Forgotten authors No 18: Oscar Wilde
Sunday 04 January 2009
Hang on. Hang on. Dear Oscar? Never off the London stage, Dame Judi, a handbag, that Oscar? There's another type of forgetfulness that occurs when we choose to remember authors by their most famous books or plays. Their lesser works get lost or sidelined. Few readers of Oliver Twist recall Dickens' round-robin collections such as The Haunted House. Tennessee Williams is treasured for A Streetcar Named Desire but not for "The Mysteries of the Joy Rio", one of around 50 exquisite short stories he penned. The collected fairy tales of Oscar Wilde are almost unknown. Although still available, they are rarely bought and read aloud any more, as they were designed to be.
Even now, it seems there are readers who have trouble squaring the unrepentant "somdomite" Wilde with these morally didactic stories, many containing overtly Christian messages. How do you deal with the repeated appearances of God? "Bring me the two most precious things in the city," says God to one of his angels at the conclusion of "The Happy Prince". The angel brings a leaden heart and a dead bird, a swallow who died in the service of a statue that gave away its finery (and heart) for a vain, unappreciative populace. Wilde uses God as a simple moral absolute, because it is needed in a story about degrees of selflessness and purity.
Many of the tales are so heart-wrenchingly sad that they may now be too upsetting for tinies. Yet it sometimes seems as if the real Wilde resides here, rather than in his barbed, brittle plays. The Selfish Giant refuses to let others enjoy his garden, so everlasting winter invades it. The Nightingale pierces its heart with a thorn and bleeds upon The Rose, only for the gift to be dumped in a gutter, wasted by society. The Remarkable Rocket is a supercilious snob convinced of success, but who instead suffers the humiliation of exploding unnoticed. Intimations of the tragedies of Wilde's life, if you seek them, are tucked into such forgotten corners.
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations
- 3 Sir Winston Churchill’s family begged him not to convert to Islam, letter reveals
- 4 AirAsia flight QZ8501 missing: Search for plane carrying 162 passengers from Indonesia to Singapore suspended overnight
- 5 Game of Thrones is most-pirated TV show of 2014
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The golden age of TV comedy is here
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
From Marvel to Star Wars: The rise of cinema’s shared universes
Exodus: Gods and Kings banned in the UAE for 'religious mistakes'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk