Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories, Oscar Wilde
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories Oscar Wilde
(Born Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde) Anglo-Irish playwright, novelist, essayist, short-story writer, poet, and critic.
The following entry presents criticism on Wilde's short fiction collection Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891) from 1891 through 2003. See also Oscar Wilde Drama Criticism.
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories is a collection of four of Wilde's short stories: “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime,” “The Sphinx without a Secret,” “The Canterville Ghost,” and “A Model Millionaire.” Originally published in various London magazines in 1887, the pieces were eventually collected and published in book form in 1891. In these stories, generally described as social satires, Wilde parodied what he considered American naïveté as well as the cultural and social snobbery associated with the British aristocracy. Critics praise Wilde's literary achievement with these stories—particularly “The Canterville Ghost” and “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime”—but note the relative neglect of his short fiction in light of the notoriety of his dramas and his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).
Plot and Major Characters
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories includes four of Wilde's well-regarded short stories, all of which had been published independently in London periodicals in 1887. In the best-known story of the volume, “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime,” which was originally published in The Court and Society Review, Wilde explores the concepts of fate, duty, and love. Engaged to the lovely and privileged Sybil Merton, Lord Arthur Savile is disturbed when a palm reader informs him that he will commit murder before his marriage. At first rejecting the idea, he eventually becomes convinced that he will have to kill someone before he can marry his beloved. After a few abortive attempts, he encounters the palm reader on an evening walk and throws him into the Thames, thereby fulfilling the fateful prophecy. Years later, Sybil learns that the palm reader was an imposter, but doesn't inform her blissful husband for fear of upsetting him. “The Sphinx without a Secret,” first published under the title “Lady Alroy” in The Court and Society Review in 1887, relates the story of Lord Gerald Murchison and his tragic love affair with the mysterious Lady Alroy. Considered one of Wilde's most successful tales, “The Canterville Ghost” was also published in The Court and Society Review in 1887. When a wealthy, pragmatic American family moves into a haunted English castle, they refuse to believe in the increasingly indignant ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville even as evidence mounts and sightings become more frequent and dramatic. Humiliated, the ghost becomes frustrated by his inability to frighten the Otis family. Eventually, fifteen-year-old Virginia Otis becomes sympathetic to the ghost and resolves to help him attain peace. Her generosity leads to her spiritual enlightenment and financial reward. Initially published in The World, the final story in the collection, “A Model Millionaire,” concerns the generosity of a good-hearted, poor man named Hughie Erskine. When Hughie encounters a disheveled artist's model, he offers him money—only to discover that the man is a millionaire. The next day, he receives an envelope with ten thousand dollars from the millionaire, which allows Hughie to marry his fiancée.
Critics view the stories of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories as social satires that skewer the humorous differences between different cultures and social strata—particularly aspects of both American and English culture. Duty is a key thematic concern in the stories, illustrated by the character of the ghost in “The Canterville Ghost” and Lord Arthur Savile in “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime.” A few critics have linked Wilde's homosexuality with the theme of societal obligation and self-awareness found in “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime” and the motif of masks and divided selves in “The Canterville Ghost.” In that vein, the role of Outsider in the four stories has been another area of critical discussion. As with Wilde's other work, reviewers note his emphasis on sensuous detail and the sense of beauty's restorative power in the stories of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories. It has been asserted that Wilde utilized the stories to explore his evolving theory of performance: specifically, the audience's role in the various phases of the artist's performance.
Upon the publication of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories, critical response to the volume was mixed. Reviewers cited the stories as amusing, but also simplistic and melodramatic in nature. Since the appearance of the collection, critics have favored two stories—“The Canterville Ghost” and “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime”—and have focused their attention on these pieces, which are thought to evince Wilde's fascination with the supernatural and the dark side of human nature. Commentators assert that the stories incorporate some of Wilde's defining themes and anticipate the ideas he would later explore in his critical essays. Contemporary critics consider Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories to be a volume of humorous, appealing stories and a noteworthy stage in Wilde's literary development.
The Happy Prince, and Other Tales 1888
A House of Pomegranates 1891
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories 1891
The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde 1993
Complete Shorter Fiction of Oscar Wilde 1998
Vera; or, The Nihilists: A Drama in Four Acts (drama) 1880
Poems (poetry) 1881
The Duchess of Padua: A Tragedy of the XVI Century (drama) 1883; also published as The Duchess of Padua: A Play by Oscar Wilde, 1908
Intentions (essays) 1891
The Picture of Dorian Gray (novel) 1891
Lady Windermere's Fan: A Play About a Good Woman (drama) 1892
Salomé: Drame en un acte [Salome: A Tragedy in One Act] (drama) 1893
A Woman of No Importance (drama) 1893
The Sphinx (drama) 1894
The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People (drama) 1895
The Soul of Man under Socialism (essay) 1895
The Ballad of Reading Gaol (poetry) 1898
An Ideal Husband (drama) 1899
The Portrait of W. H. (criticism) 1901
*De Profundis (letter) 1905
The First Collected...
(The entire section is 177 words.)
SOURCE: Yeats, W. B. “Oscar Wilde's Last Book.” In Uncollected Prose by W. B. Yeats, edited by John P. Frayne, pp. 202-05. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970.
[In the following review, which was originally published in 1891, Yeats provides a mixed assessment of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories.]
This review of Oscar Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories, London, 1891, appeared in United Ireland, September 26, 1891.
From the beginning of their acquaintance, Yeats regarded Oscar Wilde more highly as a wit and figure of legend than as an author. He met Wilde at the soirées of William Ernest Henley, one of the first magazine editors to print Yeats's poetry. Wilde was kind to him, invited Yeats to his home for Christmas dinner (probably in 1889), and had Yeats tell fairy tales to Wilde's son, whom Yeats thoroughly frightened by mentioning a giant. Burdened by a sense of his provincial awkwardness, Yeats was awed by the splendor of Wilde's personality and ménage, but in retrospect Yeats thought Wilde's address contained too much artifice.
Before their meeting, Wilde had reviewed Yeats's book of fairy tales for Woman's World (February, 1889), and he had helped the reception of Yeats's first volume, The Wanderings of Oisin, with two reviews (Woman's World, March, 1889, and Pall Mall Gazette, July...
(The entire section is 1750 words.)
SOURCE: Glaenzer, Richard Butler. Introduction to The Complete Works of Oscar Wilde: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, The Portrait of Mr. W. H. and Other Stories, pp. ix-xviii. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Company, 1927.
[In the following essay, Glaenzer delineates the defining characteristics of the stories in Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories and contends that Wilde's short stories are overshadowed by his dramas.]
Oscar Wilde was a multiplex personality, and nowhere is this driven home so forcibly as in his so-called short stories; for such, in the accepted sense, they are not. While they possess plot, development, motivation of a sort, somehow they detach themselves from the plane of verisimilitude, even that idealized portion of it known as the realm of Romance.
One and all of the following prose pieces were written in the latter eighties, when Wilde was still groping for his true medium. They reflect his uncertainty, his impatience with the uncertainty. Preëminently a causeur, he was never so happy as when phrasing some rose-coloured fancy into an orotund period or transposing a hackneyed Tupperism till it flashed, glistening and sharp, a neo-Irish epigram. If the story suffers, not so the reader who is lenient when precedents are broken so entertainingly. Nevertheless, the result is a series of graceful gestures, the passes of a prestidigitator, though it was...
(The entire section is 1919 words.)
SOURCE: Ericksen, Donald H. “The Stories.” In Oscar Wilde, pp. 53-9. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977.
[In the following excerpt, Ericksen surveys the major themes of the stories of Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories and asserts that Wilde's stories provide valuable insight into the development of his fiction and drama.]
Oscar Wilde loved to tell stories. Hesketh Pearson, Wilde's biographer, tells of how dozens of tales would occur to him during the course of conversations, over a drink at parties, while watching a painter at work, or at any odd time.1 But the effort to write them down was irksome to Wilde so that his three volumes of short stories represent only a sampling of his talent. That he had a genius for storytelling is unquestioned. That Wilde was pleased with his tales, especially the fairy tales, is clear from his letters; but there is little evidence that he felt they would represent a major portion of his reputation as a writer.2 Yet to millions of children and adults for close to a century such titles as “The Happy Prince,” “The Canterville Ghost,” and “The Selfish Giant” bring a light of recognition that few of Wilde's other works can do. Still, in spite of their enduring popularity, Wilde's short stories and fairy tales have not drawn much critical attention. This neglect has been unfortunate, for the tales are interesting, not only...
(The entire section is 2952 words.)
SOURCE: Cohen, Philip K. “Marriages and Murders: ‘Lord Arthur Savile's Crime’ and ‘The Canterville Ghost.’” In The Moral Vision of Oscar Wilde, pp. 53-70. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1978.
[In the following essay, Cohen maintains that “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime” and “The Canterville Ghost” are stories that anticipate Wilde's fairy tales and “embody, if only in embryonic form, some of the ideas he would develop fully in his most important essays.”]
Wilde temporarily abandoned the drama in favor of the short story. His first productions in this mode were “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime” (1887) and “The Canterville Ghost” (1887). Both anticipate the fairy tales and embody, if only in embryonic form, some of the ideas he would develop fully in his most important essays, “The Decay of Lying,” (1889) “The Critic as Artist,” and “The Soul of Man under Socialism.” Like almost all of Wilde's works, these first stories reflect his preoccupation with sin and guilt. “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime” is the best introduction to the second phase of Wilde's thought and art because it obliquely presents his doctrine of individualism, pressing a claim for self-realization that was absent in The Duchess of Padua. But this new element only supplants the moral cul-de-sac of The Duchess with another as Wilde concludes, in answer to Hamlet's...
(The entire section is 5772 words.)
SOURCE: Murray, Isobel. Introduction to The Complete Shorter Fiction of Oscar Wilde, edited by Isobel Murray, pp. 1-9. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1979.
[In the following excerpt, Murray discusses the appeal of Wilde's stories “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime” and “The Canterville Ghost.”]
Oscar Wilde's fairy-tales and stories have been translated into nearly every language, and have sold in their millions. They have been dramatized, made into films for cinema and television, adapted for radio and long-playing records. They have been transformed into cartoon films, made into children's opera, into ballets, into mime plays. Above all, the reading public has never ceased to demand his stories, and yet the critics have for the most part paid them very little attention, although story-telling was so fundamental an activity throughout his life.
When Wilde told a version of his poem in prose ‘The Artist’ to André Gide, he was deliberately illustrating his own situation. A dull-witted critic had congratulated him for inventing pleasant tales to ‘clothe’ his thought. Wilde began: ‘They believe that all thoughts are born naked. … They don't understand that I can not think otherwise than in stories. The sculptor doesn't try to translate his thought into marble: he thinks in marble, directly. There was a man who could only think in bronze …’. And he...
(The entire section is 2952 words.)
SOURCE: Wilburn, Lydia Reineck. “Oscar Wilde's ‘The Canterville Ghost’: The Power of an Audience.” Papers on Language and Literature 23, no. 1 (winter 1987): 41-55.
[In the following essay, Wilburn contends that Wilde utilized his stories, particularly “The Canterville Ghost,” to “work through problems involving the audience's power over different phases of the artist's performance.”]
Although Wilde's short story collection Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories has enjoyed some critical attention, most of the discussion has focused on the comic and moral content of the stories, especially the relationship between the criminal and the artist.1 But a closer examination of the stories suggests that Wilde was also exploring various concepts of a theory of performance—specifically the artist's and audience's roles in the artistic performance. Wilde was using the texts, particularly “The Canterville Ghost,” to work through problems involving the audience's power over different phases of the artist's performance.
In his works Wilde presents at least three contradictory stances about performance: that the audience should be ignored by the artist during creation of the artwork, that the audience's participation in the aesthetic experience is limited to being receptive to and molded by the artist's work, and that the audience plays a major role in...
(The entire section is 6290 words.)
SOURCE: Baselga, Mariano. “Oscar Wilde and the Semantic Mechanisms of Humour: The Satire of Social Habits.” In Rediscovering Oscar Wilde, edited by C. George Sandulescu, pp. 13-20. Gerrards Cross, England: Colin Smythe, 1994.
[In the following essay, Baselga analyzes the humor in “The Canterville Ghost” and Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest.]
When we talk about humour in literature, the name of Oscar Wilde often comes up. And this is true not only for any reader or spectator of his brilliant comedies but also for scholars and specialists in humour by itself, that is, those who try to explain what provokes laughing or smiling. A peculiar writer indeed, attracting the attention of both linguists and literary critics.
Actually, if a linguistic approach has been chosen, one is consequently supposed to be as ‘neutral’ as possible in the study of non-linguistic aspects of the texts. That is what we linguists are supposed to do whenever we dare invade the field of literary critics, adopting a deeply respectful attitude towards the texts and handling every single word very carefully. And there is every reason to be precautious with so thorny a question as humour, the trigger of human laughter, for in many respects the way it works in the mind is still a mystery. Having said this, there is still no obvious reason to exclude ‘language-oriented’ studies from literary...
(The entire section is 2859 words.)
SOURCE: Villegas, Leonara R. “Approaching an Irony of Difference: The Self as an Outsider in the Short Stories of Oscar Wilde.” Les Cahiers de la Nouvelle/Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 29 (autumn 1997): 59-66.
[In the following essay, Villegas considers the role of the Outsider in Wilde's short fiction.]
In the short stories of Oscar Wilde, compassion underscores the experiences of the characters. The complexity of their emotional awakenings is such that they anticipate a modernist connotation of the word, as illustrated by Milan Kundera in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. As a synthetic emotion, the implications of compassion are determined by its roots: the non-Latinate root that means feeling, as well as the Latin root that means either “sympathy” or “condescension” (Kundera, 1984, 20). Hence, Kundera takes great exception to this emotion, and underscores its suspicious regard: for “it designates what is considered an inferior, second-rate sentiment that has little to do with love. To love someone out of compassion means not really to love” (Kundera, 1984, 20). But then Kundera explains that one must not dismiss compassion, for one discovers that the word's broad etymological roots endow it with a similarly broad spectrum:
The secret strength of its etymology floods the word with another light and gives it a broader...
(The entire section is 3659 words.)
SOURCE: Horan, Patrick M. “1888-1891: Wilde's Stories, Fairy Tales, and Novel: The Nature of Love.” In The Importance of Being Paradoxical: Maternal Presence in the Works of Oscar Wilde, pp. 75-92. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997.
[In the following essay, Horan finds a connection between the portrayal of love in Wilde's short stories and the author's own romantic experiences.]
I can not think otherwise than in stories.
—Wilde to Andre Gide
Speranza and Sir William were active in the Irish literary revival; naturally, the telling of ancient stories and Irish legends was a favorite pastime in their household. Two years before Wilde was born, Sir William even published a collection of Irish fairy stories entitled Irish Popular Superstitions. He never finished his second manuscript on Irish fairy lore, but some of this information was taken over by Speranza who included it in her most famous work, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland published in 1888. This was the same year that Wilde published his first collection of fairy tales entitled The Happy Prince, and Other Tales. Three years later, he published his second collection, which he entitled A House of Pomegranates. These works, along with his Poems in...
(The entire section is 7391 words.)
SOURCE: Guy, Josephine M. “An Allusion in Oscar Wilde's ‘The Canterville Ghost’.” Notes and Queries 243 (N.S. 45), no. 2 (June 1998): 224-26.
[In the following essay, Guy investigates Wilde's allusion to the obscure late nineteenth-century materialist philosophy known as Hylo-Idealism in his story “The Canterville Ghost.”]
In Notes and Queries in 1978, Philip E. Smith drew attention to an obscure late nineteenth-century materialist philosophy called Hylo-Idealism. Its main proponents were the slightly less obscure poet, Constance Naden (who coined the term), and her friend and mentor, Dr. Robert Lewins.1 In attempting to argue for the importance of Hylo-Idealism for the Victorians, Smith cited a contemporary reference to it by a much better known writer—Oscar Wilde. Thus Smith noted that ‘Oscar Wilde found the name of [the] philosophy significant enough to use in the subtitle of his often reprinted first short story, “The Canterville Ghost, A Hylo-Idealistic Romance” (1889)’. At the same time, though, Smith also registered some surprise at the appropriateness of the subtitle, commenting that ‘Wilde's tale … has nothing directly to do with Lewins's and Naden's philosophy’.2 Some years later, in the first study of the life and career of Constance Naden, Jim Moore also speculated on Wilde's interest in Hylo-Idealism as evidenced in the subtitle to...
(The entire section is 1194 words.)
SOURCE: Dryden, Linda. “Oscar Wilde: Gothic Ironies and Terrible Dualities.” In The Modern Gothic and Literary Doubles: Stevenson, Wilde and Wells, pp. 110-14. Hampshire, England: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003.
[In the following excerpt, Dryden explores Wilde's synthesis of social satire and the Gothic conventions in “The Canterville Ghost” and “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime.”]
A horror one dare not express.
—Arthur Machen, The Great God Pan
In The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde wrote a tale that synthesized Gothic conventions like the magic picture, duality and physical mutability. In some of his later stories he added a comic irony to the Gothic mode that he had explored in Dorian Gray, and thus lampooned the traditions he had used to such effect in the novel. Wolfreys argues that the ‘gothic is to be found everywhere … but never as itself, never in the same form twice’ (Wolfreys, 11). Wilde's Gothic satires prove Wolfreys's point about the adaptability of Gothic narratives, and allow Wilde to bring his own distinctive style of social satire to bear on the Gothic in ‘The Canterville Ghost’ (1891) and ‘Lord Arthur Savile's Crime’ (1891). Underlying these comic tales of the supernatural are the concerns with morality and behaviour that are central to the more sombre Dorian Gray....
(The entire section is 1912 words.)
Braybrooke, Patrick. “The Short Story Writer.” In Oscar Wilde: A Study, pp. 69-83. London: Braithwaite & Miller Ltd., 1930.
Considers the appeal of “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime” and “The Model Millionaire.”
Fluck, Edward J. “About the Book.” In Lord Arthur Savile's Crime: A Study in Duty by Oscar Wilde, pp. 93-9. Emmaus, Pa.: Story Classics, 1954.
Discusses Wilde's revision of “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime,” contending that the story “affords an interesting example of the way in which Wilde polished his work.”
McCormack, Jerusha. “Impressions of an Irish Sphinx.” In Wilde the Irishman, pp. 60-3. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.
Investigates the influences of the death of Wilde's sister, Isola, on his story “The Canterville Ghost.”
Pine, Richard. “The Stories.” In The Thief of Reason: Oscar Wilde and Modern Ireland, pp. 186-90. Dublin: Gill & MacMillan, 1995.
Calls “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime” “a parable decorated with social insight and criticism.”
Raby, Peter. “Stories.” In Oscar Wilde, pp. 49-56. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Provides brief stylistic and thematic overviews of “Lord Arthur Savile's...
(The entire section is 419 words.)