Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales: a Fantastic Subterfuge

Topics: Homosexuality, Love, Oscar Wilde Pages: 10 (4031 words) Published: September 12, 2011
The note of the perfect personality is not rebellion, but peace. (OscarWilde, The Soul of Man under Socialism)
Among all of Wilde’s writings, the fairy tales have successfully passed the censorious eyes of the conservative critics for a long time. Only recently has it been discovered that these fairy tales that have been celebrated as children’s literature are like one of those secret chambers of riches hidden behind the magic wall of the castle guarded by the spell of “the love that dare not speak its name.” (ellman 435) The tales are so bewitching; they build so beautiful a world for the readers’ senses that the latter forget to look beyond the visible fantastic form. In the light of decriminalization of homosexuality in the last few decades, however, discerning readings of the two collections of Wilde’s fairytales- The Happy Prince(1888) and The House of Pomegranates(1991)- have come up. I shall, in my paper, attempt at reading the peaceful case built up by Wilde against the oppressive heterosexual discourses prevalent in the Victorian society. For this, I shall look at (1) how Wilde subverted the genric expectations to expose the hypocrisy of conventional wisdom imparted in the name of morality and Christian values and (2) his representation of male-male love as above every other form of love. Wilde himself refers to his fairytales as “studies in prose” twice in his letters, suggesting that they are experimental. The stories can be read as simply fantastic narratives for children as well as modernist self-conscious exercises. Wilde’s choice of the genre could have been an effect of the changing readership economy of the late nineteenth century. “New sub-genres were developed to exploit the interests of the[se] new groups of readers, whose tastes and backgrounds were different from the limited and exclusive readership addressed by writers earlier in the century”(Ian small xvi) Dellamora claims in the introduction to his book Victorian sexual Dissidence that “an investment in same-sex desire can transform genres and disciplines while provoking a range of new aesthetics that are eventually summed( and at times effaced) in the term modernism.”(9) Wilde’s intention was not to provide moral education through his fairytales, he exploited this sub-genre to create art for “contemplation” where not experience but the desire for experience itself was the end. The subject-matter, the form, and moreover the genre itself are so personalized that they go much beyond the convention to anticipate the modernist aesthetic. The non-human protagonists dislocate the authority of mimetic discourse that claim to convey ‘the’ truthful version of reality. The paradoxes which are a characteristic of Wilde the man himself abound in these fairytales too to destabilize ‘the’ imposition of meaning. The sub-texts offer immense scope for an eroticized participation in the desire for “…not doing but being, and not being merely, but becoming…”(Wilde 980).The interesting fact is that in rejecting moral, ethical (double-)standards of the society, Wilde reinforced the ideals that the society no longer acknowledged. So, when Wilde says in the ‘Preface’ to The Picture of Dorian Gray, “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all,” he is not to be taken at face value. Ian small suggests that in the conventional fairytales, the “tendency” is “towards conservatism: they dramatize the triumph and cohesiveness of society’s values when they are threatened by an outside evil force, whether it comes in the shape of a wicked witch, criminal, or malevolent ghost.”(xvii) Wilde’s stories, too, “adhere to the stock literary devices of the genre- the simple plotting, the use of given character types, the deployment of a rigid moral framework and so on- they nevertheless invest those devices with a very different signification.” As a socialist and a sexual pervert, he builds up a case from the point of...
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