Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854-1900) is perhaps most famous today for his (only) novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as for his plays, which include The Importance of Being Ernest and An Ideal Husband. Wilde was also a poet and, as I present to you here, an author of fairy tales. His life was not an easy one -- he died at an early age, penniless, with a poor social reputation -- and these hardships seem to be reflected in the depressing elements within his stories. And yet, the stories are not without their kernels of hope.
Wilde’s first fairy tale collection, The Happy Prince and Other Stories, was published in 1888. It includes five tales: “The Happy Prince,” “The Nightingale and the Rose,” “The Selfish Giant,” “The Devoted Friend,” and “The Remarkable Rocket.” Walter Crane lent his illustrative talents to the first edition of this publication.
|Wilde's The Happy Prince, book cover, 1888|
|"The Happy Prince," Walter Crane, 1888|
Wilde’s second collection, A House of Pomegranates, was published in 1891 as a companion to The Happy Prince. It includes “The Young King,” “The Birthday of the Infanta,” “The Fisherman and His Soul,” and “The Star-Child.” A lovely 1915 edition features illustrations by the Scottish artist Jessie M. King.
|From "The Young King,"|
illustration by Jessie M. King, 1915
|By Jessie King, from|
"The Fisherman and His Soul, 1915
Upon the publication of The Happy Prince, a reviewer asked why Wilde used the template of a children’s fairy tale to deal with the adult themes in these stories. Wilde responded that he wrote the tales “not for children, but for childlike people from eighteen to eighty.” The language and style of these stories was certainly aimed at an older audience. Wilde later stated, in reference to Pomegranates, that he “had about as much intention of pleasing the British child as [he] had of pleasing the British public.” Confusion about Wilde’s intended audience continues to baffle (and compel) scholars to this day. (Heath, “Lessons not learned,” 1)
One last bit of “eye-candy”: the great Charles Robinson’s illustrations of stories from The Happy Prince from 1913.
|Illustration by Charles Robinson, from|
"The Nightingale and the Rose," 1913
"The Remarkable Rocket, 1913
You can find all of Wilde’s “fairy tales,” as well as many more illustrations by Robinson and King, here: http://wilde.artpassions.net/.
A question to ponder: If his stories were not intended for children, why do you think he wrote them as fairy tales?
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Christina Ruth Johnson recently received her Masters in Art History with a focus on the ancient Mediterranean and a side interest in the 18th and 19th centuries. Her other great love is fantasy literature from ancient times to present day.