive family. He is now brought to the court and preparations for a coronation get underway. At first he is fascinated by the splendour and luxury of the court, but then a series of dreams reveals to him the costs of this luxury: poor people toiling away to make the precious items he would use in his coronation ceremony. He decides to reject all this and proceeds towards the coronation in the simple peasant garb that he used to wear until a few days ago. The noblemen around him are shocked and almost revolt at the sight of this, but when he gets into the cathedral, his staff bursts into bloom, a light from above shines upon him, etc., and the archbishop can only conclude: “A greater than I hath crowned thee.” (P. 122.)

Much like before, I couldn't help wincing a little when the religious element came into plain view like this, but I have to admit that it fits well here and isn't really bothersome at all. It was also nice to see that Wilde allowed a happy end here and resisted the temptation to spoil it somehow like in so many other stories in this book. This story also has many other things to recommend itself: a touching sympathy with the toiling masses of the poor people (although, again, without an awareness of the structural aspects of poverty) and lots of wonderfully purple passages describing the king's riches and the exotic places whence they came.

The Birthday of the Infanta

Some of the characters in this story were apparently inspired by some real Spanish royalty from the early 17th century (p. 385), but judging by the editor's notes, these correspondences between the story and historical persons don't actually go very deep. In any case, not very much happens in this story. The Infanta is a very spoilt princess and as part of her birthday celebrations is going to be entertained by the antics of the Dwarf, who has the peculiar characteristic of not only being grotesquely misshapen and disfigured, but also of being completely unaware that he is in any way abnormal. People laugh at his antics, but he innocently thinks that they are laughing with him rather than at him. But then at some point he looks in a mirror and slowly realizes that the monstrosity staring back at him is none other than himself. He dies on the spot, of a broken heart, and neither the princess nor anyone else is the least bit sorry about him.

I don't much like sad tales with a sad end, and this is very clearly one of them. My favourite part of the story is the moment when the Dwarf starts looking at himself in the mirror and slowly realizes that it's him. It reminded me of a similar moment in H. P. Lovecraft's delightful short story The Outsider, but I think Lovecraft did it better: he provided a better excuse for why the protagonist hasn't seen himself in a mirror before, and the moment of recognition is more sudden and comes as a surprise to the reader as well, not just to the protagonist.

Apart from that, as I said, not much happens in The Birthday of the Infanta and much of the story is mostly about Wilde exhibiting his usual luxuriant decadent prose, this time with more of a Spanish flavour which is otherwise not particularly common in his work.

The Fisherman and His Soul

This story is an interesting and, to me at least, original take on the old question of what to do about the human soul. The protagonist is a poor Fisherman who falls in love with a Mermaid, but cannot follow her into the sea because his soul gets in the way. So he is determined to get rid of it — not to sell it to the devil or anything like that, he simply figures he doesn't need it and wants to let go of it. He is completely cheerful and light-hearted about the whole thing, which was really refreshing to see considering that getting rid of a person's soul is usually portrayed very differently, as a serious and momentous act and usually as a part of a transaction with the devil. Anyway, after some trouble our Fisherman gets help from a witch who gives him a magical knife with which he can cut off his own shadow — and this, as it turns out, is his soul.

He goes to live in Y'ha-nthlei the sea, very happily, with his Mermaid, while his soul wanders around on land. They still meet and talk once a year, and the soul tries to tempt him into allowing it back. He is not impressed by offers of wisdom or riches, but eventually agrees to re-unite with his soul when it promises to show him some women who have feet and thus can dance, unlike his Mermaid. But it turns out to have been a ruse; his soul became rather evil in those years of wandering around without a heart, and it even tempts him into committing some crimes. He also finds that he cannot detach himself from his soul a second time. He returns to the sea shore and lives there as a hermit for a few years, hoping to see his Mermaid again; but he doesn't, until the sea washes her dead body ashore, and then he promptly drowns himself too.

This isn't a bad story, but I don't quite know what to make of the religious symbolism in it. Too much of it feels like one damn random thing after another. Why would it be regarded as wrong for the fisherman to give up his soul? Clearly the mermaid isn't evil, and he is genuinely happy while living with her; there's no reason why anyone should object to anything here. Why would he even have to give up his soul in order to go live with her? Having detached his soul once and later rejoined it, why can't he detach it again? We don't really see any convincing explanation of all this, there's just one dour old priest who repeats unconvincing old dogmas — the merfolk don't have souls, they are damned, you shouldn't interact with them, etc.

I could sort of understand objecting to e.g. a person selling his soul to the devil. But here, where the fisherman gives up his soul with no evil intention, and he obviously lives happily and harmlessly without it, there's really no reason why he should be punished with all the trouble that afflicts him in the later parts of the story.

And the whole idea of detaching oneself from one's soul isn't explored thoroughly enough in this story. We see no change of any kind in the fisherman while he is detached from his soul. He is obviously and in every sense still the same sort of person as before. What was the soul for anyway? And why then is it such a big deal if he gives it up? Clearly we are dealing with a very unsual conception of the soul here. The usual idea is that the soul is the part of a person that gives him or her life, and without which you are just a corpse. Or there's the voodoo idea that the soul (one of them, anyway) is what gives you personality and individuality, and without it you're just a living corpse — a zombie. But in this story none of these interpretations make sense.

The Star-Child

I didn't like this story as much as some of the others in this collection. The protagonist was found as a baby on the site of a meteor and adopted by a poor woodcutter; he grows into a beautiful but arrogant young man. Eventually a poor and ugly beggar-woman shows up, claiming to be his mother, but he sends her away. For this he is suddenly struck with ugliness and remorse, so he decides to go looking for her and ask her to forgive him. After several years of wandering and tribulations, he finds her and it turns out that he is actually the heir to the throne of a great and rich city, which he then proceeds to rule as a wise and good ruler. Wilde, as if afraid of such a conventional happy end, cannot help adding a twist: the the Star-Child dies after ruling for only three years, and “he who came after him ruled evilly” (p. 193).

I suppose the obvious moral lesson of this story is that one should be kind and charitable to people in need, but I couldn't help feeling that this worthy principle is rather undermined by the absurd, extreme lengths to which this story tries to drive it. For instance, a random beggar-woman shows up and claims to be your mother. Sure, you shouldn't be arrogant towards her — but would it really be unreasonable to ask for some more proof that she really is who she claims to be? And would it be unreasonable to say that, if she is proposing that you should follow her into a beggar's life, that perhaps you would actually prefer to keep on living with the poor woodcutter and his family, who may be poor but are still a damn sight better off than a destitute vagrant?

And later in the story, when the Star-Child is enslaved by an evil magician and sent to fetch him pieces of gold from a forest each day, on pain of horrible punishments if he fails to bring the gold — well, every day as he is returning with the gold, a beggar asks him for that piece of gold — would it really be unreasonable for the Star-Child to then say: look, I already gave you a piece yesterday, it should last you for several days, if I give you today's piece as well my master will kill me, am I really the only person in this town from whom you can get alms, etc. (Or, to be honest, why doesn't the Star-Child simply escape when his master sends him on these stupid gold-fetching quests?)

Anyway, I suppose that these sorts of things are considered normal in fairy tales, and perhaps that's fine if they are aimed at children, but in this one I found them fairly annoying. But perhaps it's unreasonable to expect psychological realism in a fairy tale.

The Portrait of Mr. W. H.

This is a curious combination of a story and an essay, and much of it felt like something that would fit better into something like Intentions than among Wilde's short stories. The essay side deals with a subject with which I have so far been almost completely unfamiliar, namely the background of Shakespeare' sonnets. Evidently they have been inspired by certain real people that he knew and various events in his relationships with them, but not much can be said with certainty about the real historical facts behind this. The detail that particularly interests Wilde here is the identity of a Mr. “W. H.” to whom many of the sonnets are dedicated. Unsurprisingly, numerous people over the centuries have come up with various theories about who W. H. was, and many of these are mentioned in passing by Wilde or by the editor's commentary (which is impressively detailed and exhausted, as always in this series). The theory discussed by Wilde here is that W. H. was a boy actor named Willie Hughes who worked in the same theatrical company as Shakespeare. Judging by the way Wilde presents this, it seems like a charming theory that elegantly explains many details from the sonnets — the problem is just that there's no solid evidence that Willie Hughes ever even existed in the first place. The theory is supported by more or less plausible speculation, often resting on the appearance of the words hues and hews in the sonnets, which could be interpreted as a punning reference to the surname Hughes.

The way Wilde presents this theory is to embed it into a story. I rather liked this story because of the intricate way in which belief in the theory jumps from person to person, almost a bit like an infectious disease. It involves three people: Cyril, Erskine, and the unnamed narrator of the story. Cyril comes up with the theory and describes it to Erskine, who finds it intriguing but insists that some solid evidence of Will Hughes' existence must be found before the theory can be published. When he and Cyril, after much effort, fail to find any such evidence, Cyril even goes to the length of commissioning a forgery — a portrait ostensibly of W. H. — to convince Erskine that the theory must be true. By chance, Erskine discovers that it was a forgery, whereupon Cyril committs suicide. Erskine does not believe in the theory at this point, but tells about it to the narrator of the story, who then catches the bug, as it were, and spends a lot of time and effort on developing the theory and finding additional supporting evidence. He finally sets all this out in a letter to Erskine, hoping to convince him that the theory is true — and what do you know, the belief now jumps to Erskine. The narrator stops believing the theory as soon as he posts the letter, but Erskine is completely convinced by the letter and now starts trying to convince the narrator as well. A few months later, Erskine dies abroad, of consumption, but tries to leave the impression that it was suicide due to not being able to convince the narrator that the theory is true. The narrator inherits the forged portrait and is thenceforth content with the somewhat more moderate view that “there is really a great deal to be said” (p. 258) for the Hughes theory.

I rather liked this story, but didn't care much for the Hughes theory itself, or the parts of the story where it is discussed at great length, with countless quotations from Shakespeare's sonnets and the like. Perhaps I would care more about it if I had got around to reading his sonnets at some point. I read Spenser's sonnets many years ago and liked them a lot, but for some reason never really got into Shakespeare's, of which I read only a very few. In any case the impression I got was that there simply isn't enough evidence to say anything solid about who exactly W. H. was (or the other people behind Shakespeare's sonnets, for that matter), and I'm not really interested in delving into various theories about it if they cannot hope to be more than merely speculative.

Incidentally, this story has an interesting publication history. Wilde first published it in Blackwood's Magazine in 1889 (p. liv), and then started working on an expanded version, which was supposed to be published by the Bodley Head. This publication was delayed, partly because Wilde was slow at finishing the manuscript and partly because the two partners that ran the Bodley Head had a falling out and started dissolving the partnership (p. lxx); and by then it was 1895, and the Wilde trials made his name toxic to most of the British public, making it pretty much impossible to get the longer version of the story published. It was eventually published in 1921 by Mitchell Kennerley, a former employee of the Bodley Head (p. lxxiv) who it seems somehow got ahold of Wilde's manuscript. This version is even available on

Both versions are printed here in volume 8; the longer version is about twice as long as the original magazine version. The difference is mainly due to more discussion of the sonnets (and quotations from them) in the middle part of the essay. For me, this was in any case the least interesting part of the essay, so I liked the shorter version better.

A curious factoid from this story (p. 234): “Elizabeth had issued a commission authorising certain persons to impress into her service all boys who had beautiful voices that they might sing for her in her Chapel Royal”.


I was amazed to see how poorly preserved some 19th-century magazines are. The editor says that it was impossible to find a copy of the original versions of The Sphinx without a Secret, which appeared in The World, May 1887 (p. xciv), and of The Young King, which appeared in the Lady's Pictorial, Christmas number 1888 (p. xcv). :(

The editorial commentaries in this series always err on the side of explaining too much rather than too little (not that I'm complaining about that), and the present volume has a couple of nice examples: the editor thought it necessary to gloss “faggot” (in the bundle-of-sticks sense, of course; p. 313) and “Stars and Stripes” (p. 351; the editor mentions that there are fifty stars, and I was actually a bit surprised that he did not mention that there would have been fewer in Wilde's time :)).

There's a very interesting discussion on the emergence of the London high society in the 19th century (and its decline in importance in the early 20th) in the editor's comments on pp. 304–5.

I was surprised by the editor's explanation on p. 335 that “Nihilism was a Russian terrorist movement aimed at the overthrow of the Tsarist state.” I always thought of nihilism as merely a philosophical position, something mostly about being unable to consider things truly meaningful (a problem that has been afflicting myself for quite a long time now), but now I was interested to learn in the wikipedia that there was in fact also a minor Russian revolutionary movement by that name.


What to say at the end? I really enjoyed reading Wilde's short stories again after all this time. And the editorial commentary is excellent, as always in this series. According to the OUP's web site, the next two volumes are coming out in October this year, so I can start drooling in anticipation already :)


  • Jarlath Killeen: The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde (2007). Mentioned here on pp. xi, xvi. “Killeen tends to treat the tales as a body of disguised commentary on contemporary Irish politics, explaining that Wilde's attraction to the ‘short story’ as a form [. . .] may have originated in his membership of a society (that is, Dublin society) ‘whose entry into modernity was problematised by disruptions such as those caused by colonisation’.” Sounds a bit far-fetched but perhaps interesting :)
  • Anne Clark Amor: Mrs Oscar Wilde: A Woman of Some Importance (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1983). Mentioned here on p. xv, n. 7.
  • H. Montgomery Hyde: Oscar Wilde (1975). Mentioned here on p. xv, n. 7.
  • Constance Wilde: There Was Once: Grandma's Stories by Mrs Oscar Wilde (London: Ernest Nister, 1888); A Long Time Ago: Favourite Stories Re-told by Mrs Oscar Wilde and Others (London: Ernest Nister, 1892). Two volumes of tales by Oscar's wife, mentioned here on p. xxii, n. 18.
  • Franny Moyle: Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde (2011). Mentioned here on p. xxiii, n. 19.
  • George Sandulescu (ed.): Rediscovering Oscar Wilde (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1994). Mentioned on p. xxx, n. 25.
  • Anne Markey: Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tales: Origins and Contexts (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2011). Mentioned here on p. xlvii, n. 74.
  • Geoff Dibb: Oscar Wilde: A Vagabond With a Mission: The Story of Oscar Wilde's Lecture Tours of Britain and Ireland (London: The Wilde Society, 2013). Mentioned here on pp. lxxxv, 359. Sounds interesting; working as a travelling lecturer was the first stage of Wilde's public career, before he settled into journalism and fiction writing, so it would be good to read more about it.
  • Joseph Bristow and Rebecca N. Mitchell: Oscar Wilde's Chatterton: Literary History, Romanticism, and the Art of Forgery (2015). Mentioned here on p. 410. Wilde wrote a short biography of Chatterton, Pen, Pencil and Poison (see my post about vol. 4).
  • Alan Sinfield: The Wilde Century (1994). Mentioned here on p. 413. I love wild/Wilde puns in book titles.

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