**Note: I wrote the majority of this review back in December of 2015, right after finishing this book. Life got in the way, however, and I never got around to finishing this post, so it has sat in my drafts until now. I want to publish this post because it seems a waste not to, as I had 90% of the review already written, however since it was long ago that I read this collection I have forgotten a majority of the last story, “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” For that reason, and because I do not think that I could accurately review that story now, it is not included in this review. All of the other stories in this collection are individually reviewed, however, and I hope you enjoy this rather delayed review of an excellent collection. 🙂
After finishing A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (which you can read my thoughts on here), I immediately went out and bought some more Hemingway, or, to be more exact, I went online and ordered The Sun Also Rises. I knew I would want to pick that up as soon as it came, so while I was waiting for it to arrive I wanted something short to read. Since I have never read any of Oscar Wilde’s short stories I thought that now would be the perfect time to start!
All charming people, I fancy, are spoiled. It is the secret of their attraction.
The original edition of Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories was published in 1891 and included four stories: “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime,” “The Canterville Ghost,” “The Sphinx Without a Secret,” and “The Model Millionaire.” Although it does not appear in early editions, a fifth story, “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” was added to the collection a few years later.
“Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime”
The collection started out very strong for me with the first story, “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime.” The main character and namesake of the story, Lord Arthur, is at a dinner party when he is introduced by Lady Windmere to Mr. Septimus R. Podgers (who wins the award for best name in the entire collection), a chiromantist. Upon having his palm read, Lord Arthur is told that he is destined to kill somebody. Lord Arthur decides that it would be better to get that rather unfortunate event out of the way with now before he marries his fiancee, so he begins to plan who he can murder without too much trouble. There is a rather humorous tone to this, as Lord Arthur has a few troubles in hatching his plans, shall we say, and the story is rather ironic overall, however there is something rather disturbing about the way the protagonist calmly plots the murder of numerous members of his own family. As always with Wilde’s work, this story is filled with memorable one-liners and witticisms, and this is tied with “The Canterville Ghost” as my favorite from the collection.
“The Canterville Ghost”
Perhaps my favorite story from the collection, “The Canterville Ghost” tells the story of an American family who move to England and buy a stately country home that also just so happens to be haunted. Despite being warned time and time again by the previous owners that the ghost has done dreadful things and horrified them to their wit’s end, the Americans buy the house anyways. All of the ghost’s attempts to scare the American family hilariously fail (at one point, the wife tries to give the ghost some indigestion pills when she hears his ‘terrifying’ moans), and the ghost becomes terribly depressed. The first half of this story, which tells of the ghost’s various attempts to scare the Americans, was phenomenal, however the ending fell a bit short for me and I thought it seemed a bit disjoint and rather flat. Overall though, this story truly demonstrated what a funny writer Wilde is and I highly recommend it. Also, bit of a side note, this story is being adapted into a new animated film set to release soon starring actors such as Freddie Highmore, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, and Imelda Staunton, so if that doesn’t make you want to read this I don’t know what will.
“The Sphinx Without A Secret”
The third story involves one Lord Murchinson telling his friend, the narrator, all about a mysterious woman whom he met and fell in love with. According to Murchinson, this woman, Lady Alroy, was very secretive about how he should contact her, and that everyday she would go alone to a boarding house and stay for hours at a time. Murchinson believed she was having an affair, however after the Lady Alroy’s’s death he went and talked to the owner of the boarding house and discovered that she just went there to sit alone for a few hours, sometimes reading, sometimes not doing anything at all. At the end of the story, Murchinson asks his friend if he believes the story, and the narrator says he believes the lady was “merely a Sphinx without a secret.” This story was much shorter than the others, only about four pages long, and doesn’t really have a plot or much substance at all. This wasn’t my favorite, however Wilde’s language was superb as always. Overall, I’m not sure the collection really benefited from the inclusion of this story. I didn’t feel that it added anything, and I think it was short enough that it could be taken out without any real consequence.
“The Model Millionaire”
The fourth story is perhaps the most endearing and optimistic out of this collection. Our main character is one Hughie Erskine, a rather hopeless individual who has fallen in love with a beautiful girl but whose father won’t let them marry until Erskine has made 10,000 pounds for himself. One day, on the way to see his beloved, he stops off at the house of his friend Alan Trevor, a painter. When Erskine arrives, Trevor is putting the final touches on a painting of a beggar-man, who is posing in the middle of the room. Feeling sorry for him, Erskine gives the beggar “a sovereign and some coppers” before he leaves, only to later find out from his friend Trevor that the “beggar” is really Baron Hausberg, one of the richest men in Europe, and he was so touched by Erskine’s kindness that he gives him 10,000 pounds so he can marry his beloved. Like “The Sphinx Without A Secret,” this story was only a couple of pages long, however I think its simple, cheerful tone was a delightful contrast to some of the other stories in this collection.
Overall, I highly enjoyed this collection of short stories. If you are looking for something fun and quite quick to get through, I think this would be the perfect book to pick up. 🙂