Choice of Form in The Happy Prince Tales

One thing that I found particularly interesting about The Happy Prince stories was their similarity to fairy tales. This literary form seemed out of character for Wilde, whose works tend to cater to an educated and upper-class audience. Many of his poems, essays, and stories have the pre-requisite of being “in the know,” referencing other decadent works and making allusions to texts with which the average person would not be familiar. Additionally, some of his work comes off as classist. He treats the poor as predisposed to a certain lifestyle and favors the educated and bored wealthy as the main subjects of his work.

The Happy Prince tales took on a completely different mode of communication. They were generally straightforward stories that were easy to understand. They featured talking animals, mythical creatures, and even anthropomorphic rockets. Most seemed to contain a moral. Some even seemed to criticize the wealthy and upper class, like The Remarkable RocketThe Happy Prince, and The Devoted Friend.

While reading these stories, I wondered why Wilde would choose to write in this form. One reason could be that he was reveling in contradiction. Wilde eschews consistency for fear of becoming boring and deliberately runs from the familiar in The Happy Prince tales. The morals he presents throughout the story may be true beliefs as much as his seemingly contrasting beliefs in other stories. His use of a simple form may be an appeal to the uneducated as he makes his work more accessible. This great contrast in his work could have been appealing to Wilde’s aesthetic of difference and contradiction.

On the other hand, the stories may mean nothing at all. Wilde might be following a different belief and creating art for art’s sake, in which case the fairytales are merely beautiful. According to Wilde, art for art’s sake should lack meaning completely, voiding the morals throughout the collection of stories. 

Lastly, the stories may have been a personal challenge for Wilde, who stressed the importance of letting the genius shine by constraining them within a form. Wilde may have been challenging himself to work within the fairytale form to produce greater beauty and genius. Whatever his motive, The Happy Prince stories were an interesting break from Wilde’s usual style and revealed a range of creativity. 

One thought on “Choice of Form in The Happy Prince Tales”

  1. I had similar questions while reading The Happy Prince, and while I don’t think that we can know the answer with certainty, one potential reason resonates the most with me.
    It was briefly mentioned in class that the Happy Prince was published soon after the birth of Wilde’s children. I googled it, and the stories were published in 1888, when one of his children was three and the other was two. It makes sense to me that Wilde may have written the stories, at least initially, for his children. Although we can’t know that for sure, I think that that would explain the different style and the way in which the stories seem to target a different audience than everything else of Wilde’s that we’ve read.
    If Wilde did write those stories for his children, the next question would be why he chose to publish them. Similar to the first question, we don’t have a means of answering this question with certainty. It could be because he was a writer and publishing what he wrote was part of his job. It could be because he enjoyed the stories. It could be, as you suggested, that he reveled in inconsistency. Regardless of the reasoning, I think that these stories work well in the context of Wilde’s work as a whole because they offer a different use of language and slightly different tone. From what we’ve read of Wilde, it seems clear to me that he–like other Aesthetics–loved words and the ability of a person to create a clever turn of phrase. The Happy Prince stories seem like another version of that love–taking words and creating something unlike what you’ve done before.

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