This is turning out to be a ‘Wilde’-flavoured week for me as I came across a wonderful post by fellow book blogger Mel U over at ‘The Reading Life’ that led me to read one of Wilde’s lesser known short stories: ‘The Model Millionaire’.
She put it down as a very quick read (which is always good when you want to brush up on your favourite authors without spending too much time) and a quick read it is at only 6 pages.
First of all, ‘The Model Millionaire’ came across as a very simple version of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’. Take out the fragrant, descriptive language and the gothic horror element and you are left with a humorous observation of London society that nods in the direction of Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. The first line of the story is almost a parody of Austen’s most memorable opening passage:
WILDE: “Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic.”
AUSTEN: “IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
As Austen puts it, wealth and eligibility are absolute necessities; money being the great attractor of love. But what of the poor? Do they not deserve the right to be happily married? This Victorian frame-of-mind is indeed a problem for our poor protagonist Hughie. As a handsome chap he has everything except the lucrative mind of a business man. He has tried his hand at stock broking to being a tea merchant, but things never go his way. The only fortune he can speak of are his father’s cavalry sword, a fifteen-volume collection on the History of the Peninsular War and a meagre 200 pounds annual allowance from a deceased aunty. Hardly the kind of income to support a wife and children. Apart from a pleasant demeanour and an average IQ, these are the only things to his name.
However, Wilde shows us that a young man who is nothing but handsome must also be in need of a wife as Hughie’s love for Lucy, the General’s daughter brings him face to face with a challenge: to somehow obtain £10’000 in order for the wedding to proceed. From hereon the narrative takes a turn as themes from ‘Dorian Gray’ begin to enter the fray. Hughie’s visit to his painter friend enables him to witness a beggar modelling for a portrait. Hughie being a simple, honest chap with a good heart feels sorry for the old beggar after he learns how much he’ll get for his services and takes the opportunity to give all the money in his purse to the old man. But as things go, the old man isn’t quiet what he seems and Hughie is in for a nasty surprise when he finds out.
Again, it was good to see the Wilde touched on themes of deceiving appearances. He was a fervid believer in the term that art often imitates life. Being an aesthete he made this theme one of his signature plot devices. It’s great to see it here stripped down to its bare bones. The language is very simple for this short piece but still carries a few of Wilde’s epigrams here and there.
I give this 3/5 Stars. If you’d like to read ‘The Model Millionaire’, then I suggest the website recommended by Mel U.
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