Although I am a fan of Oscar Wilde’s plays, I was surprised to discover his stories for children. In The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde – a collection of nine stories reminiscent of Hans Christian Anderson – Wilde foregoes his usual satire and biting wit to deliver compassion and empathy for the downtrodden.
Wilde wrote these stories in the midst of his success as a writer of poetry and drama, yet his words years later, from prison, ironically reflect the stories’ themes:
“The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what Beauty is, and those who know what Sorrow is…”
In “The Happy Prince,” the most widely known of the collection, a golden statue revered by the local folk, uses a swallow to deliver his wealth to the poor. When the Prince’s sapphire eyes and ruby stone in his sword are gone, along with all the gold plating on his statue, the tide of popularity he had enjoyed with the town is suddenly over. The statue is melted down, but his heart remains.
Variety published a story two years ago, citing a movie starring Rupert Everett who is currently playing Oscar Wilde on Broadway’s The Judas Kiss. The prospective movie has the title “The Happy Prince”(yet to be released), and chronicles the life of Oscar Wilde – “formerly a celebrity, and considered a genius and a national treasure…now in the midst of a public meltdown.” Sound familiar?
You can read the children’s story here on The Literature Network: The Happy Prince
Each story from “The Nightingale and the Rose” to “The Fisherman and His Soul” has elements of betrayal and redemption. Each is worthy of reading, and offers a different perspective on the author many only know for his arrogance and caustic wit, but read carefully – you may still find some traces.