by Oscar Wilde
“Intended neither for the British child nor the British public.”
This anthology was printed in the same year as the complete, uncensored version of Wilde’s barely disguised homoerotic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was unleashed on a scandalised British readership to strident accusations of effeminacy and moral depravity. The critics savaged his plot in which a young man’s portrait is painted by an artist infatuated by his beauty – the protagonist making a Faustian bargain with the devil in order to ensure the picture, rather than he, will age and decline with the passing of time.
At this juncture, Wilde was living with his wife and two sons on Chelsea’s fashionable Tite Street, and regularly wrote fantasy fiction for magazines. He was a famous man about town, but also visited Paris, where he was received as a respected writer at the salons littéraires. It was in this already hectic year that he was first introduced to Lord Alfred Douglas (known as Bosie), a handsome but somewhat spoilt young fellow who famously became the older man’s lover, close companion and the catalyst to his eventual ruination.
Wilde’s short stories, which were marketed as children’s fiction, have inevitably been overshadowed by his clever and amusing plays. They are lyrically beguiling allegories, but in much the same way Grimm’s Fairy Tales could never be described as ‘happy ever after’ narratives, the tales in A House of Pomegranates tend to be pessimistic, devoid of solace and typically non judgemental. One wonders if they were in fact written with youngsters in mind.
This collection (there were three all told), is dedicated to his wife, Constance, and contains: The Young King, The Birthday of the Infanta, The Fisherman and his Soul, and The Star-Child. They are whimsical, poignant and a touch satirical – more Gothic suspense than juvenile literature – but nevertheless a real delight for this adult.
“My roses are redder than the great fans of coral that wave and wave in the ocean-cavern.”