This week for class we had to read, The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. This story is completely different from any other Victorian short story that we have read so far. The difference is that it is a children’s story. I began to wonder what inspired Wilde to write this specific story, and where did he draw his ideas from? I don’t know that much about Wilde’s biography, so I figured I would start there. After all, writers are often most inspired by their own lives and experiences.
Wilde was born in October of 1854 into an Irish family. His parents were respectable people with a passion for the extravagant. Their passion greatly influenced young Oscar, and he flourished into a young, flamboyant man who was witty and light hearted. Wilde attended the University of Oxford, and it is here that he immersed himself with art. Art plays a major role in The Happy Prince. The prince is a statue made of gold and jewels. He is beautiful, but he struggles because he cannot move, and he cannot help the poor he sees all around him. It begs the question, what good do beautiful works of art do, if everyone around them is suffering? Wilde was once quoted as saying, “All art is useless”. In this story, though, he finds a way to give art a purpose. The swallow tears the pieces of the statue a part and gives them to the people of the city who need them the most. Art is what ends up saving them (Kibble).
The Happy Prince was published in 1888. Wilde went on to produce many of the works that he is now most known for including, The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray. Wilde was extremely popular until questions about his sexuality started appearing in 1895. Eventually, he was convicted of being a sodomite and was sent to prison. After this famous incident, Wilde’s reputation plummeted. His famous plays were removed from the stage, and his name was hardly mentioned. Once released, he was sick and financially ruined. This stage of his life greatly reminded me of the poor, starving playwright in The Happy Prince. In the story it states, “he is trying to finish a play for the director of the Theatre, but he is too cold to write any more. There is no fire in the grate, and hunger has made him faint” (Wilde). Wilde wrote nothing after he was released from prison. He died of cerebral meningitis at the age of 46 (Kibble).
Kibble, Matthew. “Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900.” Literature Online Biography. (2000). Literature Online. U of Missouri Lib., Columbia. 8 February 2011 http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&r es_id=xri:lion-us&rft_id=xri:lion:rec:ref:2272.
Wilde, Oscar. “The Happy Prince.” The Happy Prince and Other Tales. London: David Nutt, 1888.