Review: The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde | Part 1 – Prose

Image resultThe Complete Works of Oscar Wilde
Genres: Poetry, Essays, Classics, Humour, Historical

Oscar Wilde was an Anglo-Irish playwright, novelist, poet, and critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of the Victorian Era.

In his lifetime he wrote nine plays, one novel, and numerous poems, short stories, and essays.

Wilde was a proponent of the Aesthetic movement, which emphasized aesthetic values more than moral or social themes. This doctrine is most clearly summarized in the phrase ‘art for art’s sake’.

Besides literary accomplishments, he is also famous, or perhaps infamous, for his wit, flamboyance, and affairs with men. He was tried and imprisoned for his homosexual relationship (then considered a crime) with the son of an aristocrat.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime 4

All the time Lord Arthur Savile had remained standing by the fireplace, with the same feeling of dread over him, the same sickening sense of coming evil.

I almost always hate parodies of the gothic genre. But, this was good. Rather than completely pissing on the genre, Wilde pokes fun at it; he teases it and makes it humorous. He doesn’t make it seem absurd or ridiculous, but a little silly in places. And it’s good humour rather than a tasteless satire. This is a great piece of writing.

This raises questions of Sir Arthur’s intellect, his sanity and his obedience, obedience to what he perceives as fate. He doesn’t ever question the situation; he takes it as an actuality: a simple task that he must perform. So he sets out to murder a few of his friends, then when that doesn’t work, he plans to take down a few of his relatives. But he isn’t a very lucky individual. All his plans don’t work, the situations become increasingly comic as the victims manage to escape.

The story is so fun to read. Arthur’s choices make no sense for society doesn’t make sense either. He just does what he is told and doesn’t really think outside of the box. The wittiness delivered at the end really brought the nature of this story to my attention.

I really enjoyed this one! This was an absolutely hilarious parody of the Gothic genre in true Oscar Wilde fashion. Highly recommend this for a short and funny introduction into Wilde’s writing.

Oscar Wilde is one of the few writers whose short stories I can tolerate. He had his obvious wit and his subtle humour to go along with characters that are both expressly Victorian and curiously of the new age.

Lord Arthur rushed across the room, and seized the box. Inside it was the amber-coloured capsule, with its poison-bubble.

The Canterville Ghost4

Never having seen a ghost before, he naturally  was terribly frightened, and, after a second hasty glance at the awful phantom, he fled back to his room, tripping up in his long winding-sheet as he sped down the corridor.

For a story less than 30 pages long, Wilde accomplishes so much, using scalpel-like precision in both his language and his plotting to tell a story with a little bit of everything. The funny is considerable, the sadness and softer emotions are amply represented, and the brilliance is ubiquitous throughout.

A family of flag-flaunting United Staters acquire an historic English mansion from the thoroughly prim, thoroughly British Lord Canterville. Throw in a murderous, aesthetically-minded ghost with a penchant for high drama and theatre, and you have a classic, joy-inducing tale of clashing cultures, progress vs. tradition, and Wilde’s self-mockery of his own philosophy of decadent aestheticism.

Here, Wilde even aims his high powered criticism at himself, as the ghost, Sir Simon, is a thinly veiled reflection of the author. Initially, we see Sir Simon, this artistic spook with flair and panache, as a victim of the boorish Yankees who have invaded his haunt, and who are totally unmoved by any of his scare tactics. They apply stain remover to the recurring blood stains, oil his chains to avoid excessively rattling, and medicate his evil laugh after mistaking it for coughing. For them, he is simply a problem to solve.

But Wilde slowly starts to show us that the ghost is far from innocent. We learn of his previous murders and his complete amorality and self-centeredness. Wilde slowly closes the trap and we begin to see the truth behind the ghost’s façade. The humour is steady throughout. Wilde adds enough little splashes of depth, of emotion, to make the entire story more resonant and, ultimately, more enjoyable.

On reaching a small chamber in the left wing, he leaned up against a moonbeam to recover his breath, and began to try and realise his position. Never, in a brilliant and uninterrupted career of three hundred years, had he ever been so grossly insulted.

The Portrait of Mr. W. H. 4

He felt, as indeed I think we all must feel, that the sonnets are addressed to an individual–to a particular young man whose personality for some reason seems to have filled the soul of Shakespeare with terrible joy and no less terrible despair.

The fact that William Shakespeare’s Sonnets are dedicated to one Mr W. H. has been the source of much speculation. The Portrait of Mr. W.H. is a short story by Oscar Wilde.

Although only 88 pages long, in this, Wilde argues in an incredibly witty, elegant and above all – convincing way that Shakespeare’s Sonnets are in fact dedicated to an unknown Elizabethan boy-actor called Willie Hughes.

How curiously it had been revealed to me! A book of sonnets, published nearly three hundred years ago, written by a dead hand and in honour of a dead youth, had suddenly explained to me the whole story of my soul’s romance.

According to the theory, Hughes was in fact Shakespeare’s biggest Muse and the two of them had a long and passionate relationship, disrupted only by the Dark Lady and Hughes’ artistic vanity. The theory itself is presented in a very convincing fashion and the story that surrounds it is wonderfully written, moving and engaging.

The Portrait of Mr. W. H. looks at a piece of literary criticism that has been around for a long time and is often talked about. I don’t agree with this theory and it is important to know that Oscar Wilde didn’t either, although by the end he almost did. What I really liked about this story is the fact that Wilde took a differing view of the Sonnets and tried to explore it.

As with much of Wilde’s fiction, this is less a story than an exploration of an idea. Here, the exploration has to do with obsession; the fallacy in much literary theory when someone wants to prove the point of their obsession; and how that obsession can disappear as quickly as it came once the idea has been shared with someone else.

No sooner, in fact, had I sent it off than a curious reaction came over me. It seemed to me that I had given away my capacity for belief in the Willie Hughes theory of the sonnets, that something had gone out of me, as it were, and that I was perfectly indifferent to the whole subject.

With his usual wit, Wilde also shows how art can be corrupted and spoiled of its beauty when we forget to look at a poem or a picture as a work of art and we try to bend it to our purposes.

Though we may never know the identity of Mr. W. H., the young man the poet so passionately addresses in the Sonnets, Wilde’s version is an enjoyable literary mystery story as well as an exploration of the Artistic Muse, and of obsession to an idea.

However it came about, I cannot pretend to explain it, there was no doubt that Willie Hughes suddenly became a mere myth, an idle dream, the boyish fancy of a young man who, like most ardent spirits, was more anxious to convince others than to be himself convinced.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the book and was once again enchanted by Wilde’s writing. The charm of this little short story mainly resides in Wilde’s ability in turning a piece of literary criticism in a compelling mystery with gothic hues. I would recommend it to anyone interested in either his work or the mystery of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

No man dies for what he knows to be true. Men die for what they want to be true, for what some terror in their hearts tells them is not true.

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