A STUDY of "THE HAPPY PRINCE" by OSCAR WILDE

Mitsuru Onda

Preface

    Oscar Wilde is a famous English writer who wrote the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and the play Salome at the end of nineteenth century. His aesthetic attitude of "art for art's sake" was well received and reported by scholars and researchers, but some moralists and religious leaders said he was so immoral that they could not accept and evaluate his work. Even if it was proper that they criticized him in those days, that was the Victorian Age, I would never agree with such an attitude toward his work. I am sure that one's work should not be evaluated on the basis of one's behavior or character, but should be evaluated on its worth. In literature, as in life, homosexuality or bisexuality is by no means incompatible with religious spirituality and human love meaning heterosexuality.

Chapter 1 The Background of Oscar Wilde

    Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland on October 16 in 1854. His father, William, was a skilled eye doctor and an ear, nose and throat specialist. He also had a famous reputation in such fields as ethnology, archaeology, and literature. On the other hand, his private life created a sensation with love affairs.
    Oscar's mother, Jane, who was the daughter of a lawyer, excelled in many languages, including contemporary French, German, and old Celtic. She published many poems and translations under the pen name of "Speranza."
    Oscar inherited his parents' literary talent and their educational interest. His mother, Jane, was eager to have a girl for her second child when Oscar was born. She was so deeply disappointed to know that the child was a boy, that she began to bring him up as a girl. We can see a certain picture in which Oscar has long, curly hair and wears a beautiful lace-frilled skirt, looking quite feminine (See an attached sheet). Ellmann, Oscar Wilde P.228). I am sure that such an experience in his infancy must have had a great influence on his personality. Robert Sherard, one of the most reliable Oscar Wilde biographers, insisted: "This fact must be regarded as pivotal by a pathologist or a psychoanalyst (The Life of Oscar Wilde)." Sherard indicated that Oscar had become homosexual because of experiences in his infancy. We know today that there are other factors involved.
    When he was ten years old, Oscar entered Port Royal School, which was famous as the "Eaton School of Ireland."? He excelled in the humanities and he studied in the same class as his older brother, William. On the other hand, it is reported that he was extremely poor at mathematics, so he might have developed an inferiority complex about it and that resentment later surfaced in his writing.
    When he was seventeen, he entered Trinity College in Dublin, and met a famous professor called Mahaffy, who was an authority on Hellenism, or Greek spirit. He learned of the marvelousness of Hellenism from Professor Mahaffy, and was greatly absorbed in it. After that, he became attached to Hellenism and was eager to become intimate with a beautiful boy like Adonis who was loved by Aphrodite (Venus) or a handsome youth like Apollo, both Greek mythological figures. After entering Maudarin College, Oxford University, at the age of twenty, his inclination toward Hellenism became stronger and stronger. Two professors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin, had a great effect on Wilde during his Oxford days.
    Later, when he was in jail, Oscar said, "There were two turning points for me: one was that my father had sent me to Oxford University, and the other was that a severe society had sent me to jail." Oxford University was a glory for him, and it was simultaneously a passage to destruction. The biographer, Ellmann, indicated that Oxford University, in those days, was one of the most prestigious universities in the world, but it was also a very vulgar place where almost all the students indulged in dissipation. He added that the Greek and Latin classics promoted vices such as homosexuality or bisexuality.
    There is one other thing that is significant in Oscar Wilde's character. When Oscar left Oxford University in 1878, he called himself "a professor of aesthetic" and he thought that aestheticism was the creed that would be attributed to him.

Chapter 2 The Expressions and Styles

    Although it should be good to write about the characteristics of his representative work, such as Dorian Gray or Salome, they have long and complex content, but I have short time to write. So let me choose a short story from his juvenile literature this time. I can find his original characteristics such as aestheticism and homosexuality even in the juvenile literature.
    Oscar Wilde published the first series of juvenile literatures, titled The Happy Prince and Other Tales, in 1888 and the second series, titled A House of Pomegranates, in 1889. It was clear that he was very happy at that time; he was surrounded by a warm family, his gentle wife, Constance, and two sons, Cyril and Vivian. In those days, everyone who read these works would suppose that these stories were full of happiness, but in reading these works, I cannot help perceiving another aspect or element; that is to say, his homosexual or bisexual tendencies, reflected in the characters and their relationships. In this paper, I would like to show that even in The Happy Prince, the author's homosexuality is reflected in his descriptions of the Prince and the Swallow; however, that fact does not detract from the literary value of this story at all. Rather, it makes the story religiously deeper and more touching.
    Many poetical expressions can be seen in this story because Wilde used to write poems during his university days. First, I would like to call your attention to the underlined part [1].
    Wilde did not use such commonplace expressions as "Once upon a time, there was a happy prince," or "There was once the statue of the Happy Prince…." Instead of using these expressions, he placed an impressive adverbial phrase unexpectedly at the beginning of the story, and tried to emphasize that the statue of the Happy Prince was standing up high and was beautiful.
    In addition, we should take note of couplets such as: "So I lived, so I died (P.6)." ?These couplets are simultaneously rhymed, and pleasing to the ear.

[1] High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt. He was very much admired indeed.
[2] "He is as beautiful as a weathercock," remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; "only not quite so useful," he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not.

    We can find many similes and metaphors in this story; these expressions are not conventional, but are unique and interesting. This story was written more than a hundred years ago and although the style of this story is a little bit old-fashioned, some new and unique ideas were expressed here. I suppose that Wilde might have chosen an unusual use of similes and metaphors to present his particular ideas. In the underlined part [2], the Happy Prince is described as follows: "He is as beautiful as a weathercock." A weathercock is simply an instrument that indicates direction and it is not suitable for expressing the marvelousness of the Happy Prince. In addition, the word "weathercock" is usually used in such expressions as, "as changeable as a weathercock," meaning "it turns around frequently like a weathercock" or "he changes his mind? often." When I apply this meaning to the situation in the Happy Prince, it seems to me that his viewpoint and mental state change frequently.
The Happy Prince was also compared to an angel, which sounds a bit strange to me. (See the underlined part [3] below.)

[3] "He looks just like an angel" said the charity children as they came out of the cathedral in their scarlet cloaks and their clean white pinafores.
"How do you know?" said the Mathematical Master, "you have never seen one."
"Ah! but we have, in our dreams,"? answered the children; and the Mathematical Master frowned and looked very severe, for he did not approve of children dreaming.

    According to Eibei Koji-densetsu Jiten or A Dictionary of English & American Phrase and Fable (FUZANBO), "an angel is a messenger who serves God in Heaven and is sent to a human world after devoting its life to God. However, an angel has a neutral sex, but it is usually drawn as a girl (My translation)." Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (Merriam) says that the word "angel" originally came from the Greek word "angelos" or messenger. The dictionary includes such examples as "a supporter who provides money; that is to say, a sponsor." So, we can imagine that the Happy Prince exhibited feminine characteristics of caring and giving from this simile. Now, I would like you to refer to the underlined part [4] and [5].

[4] The eyes of the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and tears were running down his golden cheeks.
[5] His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little Swallow was filled with pity.

(Middle part of the passage omitted)

    In the day time I played with my companions in the garden, and in the evening I led the dance in the Great Hall. Round the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never cared to ask what lay beyond it, everything about me was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So I lived, and so I died. And now that I am dead they have set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and all the misery of my city, and though my heart is made of lead yet I cannot choose but weep."

    From the underlined parts [4] and [5], we can visualize a feminine image of the Happy Prince who has tears on his golden cheeks and is standing under the moonlight.? His beauty and nobleness moved the little Swallow deeply, and made the little Swallow? begin to love the Happy Prince. We can surmise that the Happy Prince, as well as Wilde, was bisexual and sometimes conveyed either a masculine or? feminine impression.
In the same way, we can see similar tendencies in the little swallow. At the beginning of this story, the little Swallow appeared as a male who loved a coquettish reed by the river. The little Swallow began to behave in a feminine way, after meeting the Happy Prince.
    According to The Encyclopaedia of Images and Symbols (TAISHUUKAN), "a swallow is a bird that belongs to the goddess, Aphrodite, in Greek mythology." (My translation) As I mentioned Wilde's devotion to the culture of Hellenism makes it clear that he also added feminine characteristics to the little Swallow.

[7] "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow, said the Prince, "will you not stay with me for one night, and be my messenger? The boy is so thirsty, and the mother so sad."

    Wilde used such expressions repeatedly as in the underlined parts [7],[10],[11] to emphasize the deepening friendship and love between the Prince and the Swallow. The Prince wanted to rescue poor people by giving them jewels that were shining on his sword and gold leaves that covered his body but he could not move an inch, so he had to ask a favor of the Swallow who could move freely. The Prince's affectionate words, "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow ---" began to gradually soften the stiff and selfish heart of the Swallow. These words and tones sound affectionate to us and make us happy in the same way.
    First of all, the Prince had the Swallow go and deliver the red ruby, which was shining on the sword, to a fatherless family living in a poor house. Secondly, he got the Swallow to deliver the sapphire to a girl, who was selling matches in the cold without shoes and stockings. The persons receiving these objects were more desperate in due order. Conversely, the conversation between the Prince and the Swallow gradually grows more affectionate. Then, both the Prince and the Swallow begin to feel warmth after doing such good deeds, as shown by the underlined part [9].

    Then the Swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done.
[9] "It is curious," he remarked, "but I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold."

(Middle part of the passage omitted)

    When day broke he flew down to the river and had a bath. "What a remarkable phenomenon," said the Professor of Ornithology as he was??? passing over the bridge. "A swallow in winter!" And he wrote a long letter about it to the local newspaper. Every one quoted it, it was full of so many words that they could not understand.

(Middle part of the passage omitted)

[10] "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow," said the Prince, "will you not stay with me one night longer?"

(Middle part of the passage omitted)

[11] "Swallow, Swallow, little Swallow." said the Prince, "far away across the city I see a young man in a garret. He is leaning over a desk covered with papers, and in a tumbler by his side there is a bunch of withered violets.
[12] His hair is brown and crisp, and his lips are red as a pomegranate, and he has large and dreamy eyes.

    Now, I would like you to refer to the underlined part[12], in which he uses a strange simile. We think it unnatural for an ordinary author to depict a young man's lips as "his lips are red as a pomegranate." I cannot help associating a sexual image with a pomegranate, which is red in color and has a wide slit. According to The Encyclopaedia of Images and Symbols (TAISHUUKAN), "the pomegranate tree came from the blood of Dionysus in Greek mythology. However, in Christianity, it represents the virgin who brings fertility. King Solomon compared the cheeks of his bride to a pomegranate (My translation)." It is natural that we should find a feminine image and sexual atmosphere in this simile.
    The homosexual imagery of this story crests just before the death of the Swallow when the Swallow bids farewell to the Prince, "Good-bye, dear Prince!, will you let me kiss your hand?" The Prince answers, "You must kiss me on the lips, for I love you."
    This conversation between the two is a confession of love as the relationship has already gone far beyond friendship.
    Also, have you noticed that Wilde used capital letters at the beginning of some common nouns? We should regard this as unusual, and simultaneously, we should understand that Oscar Wilde wanted to express a particular meaning by using them as he did. Referring to the words that are written in bold print above and below:

"The ruby has fallen out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he is golden no longer." said the Mayor; "in fact, he is little better than a beggar!" "Little better than a beggar," said the Town councillors." "And here is actually a dead bird at his feet!" continued the Mayor. "We must really issue a proclamation that birds are not to be allowed to die here." And the Town Clerk made a note of the suggestion. So they pulled down the statue of the Happy Prince. "As he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful," said the Art professor at the University. Then they melted the statue in a furnace, and the Mayor held a meeting of the Corporation to decide what was to be done with the metal. "We must have another statue, of course," he said, "and it shall be a statue of myself." "Of myself," said each of the Town Councillors, and they quarreled.

    We can surmise that Wilde found these persons disagreeable. He must have hated the Mayor and the Town Councillors who had been involved in constructing the statue of the Happy Prince. They were very vulgar and selfish without thinking of their citizens and wanted to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes.
Because of Wilde's resentment against mathematics teachers of his school days, he depicted the Mathematical Master as a rationalist who could never fantasize. As for the Charity Children , of course he never hated them, but he disliked the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the morals of the Victorian Age. Moreover, he regarded the Professor of Ornithology, as a fake scholar. Wilde hated such people as scholars, who wrote about trivial things as if they were very important.
    As I mentioned above, Wilde supported the attitude of "art for art's sake", and sought aestheticism as long as he lived. He considered the Art Professor at the University, who supported "art for life's sake", a trivial person.

Chapter 3 The Motives for Creating? The Happy Prince

    We can suppose that one of the reasons why Oscar Wilde began to write juvenile literature is because he wanted to write beautiful stories for his children, whom he loved very dearly. Biographer Sherard said that Wilde loved playing with his children more than anything, often crawling on his hands and knees pretending to be a horse or a lion. Sherard mentioned in his book that once Wilde's children were able to read books, he gave them Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883) and Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book (1894). (Sherard, The Life of Oscar Wilde) He would sometimes recite the books that he wrote himself. When he read one of his works aloud to them once, he wept unintentionally. His son, Cyril, thought it strange and asked him, "Why are you crying now?" He answered, "Really beautiful things always make me cry." This work was titled "The Selfish Giant," which was highly praised by Professor Pater, who said that, The Selfish Giant was perfect in its kind, and the whole book written in pure English." (Ellmann, Oscar Wilde)
It is possible that one of the reasons why Wilde wrote juvenile literature was for his children. And yet, he wrote a letter to one of his friends saying,

    I am very pleased that you like my stories. They are studies in prose, put for Romance's sake into a fanciful form: meant partly for??? children, and partly for those who have kept the childlike faculties of wonder and joy, and who find in simplicity a subtle strangeness.
(Hart-Davis, The Letters of Oscar Wilde, 15 June 1888)

    The other motive that I would like to propose is that Wilde wanted to be compared with Hans Christian Andersen who had already become famous in the field of juvenile literature. Wilde made a match girl appear in this story as the poorest and most pitiful character. Here we can find some similarities to The Match Girl written by Andersen in Denmark. The end of The Happy Prince, where Wilde wrote about the Prince's leaden heart, was similar in feeling to the ending of Andersen's The Tin-Soldier. In the last scene of the story, he was burnt and melted with a dancer made of paper and changed into a shape of the heart. That probably means their "after-world wedding" or at least a happy ending.
    On the other hand, Wilde changed his ending into the following expressions: The Prince's leaden heart and the Swallow's dead body were brought together without burning or melting. He even says they were raised high by the hand of God, and were consequently able to ascend to heaven; however, the style of the endings is different. They are both "happy endings" in which the couples were raised above the "normal plane" and transformed into a new existence. We can find one of the differences in the characteristics of the Prince and the Tin-Soldier in the meeting. The story of The Happy Prince started from the scene when the Prince dropped his tears on the Swallow, but the story of The Tin-Soldier began as follows:

    She was standing on one leg with the other raised high in the air --- she, too, was steadfast. The Tin-Soldier was deeply moved --- he was ready to weep tin tears, but that was hardly the thing to do. She looked at him but they said nothing.
(Translated from Danish by L.W.Kingsland)

    Not only did the Tin-Soldier not weep, but the couple never spoke to each other. Wilde might have felt discontent with such a description, so he changed the situation to the descriptions mentioned above. Probably, he must have wanted to be proud of being able to write a more rational and persuasive story than Andersen.

    Wilde might also have wanted to express his thoughts on Socialism by using the style of juvenile literature. He wrote an essay titled The Soul of Man Under Socialism in 1890. However, his idea of Socialism was substantially different from the original one. He thought that Socialism itself would be of value simply because it would lead to Individualism. He stated his thought in the essay as follows:

    Of course, it might be said that individualism generated under conditions of private property is not always, or even as a rule, of a fine or wonderful type, and that the poor, if they have not culture and charm, have still many virtues.

    Both these statements would be quite true. The possession of private property is very often extremely demoralizing, and that is, of course, one of the reasons why Socialism wants to get rid of the institution. He not only denied the possession of private property but he also thought that it spoiled people, and that Socialism could improve Individualism. His idea of Socialism was not concerned with how to construct a Socialistic society, but how to construct Individualism. Anyway, Wilde wanted to give his property to people who were extremely poor or oppressed. When he understood the principle of Socialism, he was shocked and felt conscious of sinning, simply because he was born into a wealthy family and brought up happily without feeling any inconveniences. He might have thought that giving his property to the poor or oppressed would absolve this sin.

Chapter 4 The Subject of The Happy Prince

    It is important to understand the characters who appear in this story before understanding the contents. The Prince's character was undeveloped at the beginning; as a statue of the Prince was only a part of the scenery of the town. Although we do not know the feelings of the Prince at this stage, once the Swallow flew into the town and began to talk with the Prince -- that is to say, from the time after he was personified -- we are able to understand the feelings of the two.
    When he was living at the Palace of San-Souci (Without-Anxiety), the Prince could neither shed tears nor feel sorrow. In those days, although the courtiers called him the Happy Prince, the happiness of the Prince depended upon being isolated from the less fortunate in the society. We can surmise that it was not real happiness, because he never felt any doubt and died. It is exactly true that "So he lived, and so he died" without knowing real happiness. After he died, he became the statue made by the Councillors with many jewels and gold leaves, and stood regally high above the center of the town. Then he began to have a look at people who were in pain due to the harsh realities of life. He wanted to give these gaudy materials, jewels and gold leaves, to the poorest people of the town. As soon as he began to perform acts of charity, his showy materials changed into love for the people. The more he "lost" in valuable appearance, the more he "gained" in his humanness.
    On the other hand, the Swallow was a failure who was made fun of and left behind by his colleagues, because he was in love with a coquettish reed on the riverside. He was such a frivolous being and was only proud of his speed in flight. He was merely one of the vulgar beings at that time, but he became aware of the satisfaction of providing charity to the poor. He murmured, in spite of himself, "It is curious, but I feel quite warm now, although it is cold." (See the underlined part [9].)
    Although these two characters were completely different from one other in their origins and personal histories, they felt an attraction as they became aware of the importance of human nature and love. This development, which was full of sorrow in the story, obtained the desired results in? expressing the process of how both the Prince and the Swallow were able to gain humanness for themselves.
    At the end of this story, they rose to heaven as beings who had acquired supreme love, and became reincarnated as the sons of God. Although it is not easy to understand the real meaning of the death or reincarnation of the two characters and the leaden heart of the Happy Prince, I dare to offer the following opinion to conclude my study of this story. When all the Prince's gaudy material goods had been given away, he became aware of the importance of loving others. Also, the leaden heart that was centered in the body of the Prince was cracked by a kiss from the swallow. Then the two characters became one with the supreme being. Even if the leaden heart was "burnt" by the highest heart, it would no longer change shape. In other words, they were given unchanging and eternal love from God.
    In this story, the ecstasy of love was expressed in various ways. First, unconditional love must be given to everyone. Human love offered to oppressed people as well as physical love between the same sex has to be admitted, accepted and praised. Second, love develops in proportion to the maturity of our self-consciousness and our understanding of human nature. Third, love brings us more warmth as we love others at a deeper level.
    Finally, I dare say that Oscar Wilde must have wanted to write that all kinds of love should be celebrated, accepted by God, and continue forever.
Although this story was written in the 19th century, I could not help imaging the idea of Postmodernism, because love in this story was completely free from any restrictions. So I wrote this as the last report.

Bibliography

A List of Books Cited
・ The Complete works of Oscar wilde (New York, Harper and Row, 1989, P285-P291, P1080-P1081)
・ HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN'S FAIRY TALES (London, Oxford University Press, 1984, P159)

A Bibliography

・ Ellmman, Richard, Oscar Wilde (London, A PENGUIN BOOK, Hamish Hamilton, 1987)
・ Hart-Davis, Rupert, The Letters of Oscar Wilde (London, Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd, 1963)
・ Hart-Davis, Rupert, Selected Letters of Oscar Wilde (London, Oxford University Press, 1989)
・ Hart-Davis, Rupert, More Letters of Oscar Wilde (London, Oxford University Press, 1989)
・ Hyde, Montgomery, Oscar Wilde - The efinitive Biography (London, Mandarin Paperbacks, 1990)
・ Ingleby, Leonard Cresswell, Oscar Wilde (London, T.WERNER LAURIE, 1907?)
・ Kohl, Norbert, Oscar Wilde -- The works of a conformist rebel -- Translated from German by David Henry Wilson (London, Cambridge University Press, 1989)
・ Sherard, Robert Harborough, The Life of Oscar Wilde (London, T.WERNER LAURIE, 1910?)

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