The Nightingale And The Rose by Oscar Wilde, 1888
The magic trick:
A fairy tale that starts with sweetness and morphs into something very cynical
This is the third story I read from Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince collection. A delightful collection of tales, the dust jacket told me. Perfect for this month of children’s stories on the SSMT website, I thought.
Well, so this was the story where it first dawned on me, “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
Maybe these aren’t really kids stories at all.
Yesterday’s feature, “The Happy Prince,” starts satirical and quickly becomes sentimental. Today’s story?
Yeah not so much.
It starts with a comical tone and just when you think you’re going to get a heartwarming conclusion, Wilde drops the cynical hammer.
The ending is so mean and so misanthropic. It’s great, of course. It’s hilarious, and really great. Maybe not the best lesson for children, though.
And that’s quite a trick on Wilde’s part.
“Here indeed is the true lover,” said the Nightingale. “What I sing of, he suffers: what is joy to me, to him is pain. Surely Love is a wonderful thing. It is more precious than emeralds, and dearer than fine opals. Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the market-place. It may not be purchased of the merchants, nor can it be weighed out in the balance for gold.” “The musicians will sit in their gallery,” said the young Student, “and play upon their stringed instruments, and my love will dance to the sound of the harp and the violin. She will dance so lightly that her feet will not touch the floor, and the courtiers in their gay dresses will throng around her. But with me she will not dance, for I have no red rose to give her”; and he flung himself down on the grass, and buried his face in his hands, and wept.
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