The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, 1888
The magic trick:
A rambling fairy tale that starts with sarcasm and morphs into something sweet
If “The Happy Prince” feels like Oscar Wilde was making it up as he went along, it’s because he probably was.
It’s a rambler of a fairy tale, complete with throwaway jokes about gossipy swallows and a bird whose initial quest is to go hang out with his friends in the Egyptian tombs.
But just when you think it’s a sendup, the story gets serious and starts seriously tugging on your heartstrings. Quickly, the story goes from satire to sentimentality. It’s a jarring mashup, but ultimately one that will win you over.
And that’s quite a trick on Wilde’s part.
‘It is a ridiculous attachment,’ twittered the other Swallows, ‘she has no money, and far too many relations;’ and indeed the river was quite full of Reeds. Then, when the autumn came, they all flew away.
After they had gone he felt lonely, and began to tire of his lady-love. ‘She has no conversation,’ he said, ‘and I am afraid that she is a coquette, for she is always flirting with the wind.’ And certainly, whenever the wind blew, the Reed made the most graceful curtsies. I admit that she is domestic,’ he continued, ‘but I love travelling, and my wife, consequently, should love travelling also.’
‘Will you come away with me?’ he said finally to her; but the Reed shook her head, she was so attached to her home.
‘You have been trifling with me,’ he cried, ‘I am off to the Pyramids. Good-bye!’ and he flew away.
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