‘The Model Millionaire’ by Oscar Wilde: Short Story Analysis
‘The Model Millionaire’ begins in Oscar Wilde’s usual witty yet thought-provoking way. Wilde has this natural ability to coin intellectually very commendable and humorous phrases which we find in all his other works as well. This story starts with the strong affirmation that it is no use being charming if one is not wealthy. When you look at it on closer perspective, it is in certain cases true. What is the use of a good personality when a person doesn’t have the money to enhance one’s latent potential? Still Wilde’s phrases are open to debate where the truth is concerned, and as Sophocles once said: “The Truth is always the strongest argument.” Mind you, Wilde ends this short story on another witticism from his repertoire of wise words which brings us to the question – what is rarer? A Millionaire model or a Model Millionaire?
In the story a charmer but penniless young man called Hughie Erskine loves a Colonel’s daughter. The daughter’s name is Laura and the Colonel has made it clear to Hughie that charm will only not do the trick; Hughie will have to earn or procure 10,000 pounds of his own and then only will he give his consent. Hughie manages to do so at his Painter friend Alan Trevor’s residence when he gives a model in beggars garb there all the money in his pocket. The beggar turns out to be one of the richest men in Europe. Irony and novelty are at the heart of this story. Oscar Wilde’s characters are always of an eccentric nature and so is Baron Hausberg, the millionaire who modeled for the nonchalant Alan Trevor as a beggar. This story and especially the last meaningful phrase in the short story categorize both the Baron as well as Hughie as ‘a model millionaire’ because the former donated money to a good cause and the latter because of compassion for a poor fellow soul in rags. Many times, in Wilde’s literature we come across this dual natured aspect of frivolous extravagance mingled with good virtues, often Christian like in nature. Hughie’s giving away of his ‘sovereign and some coppers’ from his pocket brings to mind the story of the poor woman at the temple in the Bible who did not part from her plenty but gave all she had. To Oscar Wilde, Hughie deserved the 10,000 pounds because although he was a person who looked good, was charming but had no monetary back up – he was compassionate, merciful and had a soft spot for the downtrodden. These virtues are noticed by the comic Baron who funds the money desired by the Colonel to get Hughie and Laura married. I want to point out to the character of Alan Trevor the painter at whose house the meeting of Hughie and the Baron takes place. It is odd that even in Wilde’s seminal work The Picture of Dorian Gray two very important people get acquainted with each other at, yet again, the house of a painter. Alan seems to be a very careful painter but a person who is aloof from all things emotional. The painter in The Picture of Dorian Gray is more emotionally invested in life than Alan Trevor. It is however Alan Trevor who becomes best man for the wedding and who gives the final speech which makes us analyze the phrase ‘model millionaire’ more closely. There are some other closing points in this story ‘The Model Millionaire’ which I want to draw your attention to:
- The comical illustration of the jobs of Hughie before he struck gold with the Baron. A lot of funny lines described in that paragraph, especially about a butterfly like Hughie not suitable among bulls and bears in the stock market.
- The fact that Hughie had no reverence for his father’s favorite book collection as well as his cavalry sword.
- Many Wilde witticisms dotted throughout the short story, especially the one about having a perfect profile and no profession.
- A mention that in Wilde’s time, people very often always turned out to become painters thus alluding to the carefree Alan Trevor.
I really enjoyed reading this short story and I hope you do too. It’s always a pleasure to read and review short stories, especially those that contain in themselves so much of literary wealth. For more book reviews, short story analysis and author interviews, visit my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books, then you can visit my website fizapathanpublishing.us and fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you always!
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