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Oscar Wilde: Complete Shorter Fiction…

Oscar Wilde: Complete Shorter Fiction (World's Classics) (edition 1982)

by Oscar Wilde, Isobel Murray (Editor)

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9351013,583 (4.18)4
Title:Oscar Wilde: Complete Shorter Fiction (World's Classics)
Authors:Oscar Wilde
Other authors:Isobel Murray (Editor)
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (1982), Paperback, 278 pages
Collections:Your library

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Complete Short Fiction by Oscar Wilde

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The striking thing about Oscar Wilde's fairy tales is that they are timeless, universal, and yet completely original. In contrast, his other stories perfectly capture a particular segment of English society at a particular point in time as observed by Oscar Wilde. I don't remember reading the prose poems before, they might not have been in the collection I had previously read, but they are also outstanding. Overall, a perfect delight to read from beginning to end. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
It is always an iffy proposition when a book is a “complete” collection of any author’s works. You know you will face the challenge of seeing some of those earlier works that may not be worth sharing. And you can get a little tired of what is presented. I expected none of these with a collection of Oscar Wilde. I have not read much of his writing, but the few pieces I have read were full of his signature wit in the midst of good story telling.

Oh, had I only listened to my internal warnings.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this collection, but for one or two exceptions, has no value. It seems to serve no purpose other than to completely chronicle Wilde’s writings. In other words, there is little here worth reading. It begins with a collection of childlike tales. “The Happy Prince” is somewhat famous. And it is…okay. But it sets the tone for so much of these pieces. Maudlin, teaching lessons with a sledgehammer, boring the reader. It continues that way story after story.

Then, a little past half-way in the book, comes the story “Lord Author Savile’s Crime”, the story of a man who lets his life change because of the predictions of a palm reader. It has the Wilde wit. It has a story worth reading. It has an ending that…well, that isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darn good. Everything I had been expecting. A sign that things are about to turn.

A false sign. Yes, “The Canterville Ghost” is decent, but from there on up it is downhill all the way. At the end, just when you think it can’t get any worse, there is a collection of “Poems in Prose” (which should warn you that there is nice writing but nothing else) and the appendix containing a fragment of a piece and a scenario for a possible play that may not have even been written by Wilde. That appendix is the detail that tells the story of the whole.

But for two stories, the collection holds nothing. A useless exercise in completeness

And now a word about footnotes. This book contains the most meaningless, useless footnotes I have ever seen. I have no idea how the editor decided on which words/phrases to define. But most can be understood in context – that is, the ones that need any explanation. A significant majority are commonly understood terms that do not warrant additional definitions. A worthless distraction from a collection that should have benefited from distractions. ( )
  figre | Aug 21, 2012 |
The striking thing about Oscar Wilde's fairy tales is that they are timeless, universal, and yet completely original. In contrast, his other stories perfectly capture a particular segment of English society at a particular point in time as observed by Oscar Wilde. I don't remember reading the prose poems before, they might not have been in the collection I had previously read, but they are also outstanding. Overall, a perfect delight to read from beginning to end. ( )
  jasonlf | May 15, 2011 |
Oscar Wilde

Complete Short Fiction

Penguin Classics, Paperback, 2003.

8vo. xxxvi+280 pp. Edited with an Introduction [x-xxxi] and Notes [pp. 259-280] by Ian Small.

First published thus, 1994.
Reprinted with minor revisions, 2003.


Further Reading
A Note on the Texts

The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888)
The Happy Prince
The Nightingale and the Rose
The Selfish Giant
The Devoted Friend
The Remarkable Rocket

The Portrait of Mr. W. H. (1889)

A House of Pomegranates (1891)
The Young King
The Birthday of the Infanta
The Fisherman and his Soul
The Star-Child

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891)
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime
The Sphinx Without a Secret
The Canterville Ghost
The Model Millionaire

Poems in Prose (1894)
The Artist
The Doer of Good
The Disciple
The Master
The House of Judgment
The Teacher of Wisdom

'Elder-tree' (fragment)



Oscar Wilde's fairy tales were my introduction to his writing. At that time, many years ago and in translation, I thought them some of the most beautiful works of fiction I had ever had the happiness of reading. I was so carried away then, and had retained so precious memories, that I was a little afraid of reading them again, a good many years later and in original language. I was afraid the experience this time wouldn't live to my past exaltation. I really needn't have worried. For Wilde's fairy tales still make as powerful and stirring a read as ever before. If anything, the older one reads them, the better they become.

The Penguin Classics edition titled Complete Short Fiction contains a great variety of pieces but certainly among the highlights are the two volumes of fairy tales: The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) and A House of Pomegranates (1891). I know of no other fiction that can make me laugh and cry so many times in so short a space. Wilde's imagination is indeed wild. It is immensely affecting, too. His style is as close to perfection as it is possible in so imperfect a world. It is fabulously readable, yet so rich in compelling allusions that it has to be read slowly in order to savour it.

I daresay Oscar Wilde's so called fairy tales may be read by or to children, but they really should be read by adults. There are in them talking swallows and nightingales, ducks and frogs, statues and giants, fireworks and elements, so these stories certainly are ''fairy''. But there are in them social, political, aesthetic and, above all and most importantly, purely human aspects that no child can possibly grasp. And no adult of average intelligence and certain humanity should neglect. So The Happy Prince is a powerful exploration of exploitation, inequality, misery and unhappiness, but also of somewhat foreign to human nature goodness, unselfish love and compassion; The Nightingale and the Rose is a heart-rending story about the futility, selfishness and transitory nature of love, yet it also suggests that a world devoid of love isn't worth the life on it; The Selfish Giant is a touching and incredibly visionary allegory of fatherly affection; The Devoted Friend is a penetrating character sketch of the supremely self-absorbed ''friends'' that everybody must have encountered - or been - from time to time; The Remarkable Rocket is a truly remarkable portrait of another common type of human beings: the highbrow intellectuals, monstrously vain, supercilious, dogmatic, intolerant and cruel, looking down on everything and everybody except themselves and their own interests - until they end in the gutter. No, these tales must not be read by children; fairy and removed from reality as they are, dramatized for the purposes of fiction, they really do remain frightfully real and relevant. And frightfully modern.

It is fascinating to observe the astonishing development of Oscar Wilde in those three years between his two collections of fairy tales. A House of Pomegranates (1891) contains four stories, but they occupy about twice more space than the five in The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888). However, the later tales certainly lack the charm and simplicity of the early ones; I venture to suggest that, on the whole, they lack their profoundness as well. The plots are much more complicated and the style is a great deal more elaborated and embroidered. Sometimes, indeed, the descriptions of surroundings are so excessive as to become even slightly tedious, if for a few lines only; also, nowadays is a little difficult to appreciate Wilde's passion for flowers and especially for precious stones. Finally, the stories in this second volume suffer also from heavy use of archaisms: ''thou art'', ''thee'', ''wilt'', etc. Having said that, though I am probably one of the last people who would appreciate so flowery and florid a style, not to mention an archaic one, Oscar Wilde is definitely among the exceptions. Even when he goes way overboard on passionate rhetoric, he remains singularly lucid and at all events deeply moving. I doubt there are many writers - so far as I am concerned - who can describe such fantastic visions so vividly and with such evocative power that they almost literally materialise in front of my eyes.

Most important of all, what remains the same in A House of Pomegranates is that these tales, too, are among the saddest and most shattering I have ever read. Perhaps they are slightly more appropriate for children than the early ones, but they sure contain lots more than daring flights of imagination and exuberantly lush descriptions; besides, there are few scenes of graphic violence not really suitable for children. The indisputable masterpiece in the group is The Fisherman and his Soul. It's an amazing tale that may well provide you with material for endlessly varied speculations on some ''popular'' conundrums: spiritual and sensual; good and evil; love and lust; sacred and profane; things like that. None of the other tales, long digressions and all, fails to make one think about some of these things either. And who can forget the last lines of The Birthday of the Infanta?

And the Infanta frowned, and her dainty rose-leaf lips curled in pretty disdain. 'For the future let those who come to play with me have no hearts,' she cried, and she ran out into the garden.

On a more mundane level, two things that I wouldn't expect in Oscar Wilde make his fairy tales in general even more fascinating (and his other stories too, for that matter): quite a few arrows shot straight through the heart of Beauty and a strong religious flavour, including few clear references to Jesus Christ. Now Oscar Wilde always had a very subtle sense of humour, or sense of ridiculous to put it more accurately, and it's not always easy for one to tell what are the author's real feelings behind his characters. Not that it much matters, but it's an interesting game to play. Did Oscar take religion seriously? God, Jesus Christ, the soul and all that kind of incredible Christian stuff? Did he take beauty really so seriously as his popular image as the proverbial aesthete suggests? These questions will remain open for now.

Although the fairy tales are among the highlights of the volume, the Complete Short Fiction of Oscar Wilde has a lot more to offer. Perhaps the chief thing to appreciate in such collected edition is the great diversity of genres Wilde experimented with. Three things remain constant throughout: the brilliant style, the vivid imagery and the great insight into human nature.

The Portrait of Mr. W. H. (1889) is by far the strangest piece of all. It is something in the middle between fiction, literary criticism and history of English poetry; the editor is quite right to call it ''anomalous text''. Broadly speaking, it is a short story, and with a very neat twist in the end which I at least didn't expect at all, but just about one fourth of it, perhaps, is occupied by excerpts from Shakespeare's sonnets, for the plot revolves around the mystery to whom they were dedicated. In his exhaustive notes, Mr Small has traced every mistake of quotation or any theory that was ever brought to explain who the mysterious fellow was. As it seems Wilde used lots of hypotheses that had been proposed by many a scholar of XIX century England, but the enigmatic, young and beautiful Will Hews seems to have been his original creation. Given that I am totally ignorant of Shakespeare, the story makes surprisingly absorbing read. And Oscar Wilde usually could do really fine things with portraits anyway.

Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891) is a very curious mixture of tales, two short and two long ones, ranging from crime and mystery to ghost story and social comedy; all of them are slightly more real than the fairy tales but just as powerful and relevant to reality - our own included. As obvious from the name, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime is a crime story - but it is much more than that. First of all, it is stupendously entertaining social satire, closely related to Wilde's famous social comedies (and one of the characters is indeed Lady Windermere herself), but it is ''a study in duty'', too, as the telling subtitle tells us. It is amusing and engrossing, yet chilling and disturbing; as pointed by Mr Small in his introduction it reverses completely the traditional Victorian morality; I, for one, can hardly imagine how outraged the impeccable sensibility of those times must have been. Pretty much the same is true for The Canterville Ghost which easily ranks as one of the most hilarious pieces of fiction I have ever come across. The story of the poor ghost who tries, rather pathetically and altogether unsuccessfully, to scare a modern American family is simply bound to make laugh even the most morose creature. In addition to being uproariously funny, the piece also contains a truly devastating anti-American satire and, towards the end, unexpectedly, haunting poignancy. From the two shorter works in the collection, The Model Millionaire is the clear-cut winner. It's a delicious tale of mistaken identity that contains a fine example how sometimes Oscar Wilde could write only in epigrams as well as one of the best last sentences ever written:

[First lines.]
Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realised. Poor Hughie!

[Last lines.]
'Millionaire models,' remarked Alan, 'are rare enough; but, by Jove, model millionaires are rarer still!'

Finally, as a special treat, there are the witty, wicked and wise Poems in Prose (1894): six very short pieces inhabiting the no man's land between poetry and short stories. What I find most extraordinary about these weird hybrids is that they are permeated by an almost constant streak of anti-religious sentiments, humorous yet uncompromising and even harsh; the final lines of The Doer of Good are excellent example:

And when He had passed out of the city He saw seated by the
roadside a young man who was weeping.

And He went towards him and touched the long locks of his hair and
said to him, 'Why are you weeping?'

And the young man looked up and recognised Him and made answer,
'But I was dead once, and you raised me from the dead. What else
should I do but weep?'

Oscar Wilde's Poems in Prose also have to the highest degree another quality typical for his writings: an inordinately high substance-to-volume ratio, fun and flippancy notwithstanding. It's not often - it's exceedingly rare indeed - that I find so much to reflect upon in mere ten pages of fiction. I should like to say about these ''poems in prose'' but one thing that is absolutely valid for everything the great Irishman ever wrote: those who read these pieces only for fun have missed completely the essence of Oscar Wilde.

All in all, a magnificent volume of highly entertaining, immensely affecting and thoroughly thought-provoking prose, offered in amazing variety of styles and genres, ranging from half page to forty pages in length. The worst of it - very little indeed - is just staggeringly visionary. The best of it - quite a lot indeed - may well be a life-changing experience. And of course Wilde's prose is so quote-friendly, that one simply must finish with an epigram. Best one-sentence quote in the whole book? Here it is:

The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.

So damn true!


Note on the Penguin Classics edition.

The editorial work of Ian Small is generally excellent. Most of the 21 pages of his Introduction are heavily laden with somewhat forbidding literary criticism but, granted a good deal of academic dryness, the piece is well worth reading for some insightful observations regarding the vast social dimensions of Wilde's stories; it also gives a brief summary of the major events in his life. Some of Mr Small's analyses are indeed perceptive and may stimulate some additional reflections from more sensitive readers; his comments about The Fisherman and his Soul, Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and The Canterville Ghost are all cases in point. Unfortunately, towards the end Mr Small's writing degenerates into searching for insignificant homosexual hints between the lines - as if that were of any importance! About Wilde's perception of beauty and religion, Mr Small does not seem to think big, let alone worth writing at length about. Last but actually first, the Introduction really should be read as a Postscript.

Mr Small's notes are always meticulously researched and often extremely helpful. As admitted by the editor, his main goal was to trace the many interconnections between Wilde's short fiction and his non-fiction or drama. Additionally, and more importantly I think, the notes also discuss many at first glance obscure moments in Wilde's stories, especially his tremendous vocabulary and impressive erudition. His texts are literally bursting with historical, mythological, social and literary allusions, and since I at least miss most of them, I think it's good to have an annotated edition. I would never claim that Oscar Wilde cannot be read with pleasure and profit without a single scholarly note, but I can certainly say that most of these notes do lead one to a better appreciation of his genius, if slightly.

The Chronology is good and informative but the Further Reading is rather perfunctory, without annotations and it makes no mention of Intentions, obviously an important work in Wilde's bibliography since Mr Small mentions it many times.

In The Note on the Texts Mr Small explains his motives for inclusion or exclusion of certain pieces and why he chose certain editions. His attention to include what might be said to be the closest to definitive version is highly commendable. For the record, the two collections of fairy tales reprint the first editions in book form, and so does the third volume of short stories, whereas Poems in Prose and The Portrait of Mr. W. H. were reprinted from periodicals. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Jan 22, 2011 |
My first exposure to Wilde was a book of five short stories including "The Happy Prince", "The Birthday of the Infanta", "The Remarkable Rocket", the garden of the giant one with the heavy Jesus imagery, and "The Nightingale and the Rose". I'd read these fairly early in my life, and it was one of the enduring books of my childhood. After a brief disillusionment with teenage love (heh) I returned to "The Nightingale and the Rose" and clasped it to my heart, still in love with the idea of love and so pitying of the pitiable student. It's still one of my favorite stories.This book contains these stories, and several more, as well as some hilarious prose poems (hilarious in that they're unexpected). The cover is ten kinds of perfect, and I wish I could have it in a large poster size.As this was my first exposure to Wilde, even before I'd heard his name in any other context, this is the Wilde that lives in my mind, the Wilde that I think of--soft, exquisite, beautiful, and bitter. Yes, these are conventional morality stories, and yes it is a shock to those who think of Wilde as a lascivious rake (do they?), but this is as much a part of him as his infamous wit. Growing up on these stories changed my reading of Dorian Gray, if only a tiny bit. ( )
1 vote idyllwild | Jun 25, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439696, Paperback)

Fairy tales, ghost stories, detective fiction and comedies of manners - the stories collected in this volume made Oscar Wilde's name as a writer of fiction, showing breathtaking dexterity in a wide range of literary styles. Victorian moral justice is comically inverted in 'Lord Arthur Savile's Crime' and 'The Canterville Ghost', and society's materialism comes under sharp, humorous criticism in 'The Model Millionaire', while 'The Happy Prince' and 'The Nightingale and the Rose' are hauntingly melancholic in their magical evocations of selfless love. These small masterpieces convey the brilliance of Wilde's vision, exploring complex moral issues through an elegant juxtaposition of wit and sentiment.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:09 -0400)

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Fairy tales, ghost stories, detective fiction and comedies of manners - the stories collected in this volume made Oscar Wilde's name as a writer of fiction, showing skill in a range of literary styles. The stories include: 'The Canterville Ghost', 'The Model Millionaire' and 'The Happy Prince'.… (more)

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