The Picture of Dorian Gray is the author’s most well-known work of prose, his only full length novel. Sample his short stories to taste different aspects of Wilde’s writing. Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime opens at Bentick House where Lady Windermere is having her last reception prior to Easter. The hoi polloi are gathered in great numbers as Lady Windermere’s parties are quite popular, a place to see and be seen. Lately the reading of palms has been in vogue and one of the guests brought along a gentleman talented in the practice. He astounds the guests with his accuracy and predictions. Lord Arthur Savile is a pleasant, comely young man. Yet his palm shakes the palm reader to his very core. He has to be pressed to reveal what he has read in the skin of the young man. Great consequences come to pass. This clever story is a good illustration of Wilde’s wit and artistry. The Canterville Ghost displays Wilde’s humor. Hiram Otis, the American Minister, is in need of a good country home for his family; Mrs. Otis, his eldest son Washington, daughter Virginia, and two twin boys, nicknamed Stars and Stripes for their tendency to get into trouble. Lord Canterville has such a country estate, but there is a difficulty in selling the property. It is haunted. For three hundred years The Canterville Ghost has terrorized the Canterville family and servants. Ghosts are not an impediment to the brash Americans. A deal is struck, the family moves in and a contest of wills between the ghost and the Americans begin. Wilde liked America, he successfully toured the country as a young man in 1881 making the acquaintance of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Longfellow and Walt Whitman. The Selfish Giant is a children’s story about a giant who will not allow children to play in his garden. Wilde was devoted to his sons, so we have two of his children’s stories in the mix. The Devoted Friend is set in the animal kingdom where the Duck teaches her Ducklings by example under the scorn of the Water Rat.— Deon Stonehouse
Oscar Wilde was already famous as a brilliant wit and raconteur when he first began to publish his short stories in the late 1880s. Admired by George Orwell and W. B. Yeats, the stories include poignant fairy-tales such as "The Happy Prince" and "The Selfish Giant," the extravagant comedy of "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime" and "The Canterville Ghost," and the daring narrative experiments of "The Portrait of Mr. W. H.," Wilde's fictional investigation into the identity of the dedicatee of Shakespeare's sonnets. John Sloan's Introduction argues for Wilde's originality and literary achievement as a short-story writer, emphasizing his literary skill and sophistication, and arguing for the centrality of Wilde's shorter fiction in his literary career. The collection includes a useful and up-to-date bibliography and extensive and helpful explanatory notes, and an Appendix reprints an important passage from the book-length version of "The Portrait of Mr. W. H." on the Neo-Platonic ideal of friendship between men, an important key to the short story's meaning.
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About the Author
John Sloan is Fellow and Tutor in English, Harris Manchester College, Oxford.