Oscar Wilde Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories Criticism - Essay

W. B. Yeats (review date 1891)

(Short Story Criticism)

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 12, 1889). He was kind to Yeats's poems although he found “strange crudities and irritating conceits” in them.

Neither this review nor Yeats's later review of Wilde's drama A Woman of No Importance was wholly favorable. Although not conspicuously stained by Ibsenism, Wilde's dramas lacked that poetry which Yeats most loved in the theater, and his somewhat negative reaction to “Lord Arthur Savile's Crime” may have been caused by Wilde's satire on palmistry.

Yeats thought that the true basis for Wilde's fame lay in his willingness to stay in England and face judicial vengeance and public disgrace. In A Vision, Yeats placed Wilde in the nineteenth phase of the moon, that of the assertive man, a phase which marked the beginnings of “the artificial, the abstract, the fragmentary, and the dramatic” (A Vision, London, 1937, New York, 1956, p. 148).


We have the irresponsible Irishman in life, and would gladly get rid of him. We have him now in literature and in the things of the mind, and are compelled perforce to see that there is a good deal to be said for him. The men I described to you the other day under the heading, “A Reckless Century,”1 thought they might drink, dice, and shoot each other to their hearts' content, if they did but do it gaily and gallantly, and here now is Mr. Oscar Wilde, who does not care what strange opinions he defends or what time-honoured virtue he makes laughter of, provided he does it cleverly. Many were injured by the escapades of the rakes and duellists, but no man is likely to be the worse for Mr. Wilde's shower of paradox. We are not likely to poison any one because he writes with appreciation of Wainwright2—art critic and poisoner—nor have I heard that there has been any increased mortality among deans because the good young hero of his last book tries to blow up one with an infernal machine; but upon the other hand we are likely enough to gain something of brightness and refinement from the deft and witty pages in which he sets forth these matters.

“Beer, bible, and the seven deadly virtues have made England what she is,” wrote Mr. Wilde once; and a part of the Nemesis that has fallen upon her is a complete inability to understand anything he says. We should not find him so unintelligible—for much about him is Irish of the Irish. I see in his life and works an extravagant Celtic crusade against Anglo-Saxon stupidity. “I labour under a perpetual fear of not being misunderstood,” he wrote, a short time since, and from behind this barrier of misunderstanding he peppers John Bull with his pea-shooter of wit, content to know there are some few who laugh with him. There is scarcely an eminent man in London who has not one of...

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Richard Butler Glaenzer (essay date 1927)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Donald H. Ericksen (essay date 1977)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Philip K. Cohen (essay date 1978)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Isobel Murray (essay date 1979)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Lydia Reineck Wilburn (essay date winter 1987)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6290 words.)

Mariano Baselga (essay date 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Leonara R. Villegas (essay date autumn 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Patrick M. Horan (essay date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Josephine M. Guy (essay date June 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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Linda Dryden (essay date 2003)

(Short Story Criticism)

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...

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