Oscar Wilde: The Complete Short Stories [Book Thoughts]

Very little of Wilde’s short fiction resembles his plays or his book. I can’t help but feel that the moral fable, in it’s entirety, is outdated.
-Imran

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Short Stories by Oscar Wildes

Oscar Wilde an Irish-born British author who… you know what? I’ve written everything there is to know about Wilde in my several reviews of his book and four of his plays. Click here.

So Wilde: we know his one novel (possibly my favourite book) is incredible, we know his plays are stylish and witty, but what of his short stories? Wilde published several short story collections, as well as a few individuals, all of which are encompassed in the Oxford collection. If you come into these collections expecting more of Wilde’s trademark wit and social commentary, you won’t find it. The tone is different, the style is different, and while each collection has themes and sub-themes of their own, we find that Oscar Wilde’s short fiction more closely resemble folklore and fairytale, reminiscent of Gustave Flaubert and the Brothers Grimm, than of his more realistic later work. The collections are as follows:

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories

This 4-story collection is the closest to Wilde’s plays but with a touch of the fantastic. Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime is an intriguing tale of Victorian duplicity that bears a minor thematic resemblance to Dorian Gray, A Sphinx Without a Secret and A Model Millionaire are short comic pieces that say rather little and The Canterville Ghost is a light-hearted fairytale that might amuse a child or two. Other than Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime, I can’t say I found much striking here.

The Happy Prince and other Tales

A collection of more classical fantastic fairytales (complete with talking animals) but inconsistent in tone. The Happy Prince and The Selfish Giant are tragic morality tales with in-your-face Christian overtones, something not commonly seen in Wilde’s other usually unreligious work.  The Nightingale and the Rose and The Devoted Friend appear to be parodies of similar fairytales and are worth a quick laugh. The Remarkable Rocket (which is hilarious) resembles Wilde’s mocking social commentary but in fairytale form. The individual stories have merit in their own right but again, nothing struck me.

The Portrait of Mr W. H.

A more lengthy short story that chronicles various literary patrons’ obsession with a theory about Shakespeare’s ‘fair friend’ from the sonnets. Once again it bears subtle references to Dorian Gray. More complex than the other stories; there are themes of conspiracy, truth and even some parody mixed in. The plot is engaging too. One of the better stories in the collection.

A House of Pomegranates

Head and shoulders above the rest as the best story collection in the book. A House of Pomegranates is subtle and mysterious and is almost blatantly Wilde’s homage to Gustave Flaubert’s Three Tales (I actually enjoyed Pomegranates more). The Young King and The Star Child are moral fables, The Birthday of the Infanta is a tragic show-piece and The Fisherman and his Soul is a haunting and ambiguous tale and possibly the best in the book. The Christian themes are more developed and the style is masterfully wistful but the ambiguity may leave you scratching your head at times.

Poems in Prose

Six very short short-pieces. Some Christian imagery, some aesthetics, some morality. Worth a read but hardly left an impression.

Conclusion

Very little of Wilde’s short fiction resembles his plays or his book. I can’t help but feel that the moral fable, in it’s entirety, is outdated.

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