THE TRAGIC MODE IN OSCAR WILDE’S FAIRY TALES
DÉBORAH SCHEIDT, Universidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa
ABSTRACT: In this paper we examine the articulation of the tragic mode in Oscar Wilde‟s collection of fairy tales The Happy Prince and Other Stories, especially in “The Young King”, “The Selfish Giant” and “The Birthday of the Infanta.” By “tragic mode” we mean, in this context, the vestiges left by Greek tragedy and its development, the Elizabethan tragedy, in a piece of nineteenth century fiction. Several thematic and structural elements, as suggested by Richard Palmer – tragic heroes, tragic villains and martyrs, issues of fate, guilt, will, self-recognition, death and suffering, as well as the recurrence of paradox, tragic structure and poetic elevation of the language – lead us to conclude that the tragic mode is present and very effective in Wilde‟s fairy tales.
KEYWORDS: Oscar Wilde; fairy tales; tragic mode.
RESUMO: Este trabalho estuda a articulação do elemento trágico na coletânea de contos de fadas de Oscar Wilde O Príncipe Feliz e Outros Contos, especialmente em “O Jovem Rei”, “O Gigante Egoísta” e “O Aniversário da Infanta”. O “elemento trágico” remete, neste contexto, aos vestígios deixados pela tragédia grega e seu desdobramento, a tragédia elisabetana, numa obra ficcional do século XIX. Diversos traços temáticos e estruturais apontados por Richard Palmer – heróis, vilões e mártires trágicos, questões relativas ao destino, sentimento de culpa, desígnio, auto-reconhecimento, morte e sofrimento, além da recorrência de paradoxo, estrutura trágica e elevação poética da Estudos Anglo-Americanos Florianópolis 34 P. 68-83 2010
linguagem – fazem-nos concluir que o elemento trágico está presente e é bastante contundente nessa obra de Wilde.
PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Oscar Wilde; contos de fadas; elemento trágico.
Wilde also told his sons all his own written fairy stories. Cyril once asked him why he had tears in his eyes when he told them the story of “The Selfish Giant”, and he replied that really beautiful things always made him cry. (Vyvyan Holland, apud PEARCE, 2000, p. 219)
Story after story readers are deeply moved – sometimes, like the author himself, even to tears – as they make their way through Oscar Wilde‟s The Happy Prince and Other Stories, the collection of his two volumes of fairy tales The Happy Prince (1888) and A House of Pomegranates (1891). But this is not the type of emotion that we might experience with traditional fairy tales as, ultimately, we come across a romantic kiss or a happy outcome following a succession of adversities. In Wilde‟s tales the tears are due to what is (apparently) a complete subversion of the “lived happy ever after” formula, to the extent that, with the exception of “The Young King”, all the other eight tales end in the death of the protagonist. Critics have repeatedly pointed out the pessimism of Wilde‟s approach to fairy tales as a result of his admiration for Schopenhauer‟s philosophy (Pearce, 2000, p. 82) or, more generally, his outlook on life as being “almost uniformly bitter”. (Carpenter & Prichard, 1999, p. 238) The negative vein in his stories is also often connected with Wilde‟s 1891 famous essay “The Soul of Man under Socialism”, inasmuch as they
denounce the disregard of the higher social classes and of the intellectual elite for the poor. (Woodcock, 1950, p. 147-148; Kileen, 2007, p. 63-64) Virtually all the stories present this issue, which is, however, more directly addressed in “The Young King”, the tale of a boy born of an illicit relationship between a princess and someone below her status. Oedipian overtones immediately come to mind when we hear that the boy had been “when but a week old, stolen away from his mother‟s side, as she slept, and given to the charge of a common peasant and his wife” (Wilde, 1994, p. 78i). Most relevantly, though, is the fact that at the age of sixteen he comes to the painful realization that his royal status...
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