Wildeana #8


Illustration by H. Paul.

Continuing an occasional series.

Front Free Endpaper has illustrations by one H. Paul from a “talking book” adaptation of Wilde’s The Happy Prince. This was a hardcover volume published in 1948 which came with a 78rpm vinyl disc containing a recording of the story by BBC newsreader Frank Phillips. Callum found the reading on YouTube. By coincidence I discovered this week that Klaus Kinski recorded some of Wilde’s stories in 1959, German versions of The Happy Prince (again) and The Selfish Giant, and also a reading of The Young King.

Wilde is strikingly prophetic in his denunciations of what he describes here as “authoritarian socialism”.  He says again that in the present state of affairs, at least some men with the advantages of privilege manage to find themselves, to realise their potential “If the Socialism is authoritarian; if there are governments to be armed with economic power as they are now with political power; if, in a word, we are to have industrial tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first.”  At least some can have freedom now, in this state, no-one would at all. Wilde sees no virtue at all in the equitable distribution of misery.  The collectivism of compunction which existed in Soviet Russia or Mao’s China was precisely the nightmare scenario he was warning against. It seems clear though that Wilde actually thought the sheer unattractiveness of this made it unlikely. “I hardly think any Socialist, nowadays, would seriously propose that an inspector should call every morning to see that each citizen rose up and did manual labour for eight hours”.  He may have ‘hardly thought’ it, but at the same time Wilde wrote this there were plenty of socialists who had just such a vision in mind – and sadly their type were to proliferate, and in some areas to predominate. No wonder that The Soul of Man was an inspiration to many revolutionaries rebelling against the Tsars of Russia, but was later suppressed and banned by Stalin himself.

Ben Granger takes a lengthy and perceptive look at The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891), an essay of Wilde’s that seldom receives the same degree of attention as his other works.

• “As the weeks have gone by, it’s become clear to my actors that Dorian is the work of a much darker – more radical, and more modern – writer than the flippant genius we’re all so familiar with.” So says Neil Bartlett whose new stage production of The Picture of Dorian Gray is currently running at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

• A recipe for Oscar Wilde Strawberry Champagne cocktails? Yes, please.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The Oscar Wilde archive