"On the Loom of Sorrow":
Eros and Logos in Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tales
When a young child listens to a fairy tale, he or she listens with what Owen Barfield calls "original participation," a term Barfield derives from Lucien Lévy-Bruhl's concept of "participation mystique" (Barfield 30-31 and 40-45), a concept also adopted by Jung and others. Like aboriginal peoples, young children perceive differently from older children and adults whose egos have been differentiated: "in the act of perception, they are not detached, as we are, from the representations" (Barfield 31). What is perceived is of the "same nature" as the perceiver (Barfield 42). In other words, ego consciousness has not yet been fully developed for the original participator. As Erich Neumann puts it, "in every individual life, consciousness re-experiences its emergence from the unconscious in the growth of childhood" (Origins 18). Furthermore,
in the course of its ontogenetic development, the individual ego consciousness has to pass through the same archetypal stages which determined the evolution of consciousness in the life of humanity. (Origins xvi)
Such young children have no difficulty believing in mermaids or accepting that swallows, ducks, wolves, and even inanimate objects like fireworks or statues, can talk or think like human beings; for in the everyday lives of the very young the exterior world is really no different from the interior--both are alive with consciousness.1
When adults or ego-differentiated children respond deeply to a fairy tale, they respond not because they participate originally but rather because archetypal images stir something in the unconscious part of their psyches. The fairy tale, W. H. Auden says, "is a dramatic projection in symbolic images of the life of the psyche" (203). As Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz puts it: "Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes" (Introduction 1). Both Freud and Jung agree "that fairy tales and myths do not differ fundamentally from dreams and that they speak the same symbolic language" (Dieckmann 2). What is true for folk fairy tales is also true for literary fairy tales which have endured the so-called test of time. (By literary fairy tales, I mean those whose original authors we can identify.) Whatever their merits as works of art, those literary fairy tales which have endured have done so precisely because they appeal to the collective unconscious, because in writing them, their authors have, to paraphrase Jung, re-immersed themselves in a "state of participation mystique " which "is the secret of artistic creation and [. . . produces] the effect which great art has upon us, for at that level of experience it is no longer the weal or woe of the individual that counts, but the life of the collective" ("Psychology and Literature" 105).
Whatever Oscar Wilde's fairy tales reveal about his personal psychology--and they reveal much--they have endured because of their literary quality and because they continue to appeal to our collective unconscious. They show, as Robert Keith Miller suggests, "that Wilde is more complex than he looks at first glance" (90). Isobel Murray, the editor of Wilde's Complete Shorter Fiction , notes that although critics have tended to neglect Wilde's fairy tales and stories, these fairy tales and stories
have sold in their millions. They have been dramatized, made into films for cinema and television, adapted for radio and long-playing records. They have been transformed into cartoon films, made into children's opera, into ballets, into mime plays. Above all, the reading public has never ceased to demand [. . . Wilde's] stories. . . . (1)
Clearly, Wilde's fairy tales and short stories appeal to something
the collective psyche of English-speaking peoples.2 On
the literary level, I agree with Jack Zipes, who proclaims that the
of The Happy Prince and Other Tales in 1888 "signalled
advent of [. . . Wilde's] great creative period" (The Art of
The renewed interest in fairy tales in nineteenth-century England parallels the renewed interest in myth and legend. Largely discounted during the Puritan era and the Age of Enlightenment, Arthurian legend, for example, regained its popularity in the nineteenth century, a popularity that has if anything increased during our own century, which shares many of the same obstacles to a non-rational approach to human life.3 During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, children's literature was "mainly religious and instructional," and, according to Jack Zipes, one of the foremost contemporary fairy-tale scholars, "if literary fairy tales were written and published, they were transformed into didactic tales preaching hard work and pious behavior" (Victorian Fairy Tales xiv). As late as 1820, a Mrs. Sherwood of the "anti-fairy-tale school" wrote in her book The Governess, or The Little Female Academy :
Fairy-tales [. . .] are in general an improper medium of instruction because it would be absurd in such tales to introduce Christian principles as motives of action. [. . .] On this account such tales should be very sparingly used, it being extremely difficult, if not impossible, from the reason I have specified, to render them really useful. (qtd. in Zipes, Victorian Fairy Tales xvi-xvii)
However, two other authorities on fairy tales and children's
Iona and Peter Opie, note that in 1823, with the publication of Edgar
translation of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, Kinder- und
(translated as German Popular Stories ), "fairy tales became,
overnight, a respectable study for antiquarians, an inspiration for
and a permissible source of wonder for the young" (32). While the
Opies' assertion is an oversimplification (Romantic writers such as
Lamb, and Coleridge "all wrote interesting fairy tales"; and "Blake,
Keats, Byron, and Shelley helped to pave the way for the establishment
of the genre," Zipes, Victorian Fairy Tales xv), it
is true that until mid-century, the English public had to rely for its
fairy tales mainly on continental sources: France (Charles Perrault,
D'Aulnoy, and Madame Leprince de Beaumont); Denmark (Hans Christian
and Germany (the Grimm Brothers). Victorians who wrote fairy
were concerned with promoting both imagination and moral improvement in
middle-class children, as well as middle-class adults, yet many tales
also to "convey both individual and social protest and personal
of alternative, if not utopian, worlds" (ibid. xxviii-xix). From
1840 to 1880 the important fairy tale writers (such as John Ruskin and
George MacDonald) tended to use the genre "in innovative ways to raise
social consciousness about the disparities among the different social
and the problems faced by the oppressed due to the industrial
(ibid. xix). At the same time, many of these writers wanted "to
and retain childhood as a paradisiacal realm of innocence" (ibid.
These are largely conscious goals, goals which should not be
but their consideration should be augmented by an analysis of the
archetypal images and symbols the authors produced to compensate for
psychic imbalance of the age. This imbalance includes the givens
about the period: its prudishness (at least on the surface of society),
its depersonalization due to industrialization and urbanization, its
of and lack of firm belief in traditional religion due to scientific
and its work ethic--all problems we in the late twentieth century
Like our own age, the Victorian age tended to be unbalanced on the side of what Jung would call the Logos principle as opposed to Eros. Jungian psychotherapist Robert H. Hopcke sums up these concepts in terms that apply to the Victorian era as well as to our own:
Logos, Greek for 'word,' Jung termed quite appropriately the 'principle of knowledge' and described it as a principle traditionally identified with men and masculinity. Logos seeks out knowledge, analysis, clear-sightedness, light, hard edges, and well-defined spaces. Eros, on the other hand, derived from the name of the goddess Aphrodite's son, is what Jung called a 'principle of connection,' a principle traditionally identified with women and with femininity in general. Eros seeks relationship, connection, warmth, oneness, interactions of feeling, life, spontaneity, and merger. (Men's Dreams 32)
The Victorian period, perhaps more so than our own, devalued Eros, the feminine principle. While it debated the so-called "Woman Question," most middle-class women were denied the educational and career opportunities that middle-class men took for granted, as anyone who has read Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own can attest to. It is true that a woman was on the throne, D. G. Rossetti's paintings of women were popular, that women published successfully (albeit some, like George Eliot, chose to do so under a man's name)--but the feminine spirit, the Eros (not to be confused necessarily with flesh and blood women) was devalued. The spirit of the age emphasized material progress, acquisition of goods and foreign lands, exploration, intellect. In matters of emotion, a "stiff upper lip" tended to be the rule, certainly for men who ruled in government and as captains of industry.
That the archetype of the child--the puer, to use the Jungian term--should become prominent in mid-century is, therefore, not at all surprising. "Puer figures," as the eminent Jungian analyst James Hillman writes, "often have a special relationship with the Great Mother, who is in love with them as carriers of the spirit" (24-25). In its quest for and confusion over new scientific ideas, in its imperialism (despite assertions of the "white man's burden" to bring Christianity to the so-called "heathen"), in its materialism, the age had neglected the spirit and so archetypes like the Wise Old Man, the Trickster, the Great Mother, and the Puer appeared in contemporary literature to compensate for the imbalance. Not only did the puer archetype appear in fairy tales, but also in the nonsense literature of Lear and Carroll; in the novels (Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838) and Great Expectations (1861) are but two examples, as are such specifically children’s fictions as George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin (1872) and The Princess and Curdie (1883)); and in the many verses for children (some of them quite bad, some good) by such poets as Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, A. C. Swinburne, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Indeed, as Antony and Peter Miall note: "The nineteenth century saw an enormous boom in the writing and publication of children's books [. . .]" (93). Additionally, the same period witnessed the first magazines for children and the first comic strips and funny papers (ibid. 102).
Wilde as a writer of fairy tales wrote in a tradition that I have outlined above, but he wrote subversively to undermine stereotypical Victorian values. Jack Zipes notes that "Wilde was highly disturbed by the way society conditioned and punished young people if they did not conform to the proper rules. [. . .] he had always been sensitive to the authoritarian schooling and church rigidity which most English children were expected to tolerate." To Zipes, Wilde's "purpose" in writing his fairy tales was "subversion": "He clearly wanted to subvert the messages conveyed by [Hans] Andersen's tales, but more important his poetical style recalled the rhythms and language of the Bible in order to counter the stringent Christian code" (Art of Subversion 114). Moreover, Wilde unconsciously created archetypal images that compensated for contemporary psychic imbalance.
Wilde's parents were both collectors of Irish folklore, but his interest in writing fairy tales was no doubt prompted by his becoming a father. He told Richard Le Gallienne: "It is the duty of every father [. . .] to write fairy tales for his children" (qtd. in Hyde, Oscar Wilde 120). In Son of Oscar Wilde , Wilde's son, Vyvyan Holland, reports that when Wilde
grew tired of playing he would keep us [Vyvyan and the older son, Cyril] quiet by telling us fairy stories, or tales of adventure, of which he had a never-ending supply. [. . .] He told us all his own written fairy stories suitably adapted for our young minds, and a great many others as well. (53)
Indeed, Wilde was moved to tears by one of his own stories, "The Selfish Giant" (53-54). Wilde's gifts as a raconteur are legendary, and probably most of his stories he never put to paper.4 Richard Ellmann notes that "The Happy Prince" originated as a story Wilde told friends on a visit to Cambridge even before Cyril was old enough to listen. The story was "so well received by the Cambridge students that on returning to his room [. . . Wilde] wrote it down" (268). The spontaneity with which Wilde told his tales suggests that they arose at least in part from unconscious sources that even he was not aware of.
Fairy tales were not the only stories Wilde made up, though most of his short stories have elements of fantasy or fable in them--stories such as "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime," a sort of parody detective story, and "The Canterville Ghost," a comical ghost story. Christopher S. Nassaar calls these two stories fairy tales (12 and 21), but they are fairy tales only in the broadest definition of the genre, and perhaps here is a good place to discuss the term "fairy tale." The term itself apparently comes from France, from Madame d'Aulnoy's Contes des fées (1698) published in English in 1699 as Tales of the Fairys. By at least 1748 the term had appeared in print, although it probably had been in use for a much longer time (Opie 18). Fairy tales often do not contain actual fairies. They are, however, "unbelievable" and "contain an enchantment or other supernatural element that is clearly imaginary" (ibid.). Michael Patrick Hearn suggests that "a more accurate translation [of Madame d'Aulnoy] is 'tale of enchantment'" (xvii). That still does not answer the question as to why "Lord Arthur Savile's Crime" and "The Canterville Ghost" are not fairy tales and the stories in The Happy Prince and Other Tales and A House of Pomegranates (1891) arefairy tales. The answer is that the stories in these two books were meant for children or appear to be meant for children (a question I shall return to), while the other stories, even with their fantastic elements, are aimed primarily at adults. Development of character is not so important in fairy tales as is revelation of the marvelous, whether there be fairies or not. We are in a world where animals and plants and inanimate objects can talk, where children are often the protagonists, where virtually anything can happen and often does. The fact is Wilde himself called the stories in the two volumes fairy tales (More Letters 73 and 100), whereas the others he referred to as "stories," both in a letter (ibid. 98) and in the title of the volume they appear in: Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and Other Stories (1891). While a case can be made for calling these stories fairy tales, to do so broadens the definition of the genre more than I care to here.
As to whether Wilde's fairy tales were written for children, Wilde wrote to G. H. Kersley (June 1888) that The Happy Prince and Other Tales are "meant partly for children, and partly for those who have kept the childlike faculties of wonder and joy, and who find in simplicity a subtle strangeness" (Letters 219). Later (January 1889) Wilde sent what he called his "fairy tales" to Amelie Rives Chanler, an American novelist, playwright, and poet, telling her the tales are "written, not for children, but for childlike people from eighteen to eighty!" (ibid. 237). In writing A House of Pomegranates, on the other hand, Wilde declared in a letter to the editor of the Pall Mall Gazette (December 1891): "I had about as much intention of pleasing the British child as I had of pleasing the British public" (ibid. 302). Wilde here assumes a typical pose--his persona as the artist standing aloof from the philistine public. Taken together, Wilde's act of telling and reading the stories to his own children and his recorded comments make clear the obvious: the tales are for both children and adults. Their continuing popularity attests to this fact, although the many children's editions often abridge the text, removing such passages as authorial comments not necessary to propel the story. As C. S. Lewis has said of fairy tales: "Many children don't like them and many adults do" (qtd. by Tatar 21). In her book about the Grimms' Fairy Tales, Maria Tatar writes: "No age group has ever had an uncontested monopoly on fairy tales" (21-22). Because fairy tales contain archetypes from the collective unconscious in their most accessible forms, they can and do appeal to all age groups.
Fig. 1, "The Happy Prince," by Walter Crane,
from a 1910 reprint of the 1888 first edition of
The Happy Prince And Other Tales.
"The Happy Prince" is one of Wilde's better known and more popular fairy tales. The Happy Prince is actually the golden statue of a prince of the city who, the story implies, had died young (see Fig. 1). Not until he views the inhabitants of his city from his elevated height does he realize the suffering of his former subjects. With the help of a Swallow, late for his annual migration to Egypt because of an ineffectual dalliance with a Reed, the Prince sets about helping the victims of the social system. The first person he helps is the sick son of a seamstress who is embroidering a beautiful gown for one of the Queen's maids-of-honor (Wilde here anticipates the similarly suffering weavers of the king's robe in "The Young King"). He has the Swallow bring the boy the ruby from his sword. Though the weather is cold, the Swallow remarks on how "curious" it is that he feels "quite warm." Here the Prince assumes the role of senex--an older teacher or mentor--to the Swallow's puer. The Prince replies: "'That is because you have done a good action'" (Wilde, Complete Shorter Fiction 98-99; all references to the fairy tales are to this edition). Chronologically, the Prince, as a human who's been made into a work of art, would have to be older than the bird, who is apparently of courting age. More important, the Prince symbolizes an attitude, or rather two attitudes or approaches to the personal and social problems of the late Victorian era. While alive, as a sheltered young man, a puer, he symbolizes the ignorance and laissez faire attitude of the upper class toward the less fortunate. Through the archetype of transformation, he changes into a self-sacrificing martyr who literally gives his life for the suffering poor. Moreover, as Prince he is a supraordinate personality, symbolic of the Self or the potential for Selfhood--the wholeness of the healthy psyche, so that in him we have a constellation of archetypes. He is by the end of the story both puer and senex combined into a complete whole--the Self.
The Prince helps out a struggling playwright by sacrificing one of his eyes, which "are made of rare sapphires" (100). The second eye goes, by means of the reluctant Swallow, to a "little match-girl" (101) whose matches have fallen into the gutter and been ruined. The Swallow, now quite emotionally attached to the Prince, promises to stay with him because he is blind. He thus sacrifices himself as has the Prince. His relationship with the Prince is an example of male bonding and development of the Eros principle of relatedness and connection which I cited earlier. This relationship is far more important and meaningful to him than his flirtation with the Reed who, the other swallows had "twittered," had "no money, and far too many relations" (96). It is an example of the power of agape, a kind of love Wilde is not often associated with. The Swallow is no longer the "natural and capricious egotist" one critic has called him (Shewan 40).
So far we have the typical fairy tale pattern of things happening in threes. Marie-Louise von Franz, perhaps the foremost Jungian authority on fairy tales, writes: "You will always read that the number three plays a big role in fairy tales, but when I count it is generally four. [. . .]" And this is exactly what we have in "The Happy Prince": three parallel steps and what von Franz calls a "finale" (Introduction 64). Here it is the Swallow's distribution of the gold leaves that cover the statue of the Prince to the starving and otherwise suffering poor of the city, for, as the Prince tells the Swallow, again playing the role of senex, "more marvelous than anything is the suffering of men and women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery" (101). When the Swallow dies, the Prince's leaden heart breaks in two--and it is the only part of him that cannot be melted down so that the arrogant Mayor and Town Councillors can use the lead for statues of themselves. The fourth step has indeed led to the "new dimension" von Franz speaks of (Introduction 65)--the Prince and the Swallow are united in heaven as "the two most precious things in the city," that God has asked his angels to bring to him. The two males are united, despite their obvious surface differences, as senex and puer. (Wilde could easily have made the swallow a female, as she is in the Greek myth of Procne and Philomela.) What unites them is the Eros principle--a surpassing love of each other and loving service to others. As Hillman says of the senex, "the death which it brings is not only bio-physical. It is the death that comes through perfection and order. It is the death of accomplishment and fulfillment [. . .]" (18).
H. Montgomery Hyde notes: "It has been suggested that the Swallow's yearning for Egypt was openly based on a poem by Théophile Gautier, where the swallows nest in the Temple of Baalbec and at the Second Cataract of the Nile" (Plays, Prose and Poems 107, n. 4). This suggestion accords with J. E. Cirlot's comment about the swallow: "A bird sacred to Isis and Venus. [. . .]" The Swallow, as I have suggested is a kind of puer and hence is associated with the Great Mother, seen here in two manifestations: the mother goddess of Egypt and the Roman goddess of love. Cirlot also says the swallow is "an allegory of spring" (322). The irony, of course, is that both the Prince and the Swallow die in winter. The Happy Prince himself as a supraordinate personality is symbolic of the Self--psychic wholeness. But he does not achieve Selfhood until he has been united and elevated to heaven with the swallow.
Although "The Happy Prince" began as a story Wilde told to students at Cambridge, the published version contains a reference to "Charity Children" (95). These are, according to Hyde, "foundlings and orphans" (Plays, Prose and Poems 105). The story also refers to "two little boys [. . .] lying in one another's arms to try and keep themselves warm" beneath a bridge. They are hungry and chased out into the rain by a "Watchman" (102). Here Wilde shows a concern for issues he would discuss in "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" (1891). He wrote during a time when a large number of children were homeless and forced to do adult work. The authors of Oscar Wilde's London describe conditions in London's East End:
The degradations, and above all the overcrowding, of the East End slums led to indiscriminate sexuality, incest, and child abuse. Constantly fighting for their existence and inured to pain and brutality, a shockingly large number of women and even children became night house tarts, courtesans, sailors' whores, dolly-mops (promiscuous servant girls), synthetic virgins (whose hymens were repaired), and catamites (boy prostitutes). [. . .]
Furthermore, "London suffered worse working and housing conditions
other British cities, largely because its workers had few, if any,
unions" (von Eckardt 131). With his match-girl and his allusions
to "the old Jews bargaining with each other" in the Ghetto and "the
house," where the sick boy who receives the Happy Prince's first
dwells (98), Wilde must have had London in mind as the setting for his
story, for the descriptions match those of contemporary London.5
All we know, however, is that the Happy Prince stands above a "great
(101) somewhere "in the north of Europe" (96) and that he had lived in
Sans-Souci, the name of Frederick the Great's palace at Potsdam, an
allusion to the Prince's previous carefree life and perhaps a hint
like Frederick the Great, the Prince may be homosexual, which could be
the foundation for his Platonic relationship with the Swallow.6
It is typical of fairy tales not to identify their specific locales:
makes them more universal and more easy to identify with. In any
case, Wilde is portraying the shadow side of contemporary
misery and propensity for evil, its sadistic materialism.
also have negative aspects of the puer--its lack of strength, wisdom,
status which make the child vulnerable to all kinds of
The story demonstrates that these negative aspects can be overcome
charity and the archetype of love, and specifically that these very
and love--can bind two males into a transcendent achievement of
The wider implications for the age are that it needs these very
Wilde portrays in the Prince and the Swallow.
The second fairy tale in The Happy Prince and Other Tales, "The Nightingale and the Rose," Rodney Shewan has called "Wilde's succinctest piece of social criticism" (44). Shewan notes the influences of Tennyson's "Now sleeps the crimson petal," the Song of Solomon , and Wilde's own poem, "The Burden of Itys." He also demonstrates similarities to Wilde's Salomé: how the opening passages of both tale and play are "pregnant with irony and expressive of the same themes: misplaced romantic passion and its tragic incommunicability" (45). Also influencing the poem, as Murray shows, is "a medieval legend, that the nightingale is afraid of snakes and so keeps awake at night by pressing against a thorn: it then sings mournfully because of the pain." Additionally, Wilde employs "the ancient Persian myth of the love of the nightingale for the rose," recounted in Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh (1817; Murray 267, n. l). On the most basic level, the rose symbolizes Eros in the sense of erotic love (See von Franz, The Feminine in Fairy Tales 133). However, as we shall see, the rose's symbolism is far more complex.
The plot is easy to summarize. A young Student is infatuated by the daughter of a Professor. She promises to dance with him till dawn at the Prince's ball if the Student will bring her a red rose. But in his garden there are no red roses. The Nightingale, who night after night romantically sings of such love as she believes she now sees demonstrated, is moved to provide the red rose so as to facilitate the love between the Student and the young woman. Whereas the Prince in the previous story had spoken of the Mystery of Misery, the Nightingale here is struck by "the mystery of Love" (105). Following the typical pattern of threes, she goes to three rose trees asking for a red rose. The first bares only white roses, the second only yellow ones. The third is indeed a red rose tree, but because of a harsh winter cannot bare any roses. The "finale," to use von Franz's term, is the method by which the bird can obtain the red rose. The Tree tells her:
"If you want a red rose [. . .] you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart's blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine." (106)
The sexual, vampiric imagery is obvious, and critics have noted the romantic connection between love and death (Keats is a likely influence here as is Swinburne, whose Tristram of Lyonesse had just appeared in 1882).
Wilde himself commented in a letter to Thomas Hutchinson (May 1888):
The nightingale is the true lover, if there is one. She, at least, is Romance, and the Student and the girl are, like most of us, unworthy of Romance. So, at least, it seems to me, but I like to fancy that there may be many meanings in the tale, for in writing it I did not start with an idea and clothe it in form, but began with a form and strove to make it beautiful enough to have many secrets and many answers. (Letters 218)
As a literary artist, Wilde himself combines the Logos, the conscious ordering of his work, with Eros; for the "creative process," Jung says, "has a feminine quality, and the creative work arises from unconscious depths--we might truly say from the realm of the Mothers" ("Psychology and Literature" 103). Among the "many meanings" in "The Nightingale and the Rose" are the archetypal motifs and conflicts. As in "The Happy Prince," we have here the conflict between the "masculine" Logos and the "feminine" Eros. Jung writes: "Far too little attention has been paid to the fact that, for all our irreligiousness, the distinguishing mark of the Christian epoch, its highest achievement, has become the congenital vice of our age: the supremacy of the word , of the Logos [. . .]" (The Essential Jung 385, italics Jung's). Even though, unlike other of Wilde's tales, Wilde avoids explicit Christian iconography in "The Nightingale and the Rose," Jung's comments apply to the tale: "The word has literally become our god [. . .] even if we know of Christianity only from hearsay. Words like 'Society' and 'State' are so concretized that they are almost personified" (Ibid.). Here Jung might have been writing about the previous tale (except that society and the state are shown there only in their negative aspects). In "The Nightingale and the Rose," however, the Word is deified in "Logic," "Philosophy," and "Metaphysics," whose study the Student returns to after his rejection by the daughter of the Professor (an appropriate occupation in this context) and in his discarding of the red rose the Nightingale had provided. The Student's one-sided preference for Logos over Eros is clear from the moment he first sees the rose. "It is so beautiful," he says, "that I am sure it has a long Latin name" (109).
The Student, the young woman, and their society are all one-sided psychically. They have devalued the "capacity to relate" (Jung, Mysterium Coniunctionis 179) offered in the archetypal principle of Eros, here symbolized by both the Nightingale and the rose. In De Profundis Wilde was to write: "every work of art is the conversion of an idea into an image" (Letters 481). Moreover, Jung says: "Images are life"; and he declares: "Logos and Eros are intellectually formulated intuitive equivalents of the archetypal images of Sol and Luna. [. . .] The use of these images requires [. . .] an alert and lively fantasy, and this is not an attribute of those who are inclined by temperament to purely intellectual concepts" (Mysterium Coniunctionis 180). The Student and the young woman are similar to those Jung writes about. The Student desecrates the rose by throwing it into the street, where it falls into the gutter and gets run over by a cartwheel. The woman rejects the rose because it won't go with her dress--she is a sort of negative female dandy, concerned only with appearances and status.
Jung refers to "the lunar nature of feminine consciousness" (ibid.), an idea explored at great length and with much insight in Woman's Mysteries: Ancient and Modern, by Jungian analyst M. Esther Harding. As in Salomé , the events in this tale take place under the moon, here a "cold crystal Moon" (Complete Shorter Fiction 107). What is needed for wholeness, for the Student and the young woman as well as for the late Victorian age, is balance: an honoring of the "feminine" principle symbolized by what Jung calls Eros or Luna--relatedness and the archetype of love, here romantic love.
In her book, Animus and Anima, Emma Jung relates a dream in which a girl "has a ghostly lover who lives in the moon, and who comes regularly in the shallop of the new moon to receive a blood sacrifice which she has to make to him." Her sacrifice "transforms the moon-spirit, so that he himself becomes a sacrificial vessel, which consumes itself but is again renewed. [. . .]" Emma Jung interprets this blood of sacrifice as "psychic energy," which breaks "the spell of the moon-bridegroom." And she compares this dream and the fairy tale of "Bluebeard" to the ancient rites of Dionysus, in which "living animals were sacrificed or torn to pieces by the raving maenads in their wild and god-inflicted madness" (33-34). Arthur Evans, in his book on Dionysus, shows how the Western devaluation of the cult of the bisexual Dionysus with his female followers parallels the patriarchal devaluation of women and homosexuals. Characteristic of this devaluation is a lack of what Barfield calls original participation and hence a devaluation of nature itself. This started as early as the fourth century B.C. when, according to Evans:
Not only was there a sharp distinction between animal, human, and god, but the human experience itself was becoming fragmented. The "nobler" or "better" or "higher" part of human beings was increasingly identified with reason, or rather with abstract, discursive reason. Feelings and passions, especially sexual passions, tended to be associated with animal behavior, that is, with a type of being now considered distinct from and inferior to humans. (50)
Generally speaking, and without using the Jungian terms, Evans is describing the Logos/Eros division of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is a central archetypal concern of Wilde's fairy tales. Promising to provide the red rose "out of music by moonlight" and to "stain it with my own heart's-blood," the Nightingale asks of the Student only that he "will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty." But the Student cannot understand what the Nightingale says, "for he only knew the things that are written down in books" (WIlde, Complete Shorter Fiction 106-107). In the vernacular, he has too much "head" knowledge and almost no "heart" knowledge.
Barbara Seward is dead wrong when she dismisses "The Nightingale and the Rose" as "a simple allegory of the destruction of love and beauty by a materialistic civilization," although she observes that Wilde uses the Persian legend in which "the nightingale fell in love with the white rose and sang to it until he collapsed exhausted on its thorns, thereby staining it red with his life's blood" (84). The rose Seward refers to and Wilde's rose are in fact symbols of wholeness, of the androgynous union of opposites Jung calls the Self (See Zolla 53 on the white and red roses in alchemy): male and female (the rose tree with its phallic thorn is a male, the nightingale a female), the pale rose that becomes passionately, beautifully red, the Logos and the Eros. Wilde is right that the only lover is the Nightingale. The wholeness it achieves is symbolized by the discarded, devalued rose. In the end, the Student and the young woman reject the wholeness offered by that symbol.
Fig. 2, "The Selfish Giant," by Walter Crane,
from a 1910 reprint of the 1888 first edition of
The Happy Prince And Other Tales.
Wilde's mentor, Walter Pater, praised "The Selfish Giant" as "perfect in its kind" (qtd. in Wilde, Letters 219, n. 1). As we have seen, the story could move Wilde himself to tears, so that it must have sprung from deep personal as well as collective sources. "The Selfish Giant" is the simplest of Wilde's fairy tales and the first to exploit Wilde's favorite religious symbol: Christ (see Fig. 2). The Giant has a lovely garden, with "twelve peach-trees" and birds that sing "so sweetly [ . . .] the children used to stop their games in order to listen to them," exclaiming how happy they are in the garden (101). After seven years of visiting the Cornish ogre until his "limited" conversation ran out, the Giant returns and selfishly expels the children from his garden and builds a wall around it. As if in punishment for his actions, winter descends perpetually on the Giant's garden. Music, also a motif in "The Nightingale and the Rose," heralds the return of spring to the garden when the children return through a hole in the wall.
As he observes the fun the children are having, the Giant has a change of heart and feels contrite about his former selfishness. Only in one corner of the garden is it still winter. That is because a little boy in the corner can't climb the Tree that beckons, "Climb up! little boy" (112). The Giant gently puts the boy into the tree, which immediately blooms and attracts birds to its branches. The grateful boy hugs the Giant around the neck and kisses him. The children, who had fled upon sight of the Giant, return when the Giant beckons to them: "It is your garden now, little children" (112). And he knocks the wall down. However, that is the last he sees of the little boy, his favorite, until the boy returns years later as Christ, with the stigmata, "the wounds of Love." Echoing Christ's words on the cross to the thief, the boy tells the Giant: "to-day you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise." Later the children find the Giant "lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms" (14).
Obviously we have here again the archetype of transformation, a frequent archetype in fairy tales. We have also elements of the Hades-Persephone- Demeter myth. The garden, according to Jung, is a feminine symbol (Psychology and Alchemy 72), which, by his selfishness the Giant has devalued, rejecting the Eros principle of warmth, connection, relatedness. Just as the earth is left barren and uncared for after Hades abducts Persephone and takes her to the Underworld while her mother Demeter, vegetation goddess, grieves and searches for her, so does the Giant's garden remain under snow and hail as long as the Giant refuses his hospitality to the children.
The Giant's redemption is sealed, however, not by relating specifically to a female figure, but rather by his tenderness toward the boy.7 At first glance, the boy might seem to be a puer and the Giant, since he is so much older and more powerful, a senex. Yet the boy functions more as the unconscious teacher for the Giant. He functions as the anima would function, introducing the Giant to previously unconscious dimensions of his psyche--generosity, relatedness with other people, and, most important, love. Until recently the anima has always been considered the feminine side of a man's psyche in Jungian thought and been symbolized by a female. However, as Hopcke shows, this concept comes out of Jung's patriarchal, heterosexual frame of reference where women are made to carry the burden of all the so-called feminine attributes such as the Eros principle and relationship to the unconscious. As Hopcke writes:
patriarchal masculinity is never made whole if femininity is located somewhere outside of a man's basic masculine identity, in the Others of men's external lives, their wives, mothers, and sisters, or in the Others of men's dreams and fantasies, the female figure or psychological constructs of femininity such as the anima. (Men's Dreams 96)
Interestingly, Hopcke writes here in the context of a discussion of the Hades-Persephone-Demeter myth. Hades, he notes, never changes in this patriarchal myth. Demeter, given Demophoon by his mother Metaneira in order to compensate Demeter for her loss of her daughter Persephone, fails in her attempt to grant Demophoon immortality. "The goddess," says Hopcke, "cannot save masculinity from itself within a patriarchal context [. . .]" (Men's Dreams 97). Hopcke posits the possibility of a "male anima" who functions exactly as the anima has always functioned, as "guide to the unconscious and to relatedness with others," and who, again like the traditional anima, is "a figure of often enormous erotic charge, all too frequently idealized and projected out onto a man's object of love" (122).
Jungian analyst John Beebe makes a distinction between the function of the anima and the anima figure, which, he says, is "usually female, even for homosexual men" (101). He stresses the anima more as the archetype of life than of love, declaring: "the job of the anima is better conceived as one of opening up the man's inner depths to himself, and if these depths are homosexual, the anima engagement will make him more homosexual, not less" (100, italics Beebe's). Beebe proceeds to show how a male figure in the film Kiss of the Spider Woman functions as the anima (101-102). "Women," Beebe concludes, "are touched by signs that men are beginning to understand the feminine principle of eros ; that they are using their male relationships as a place to incubate a consciousness of their capacity for relatedness" (102, italics Beebe's). The females in Wilde's fairy tales do not always appear as positive figures, but the Eros principle is honored and shown to be needed. Wilde, as a homosexual man, was able unconsciously to portray the need for psychic wholeness in non-patriarchal ways.8 If feminine characters seem devalued in the tales, the feminine principle of Eros is not. In Wilde's crowning achievement, The Importance of Being Earnest, both male and female figures discover the need for connection and relatedness in a plot where patriarchal values are subverted.
In his psychotherapeutic work, Hopcke finds
the male anima appearing frequently, especially in the dreams and
of gay men. That the anima should take the form of a male in a
tale created by Wilde, a gay man, is not therefore surprising.9
That the boy is an image of the male anima does not, however, preclude
his being images of other archetypes as well. As the child
he adumbrates psychic growth for the Giant--and the readers of the tale
as well. Furthermore, as a Christ figure, he symbolizes the
Jung called the Self (See Jung, Aion Chap. 5), a
the Giant does not achieve fully until the end of the story when he is
reunited with the boy who bares the "wounds of Love."10
Once again, Wilde portrays the archetype of love, this time in a
light and in the form of agape with underlying homoerotic implications.
Wilde's vision becomes extremely dark in the fourth of the five stories in The Happy Prince and other Tales. Biographically, the story is about betrayal, as Ellmann points out. Wilde "had experienced betrayal at the hands of [. . . James McNeill] Whistler [and several others], and he obliquely portrayed his sense of being wronged in the ironical story 'The Devoted Friend'" (295). In no other story is the division between Eros and Logos more stark than in "The Devoted Friend." The story is framed by a little story about animals around a pond. Perhaps inspired by Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling," Wilde has a mother duck attempting to instruct her children how to stand on their heads so that they can be in the "best society." When they ignore her, the "old Water-rat" (who has never married), having just emerged from his hole, declares the disobedient children "really deserve to be drowned." Offering another view of parenthood, the mother insists, "every one must make a beginning, and parents cannot be too patient." The Water-rat replies that, being unmarried, he knows "nothing about the feelings of parents. [. . .]" Furthermore, he never intends to marry: "Love is all very well in its way, but friendship is much higher." When he announces that his idea of a devoted friendship is one in which the friend is devoted to him, the Green Linnet tells a "story on the subject" (115).
He proceeds to tell the story of "The Devoted Friend." The story is about little Hans and a rich man called Hugh the Miller. Murray suggests Hans's name might be "a gentle mockery of Andersen," but a glance at the titles of the Grimm fairy tales will demonstrate also that Hans is a common name for heroes of fairy tales. I agree with Murray that "both Water-rat and Miller are early examples of Wilde's favourite villain, the complete egotist" (Complete Shorter Fiction 11), of which Whistler is an example from Wilde's own experience.
The inequality in the relationship between Hans and Hugh is so extreme that it is hard to sympathize with the Hans, the character with the "kind heart" (Wilde, Complete Shorter Fiction 116). The Miller exploits Hans in every imaginable way: he takes flowers from Hans's beautiful garden when Hans desperately needs to sell them; he makes Hans work for him, thus forcing him to neglect his garden; he indirectly causes Hans's death by sending him out in a terrible storm without a lantern to save his, the Miller's, little son. Hans loses his way and drowns in "a great pool of water" (124). The Miller, as Hans's "best friend," insists on heading the procession at Hans's funeral. (Here the story is prophetic. One cannot help but think of Lord Alfred Douglas, who in many ways betrayed the ever-devoted Wilde, becoming, as Ellmann says, "chief mourner" at Wilde's funeral, Oscar Wilde 584.) Enjoying spiced wine and sweet cakes in the inn after the funeral with Hans's admirers, the Miller laments with pompous exaggeration: "One always suffers for being generous" (125). In fact, his generosity consisted only in the promise of giving Hans a broken wheelbarrow, plus empty advice on friendship and an occasional inquiry as to what he's been up to. The Water-rat is annoyed that the Linnet neither knows nor cares about what became of the Miller, with whom the rat naturally enough identifies. Moreover, the Water-rat is even more annoyed to discover the tale has a moral. Like the literary critic he had earlier alluded to, he says "Pooh" and hastens back into his hole.
Although again the principles of Eros and Logos are embodied in male characters, the division between the two is graphic. Hans tends a garden, a feminine symbol, as we have seen. He has a "kind heart" and is generous to a fault to his friend. He has too much Eros and virtually no Logos to balance him psychologically. The Miller, on the other hand, is unbalanced on the side of Logos. He symbolizes the extreme defects of patriarchy, and in this way symbolizes the collective shadow von Franz writes about in her book Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (7-10). He browbeats his youngest son, a puer who still has enough of Eros that, during the winter when Hans can barely get by, he would give Hans "half my porridge, and show him my white rabbits." The father berates the boy for being "silly," learning nothing at school, and failing to understand that if Hans saw how warm and comfortable they were, "he might get envious, and envy is a most terrible thing, and would spoil anybody's nature. I certainly will not allow Hans's nature to be spoiled." Unbalanced herself on the Logos side, the Miller's Wife concurs. "'How well you talk!" she says as she pours herself "a large glass of warm ale; 'really I feel quite drowsy. It is just like being in church'" (117). Clearly the church does nothing to create balance between Logos and Eros. In fact, by supporting the patriarchal system, it perpetuates the imbalance.
The Water-rat, too, although associated with water, a feminine symbol, is masculine--a phallus-like creature who goes in and out of his hole. A "confirmed bachelor" (125), he has no understanding of relatedness or generosity. That Hans dies by drowning in water is appropriate, for he has become overwhelmed by his one-sided devotion to the Eros principle. He needs some reason to understand the wretched way the Miller has been treating him. The Miller's use of the Word comes in the form of preaching to Hans: "Anyone can say charming things and try to please and to flatter, but a true friend always says unpleasant things, and does not mind giving pain. Indeed, if he is a really true friend he prefers it, for he knows that then he is doing good." This comes after an admonition to Hans to get out of bed ("Idleness is a great sin. [. . .]" ). Hans is exhausted because he had worked for the Miller all the previous day without any recompense save the promise of the broken wheelbarrow (121).
The end of"The Devoted Friend" is not the kind we expect from a fairy tale where the hero is rewarded, and I agree with Murray that "the comic frame saves the story" (11). The mother duck expresses sympathy for the Water-rat:
"I can never look at a confirmed bachelor without the tears coming into
"I am rather afraid that I have annoyed him," answered the Linnet. "The fact is, that I told him a story with a moral."
"Ah! that is always a very dangerous thing to do," said the Duck.
The narrator, presumably Wilde himself, adds: "And I quite agree
her" (125). As he does in all of his tales, Wilde here violates
own dictum, articulated in the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray:
"All art is quite useless" (Wilde, Plays, Prose and Poems
138), if, that is, we take stories with moral implications as
Because he is a bird, the Linnet symbolizes the spirit, perhaps the
of spirit symbolized in the Miller's youngest son, who would be kind
generous to Hans were it not for his father. The puer and the
are carriers of the spirit, representatives, as it were, of the Great
and the Eros principle--exactly what is needed for balance in the
world of this particular fairy tale and in the society for which it was
"The Remarkable Rocket," the final tale in The Happy Prince and other Tales, is the most comical. Here the egotistic protagonist, the Rocket of the title, unlike the Miller in the previous tale, gets what he deserves. Ellmann suggests "The Remarkable Rocket," like "The Devoted Friend," may have been inspired by Wilde's falling out with Whistler. Calling "The Remarkable Rocket" "an exploration of vanity," he writes:
Wilde, though often accused of vanity, did not approve
of it. The vainest man he knew was Whistler, who called himself,
with a pretense of jocularity, "the amazing one." [. . .] The
of Whistler with rockets went back to the vernissage of the Grosvenor
in 1877, where Wilde had seen (his review said) "a rocket of
rim, with green and red fires bursting in a perfectly blank sky," and
rocket "breaking in a pale blue sky" (see fig. 3). Eight years
he had written of the "fireworks" in Whistler's prose and painting
Fig. 3. James McNeill Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold:
The Falling Rocket (1875). This, no doubt, is the painting
Wilde refers to above and that he was thinking of when he
wrote "The Remarkable Rocket."
Ellmann comments further: "Now the 'remarkable' rocket, with all its fizzing, is a dud" (295-296). Continuing in this vein, Hyde remarks that the story "parodies such themes as egotism, self-fulfilment and the Romantic imagination, since the rocket believes in 'the immense inferiority of everybody else' to himself" (Plays, Prose and Poems 117).
Fig. 4, "The Remarkable Rocket," by Walter Crane,
from a 1910 reprint of the 1888 first edition of
The Happy Prince And Other Tales.
"The Remarkable Rocket" begins with an image of wholeness: the arrival of a "Russian Princess" and her marriage to the "King's son," who, like the boy in the Grimm fairy tale, "Iron Hans," has hair "like fine gold" (126). The story then focuses on the fireworks that are to go off at the end of the elaborate wedding ball. Auden, comparing the personification of inanimate objects in a Grimm tale to the same in an Andersen tale, writes about the latter: "Here the action is subordinate to the actors, providing them with a suitable occasion to display their characters which are individual [. . .] human beings have been transmuted into inanimate objects in order that they may be judged without prejudice [. . .]" (207). Auden's comments about Andersen's "The Darning Needle" apply equally to Wilde's tale, whose Rocket has an egotism even greater than that of Andersen's Needle. We have a Catharine Wheel who declares, "Romance is dead," and repeats the phrase over and over because "she was one of those people who think that, if you say the same thing over and over a great many times, it becomes true in the end" (128). If love is a theme in this tale, it is the self-love of the Rocket. When he is interrupted in his attempt to dominate the conversation, he forgets what he had been talking about. The Roman Candle reminds him: "You were talking about yourself." "Of course," he replies, "I knew I was discussing some interesting subject when I was so rudely interrupted. I hate rudeness and bad manners of every kind, for I am extremely sensitive. No one in the whole world is so sensitive as I am, I am quite sure of that" (129).
Before the interruption, the Rocket had been boasting of his ancestry. His mother "was the most celebrated Catharine Wheel of her day," and his father "a Rocket like myself," who when he was fired off "made a most brilliant descent in a shower of golden rain," rather like Zeus descending on Danaë. The resemblance to the patriarchal god Zeus is important because the Rocket symbolizes patriarchy at its self-destructive worst. When the Fire-balloon warns him that he must keep himself dry, the power-driven Rocket deliberately bursts into tears, thereby destroying his ability to perform. Here Wilde cannot resist a dig at overly sentimental romantics. He has the Catharine Wheel exclaim: "He must have a truly romantic nature [. . .] for he weeps when there is nothing at all to weep about" (131). (In De Profundis Wilde was to define a sentimentalist as "simply one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it," Letters 501.)
Unable to perform at the end of the ball, the Rocket rationalizes: "'I suppose they are reserving me for some grand occasion,' [. . .] and he looked more supercilious than ever" (132). Instead, the next day a workman discovers him and throws him over a wall into a ditch, where he sinks ever deeper into the mud. There he encounters a Frog who is as self-centered as he, dominating the conversation because he, like the Rocket, prefers to do "all the talking" himself: "It saves time, and prevents arguments." "But I like arguments," says the Rocket. Despite all contrary evidence, the Rocket believes he has been put where he is "to recruit" his "health" (133) and that "the Prince and Princess were married yesterday in my honour." The Rocket now encounters a Dragon-fly, and their conversation resembles the nonsense of Edward Lear or, more especially, Lewis Carroll. The Dragon-fly tells the Rocket there's no good talking to the Frog: "no good at all, for he has gone away."
"Well, that is his loss, not mine," answered the
"I am not going to stop talking to him merely because he pays no
I like hearing myself talk. It is one of my greatest
I often have long conversations all by myself, and I am so clever
that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am
"Then you should certainly lecture on Philosophy," said the Dragon-fly. . . . (134)
After a conversation with a tolerant and generous female Duck (the
true embodiment of the Eros principle in the tale), whom the Rocket
as an animal with "a decidedly middle-class mind," two young boys come
along. In his conceit, the Rocket believes they must be the
"deputation," come to collect him. Instead, one of them remarks
"this old stick" (which, typically, the Rocket hears as "Gold
They place the stick with the rest of their "faggots" and light them,
order to boil some water. While waiting for the water to boil,
boys fall asleep, the Rocket is heated sufficiently to go off and does,
to the enjoyment of no one, for nobody is awake to see him (see Fig.
His send off is worth quoting, for it illustrates how the Rocket is a symbolic phallus:
"Now I am going off!" he cried, and he made himself
stiff and straight. "I know I shall go much higher than the
much higher than the moon, much higher than the sun. In fact, I shall go so high that ---"
Fizz! Fizz! Fizz! and he went straight up into the air.
"Delightful!" he cried. "I shall go on like this for ever. What a success I am!"
But nobody saw him.
Then he began to feel a curious tingling sensation all over him.
"Now I am going to explode," he cried. "I shall set the whole world on fire, and make such a noise, that nobody will
talk about anything else for a whole year." And he certainly did explode. Bang! Bang! Bang! went the gunpowder. There
was no doubt about it. (136-137)
However, as I have said, nobody sees or hears him. He drops down, hitting a Goose on the back. "'I knew I should create a great sensation,'" gasped the Rocket, and he went out" (137).
Deluded to the last, the Rocket symbolizes what Jungian analyst Eugene Monick calls the "solar phallic shadow" (103). "Solar phallos," Monick writes, "is in fact word, logos[. . .] which in Jung's thinking is the substance of masculinity" (102). Further, "the patronizing attitude is a clear indication of shadow solar phallos. [. . .] Rather than make the younger or weaker person more comfortable, he transfers his own past humiliations on to the other, exactly what Jung meant by projection" (103). While in fact the Rocket is hardly stronger than anyone else in the tale, he is a victim of psychic inflation--he is possessed by the phallus as "God-image" (See Monick 13-20). When this kind of inflation occurs, "Feminine relatedness must take a back seat on the bus" (Monick 104). What is needed is to confront the shadow side of phallus: "Admitting weakness paradoxically brings strength." Furthermore,
A modicum of humility does not destroy the effectiveness of phallos. A most bizarre and pitiful figure is that of Priapus, the Roman god whose enormous erection will not go away. Men who resist serious reflection on the pomposity and inflation ofpatriarchal assumptionsofsupremacy are priapic psychologically. Their vaunted psychological erections, never relaxed, make them a laughing stock . (106, italics mine)
Wilde's Remarkable Rocket is a phallic symbol in its most ludicrous aspect, as representative of some of the worse traits in the patriarchal male. He has none of the Eros capacity for relatedness and connection. Totally self-absorbed, he projects his defects onto others, much like the judge and prosecutors at Wilde's trials were to do. More than he himself was aware, Wilde criticized contemporary society in a witty, delightful story that anticipates the social criticism of his comedies.
Hopcke shows that Eros in his earliest version is not the lover of Psyche in Apuleius's "The Golden Ass" so much as he is "the image we find in Plato" (Men's Dreams 134), a god whose traits are masculinity, unboundedness, and homosexuality (135). Hopcke wonders "if it might not be that gay men are carrying Eros in all his masculinity for a patriarchal culture that has misperceived and distorted Eros into a feminine principle, something that women embody or are expected to embody for men but that men cannot or do not dare embody for themselves" (136). Hopcke's comments are relevant to Wilde because in his fairy tales Wilde, a gay man, does in fact demonstrate the desperate need for the Eros principle in the patriarchal society of his day and, indeed, of our own. Whether Eros is a masculine or a feminine principle, depends, I think, largely on the context--be it dream, folk tale, formal literature, or society--in which it is found or is found to be needed. As we have seen, Jung equates Eros with Luna, or the moon (Mysterium Coniunctionis 180), considered a feminine symbol in modern Western culture. But Harding shows that this has not always been so. Some of the most ancient civilizations regarded the moon as masculine. The Iranian culture which preceded the Persian in the millennium before 1600 B.C., for instance, venerated the moon as a "Great Man" (Woman's Mysteries 84). Furthermore, "Some of the moon gods are actually androgynous, both male and female" (Sinn, moon god of the Babylonians, is an example; ibid. 93); so that perhaps this view of the moon as a symbol of the androgynous Self, or at least as having the potential of such wholeness, is the best corrective today for a one-sided, patriarchal society. In Wilde, as we have seen and as we shall see, very often the Eros principle is indeed embodied in a figure of the male gender.
Peter Raby believes that in A House of Pomegranates, Wilde's second and final book of fairy tales, "Wilde is more consciously using the form of fairy-tale to address himself to an adult audience" (60-61). And Martin Fido writes that "the tendencies apparent in The Happy Prince became still more marked" in the second book, in which Wilde "repeatedly attacked the worship of beauty. The Young King, who adores his newly-found splendour, perceives that it is based on the labour of the poor and the sufferings of slaves, and refuses to wear his coronation robes" (81-82).
Fig. 5, Wilde's second book of fairy tales (1891).
Because Wilde also continues his themes of self-sacrifice and love, a consideration of the symbolism of the pomegranate is in order before we examine the four tales in the House of Pomegranates. The pomegranate is connected to two myths we have already discussed in connection with The Happy Prince: those of Dionysus and of Hades-Persephone-Demeter. Sir James Frazer cites both myths as ones concerned with "the decay and revival of vegetation" (423). Dionysus, of course, is well known as the god of wine, ecstasy, and divine madness who is worshiped by the female maenads. Additionally (and this is relevant to the first and the last stories in A House of Pomegranates: "The Young King" and "The Star-Child"), Frazer says that "in his infancy Dionysus occupied for a short time the throne of his father Zeus." Furthermore, this tradition "point[s] to a custom of temporarily investing the king's son with the royal dignity as a preliminary to sacrificing him instead of his father." Pomegranates come into the myth because they "were supposed to have sprung from the blood of Dionysus [. . .]" (419). (Also relevant is that, in addition to anemones (ibid.), red roses were believed to have sprung from the blood of Adonis, another fertility god--Frazer, cited by Seward 8.) Perhaps a better known mythological fact is that Persephone was forced to return to the underworld four months each year because she had eaten a pomegranate seed. According to Rhoda A. Hendricks, "The pomegranate was the food of the dead, and those who had eaten of it could not be freed from the land of the dead" (48, n.). In the Homeric Hymns Hades tricks her into eating "the seed of the sweet pomegranate" (ibid. 48), whereas Ovid has her innocently eating seven pomegranate seeds because she is hungry (Metamorphoses 124). Cirlot writes, ironically, that the pomegranate is "symbolic of fecundity"; but, and this is important, "the predominating significance of the pomegranate, arising from its shape and internal structure rather than from its colour, is the reconciliation of the multiple and diverse within apparent unity" (261).
Wilde's use of the pomegranate is not
to House of Pomegranates. For example, the starving
in "The Happy Prince" has lips "red as a pomegranate" (Wilde, Complete
Shorter Fiction 99), and Salomé uses almost the same
for Jokanaan's mouth: "It is like a pomegranate cut in twain with a
of ivory. The pomegranate-flowers that blossom in the garden of
and are redder than roses, are not so red" (Wilde, Plays,
and Poems 311).11 However, in House of
the archetypal themes of the hero's journey, including initiation,
and the hero's descent into what Nassaar calls "the demon universe"
the discovery of love; and the achievement of psychic wholeness,--all
themes, plus the fact that the pomegranate is associated with the male
Dionysus andthe female Persephone and that it is a symbol of
this makes the pomegranate an especially appropriate unifying symbol
this book of fairy tales.
The eponymous protagonists of both "The Young King" and "The Star-Child" are examples of the hero archetype. They both conform to the pattern of "infant exile and return," which, Joseph Campbell in his monumental Hero with a Thousand Faces says "is a prominent feature in all legend, folk tale, and myth" (323). Like Oedipus, Moses, King Arthur, and countless other heroes, both are raised by foster parents. Both go through their own initiations, both have their particular ordeals to go through, both have their own symbolic descents into hell, and both return with some kind of boon, transformed into a Christ-king (the young King) or a Saint-king (the Star-Child). As males and rulers in a patriarchal system, both are carriers of the Logos, the Word; yet through their ordeals they, like the pomegranate that symbolizes the collection of tales they frame, unite in themselves the opposites of spirit/flesh (that is, their worship of physical beauty) and Eros/Logos so that they are ultimately symbols of the Self. They correspond to von Franz's definition of the hero as "an archetypal figure which presents a model of an ego functioning in accord with the Self." "That is why," von Franz continues, "the hero seems, to a certain extent, to be the Self. [. . .] In a way [. . .] he is also the Self, because he expresses or incarnates its healing tendencies" (Introduction 45, italics von Franz's).
The young King goes through two initiations. The first is into the world of the palace, which has been compared to Tennyson's "Palace of Art" (See Murray 14). The son of the old King's only daughter by a stranger she had secretly married, the boy had been sent off to be raised by a goatherd after his parents died under mysterious circumstances. At the age of sixteen, when his grandfather is dying, he is summoned back to court to become king. There, he is initiated into the world of beauty, to which he becomes as much a devotee as Dorian Gray. He virtually makes a religion of "the worship of some new gods" (Complete Shorter Fiction 173). He is found "gazing, as one in a trance, at a Greek gem carved with the figure of Adonis." Furthermore, "he had been seen, so the tale ran, pressing his warm lips to the marble brow of an antique statue [. . .] of the Bithynian slave of Hadrian," that is, of Antinous, the Roman Emperor Hadrian's lover. The young King also passes "a whole night in noting the effect of the moonlight on a silver image of Endymion" (ibid.). Adonis, of course, is a supreme symbol of male beauty (Endymion is also a beautiful youth), associated with the red rose. (Red roses sprout from the "dry thorn" at the story's end when the young King is transformed into a Christ-like being.) Hadrian and Antinous are archetypal male lovers, and Antinous is alluded to in Wilde's homosexual story, "The Portrait of Mr. W. H.," and in the homoerotic novel, Teleny, partially attributed to Wilde.12 It is clear from the evidence that Wilde's sixteen-year-old hero is not only an aesthete par excellence, but also a homosexual. Not, I hasten to add, because he's an aesthete but rather because of the kind of beauty that enthralls him. Also, there is no princess in the story. Wilde's young King is very much like the homosexual King Ludwig II of Bavaria who had died in 1886. Ludwig too hated "tedious court ceremonies" (Wilde, Complete Shorter Fiction 172) and worshiped the arts, visual art as well as the music of Wagner.
What Hopcke suggests about gay men in patriarchal Western society, that they may be carriers of Eros, applies to this story. After the young King's second initiation he is able to bring Eros to his people. The initiation comes in the form of three dreams (his descent into the underworld of the collective unconscious) wherein he discovers that the three things that he especially looks forward to having at his coronation--"the robe of tissued gold, and the ruby-studded crown, and the sceptre with its rows and rings of pearls" (173)--these three things are all gotten through the suffering and even death of less fortunate people. The main weaver of the robe complains to the King (in the first dream) that the rich "give us such mean wages that we die" (175). Not even the church helps: "The priest rides by and tells his beads, and no man has care of us" (175-176). The second dream shows the young King a slave galley run by a black master. The youngest of the slaves (this I believe would particularly appeal to the young King) is forced to dive for pearls till he dies finding what is truly a pearl of great price, "fairer than all the pearls of Ormuz [. . .] shaped like the moon, and whiter than the morning star" (177). The final dream is an allegory in which Death and Avarice argue over the fate of "an immense multitude of men toiling" to mine rubies for the King's crown (178-179). Death eventually wins.
Despite the contrary advice of his officers, the young King rejects the robe, crown, and sceptre:
"Though it be the day of my coronation, I will not wear them. For on the loom of Sorrow, and by the white hands of Pain, has this my robe been woven. There is Blood in the heart of the ruby, and Death in the heart of the pearl." (180)
Telling everyone to leave, but "one page whom he kept as his companion, a lad a year younger than himself" (another hint that he is homosexual), the young King takes a ritual bath, a symbolic baptism, a death to his old ego, a rebirth to the Self. He dons his former clothes: a "leathern tunic and rough sheepskin cloak," and for a crown he plucks a "spray of wild briar that was climbing over the balcony," bends it and makes a "circlet of it, and set it on his own head" (181). Mounting a horse, he proceeds to the cathedral for his coronation, mocked by the people, to whom he tells his three dreams, as he had told his officers and as he will tell the old Bishop who is to crown him--three ritual tellings of the dream followed by his transfiguration, just as the three dreams were followed by his transformation. So, as von Franz observes, in a different context, there is really a pattern of fours, and as anyone who has studied Jungian psychology knows, four is the number of psychic wholeness.
Like all the others, the priest discounts the young King's experience, discounts, in other words, psyche and the message of the collective unconscious. They all support the oppressive, patriarchal system, even the people, who would prefer to see their king dressed as a king, his ego identified with his persona, which the royal garb symbolizes. As Murray notes, Wilde's story has "submerged parallels to the Crucifixion" (269, n. 4). Also, the people cry out, "Where is this dreamer of dreams?" Murray believes this is an allusion to William Morris's "Apology" to The Earthly Paradise (ibid., n. 5), but Wilde may also have been thinking of the Old Testament hero, Joseph, who, like this young King, helped others and was elevated to power through the interpretation of dreams. Christian Bible scholars believe Joseph is a type of Christ or the "Christ-soul, the Self struggling upward from below" (Gaskell 417). In an image of Christ's Transfiguration, à la Wilde, sunlight pours on the young King, and
the sunbeams wove round him a tissued robe that was fairer than the robe that had been fashioned for his pleasure. The dead staff blossomed, and bare lilies that were whiter than pearls. The dry thorn blossomed, and bare roses that were redder than rubies. (183)
He stands dressed like a king in "marvellous and mystical light [. . .] and the Glory of God filled the place, and the saints in their carven niches seemed to move." The people fall on their knees "in awe"; the nobles do "homage"; and, echoing John the Baptist's words to Christ (Mark 1:7), the Bishop says: "A greater than I hath crowned thee." As he passes through the cathedral, no one dares look at his face, "for it was like the face of an angel" (184).
The young King, the Christ-king, has united
the opposites of rustic/royal, rich/poor, human/divine. "The
of Christ to man was simply 'Be Thyself,'" Wilde writes in "The Soul of
Man under Socialism" (263). To be oneself is the goal of
and the young King shows by example his own self-fulfillment. His
ego has become the Self--a guide to his people and, on an unconscious
to the readers of the tale. In his new guise as compassionate
he has united the Logos, which he already possessed in abundance, with
the Eros principle. That he has had no guide, no Wise Old Man, to
council him is not too surprising, for as a young gay man this would
been his likely lot in contemporary life. Very few, if any,
role models were available. Wilde's story illustrates a profound
modern truth: that the hero's struggle--the process of
internal. Modern men and women cannot rely on sources outside
to gain psychic wholeness. The unconscious is the young King's
and the figures there, in his dreams, point out the excesses and
of his society, defects the Happy Prince saw only after death.
Apart from Wilde's more sophisticated and pseudo-biblical diction, "The Star-Child" comes closest of any of Wilde's tales to resembling an actual folk fairy tale in plot as well as in theme. What Auden says about the Grimm and Andersen tales is true for this tale: "There is no joy or success without risk and suffering, and those who try to avoid suffering fail to obtain the joy, but get the suffering anyway. Finally, and above all, one must not be anxious about ultimate success or failure but think only about what it is necessary to do at the present moment" (203-204). As I have indicated, the Star-Child is an example of the hero archetype, and "the hero," as Neumann says, "is the prototype of the development of the individual" (New Ethic 67).
The story begins with the traditional "Once upon a time," and in the coldest part of winter. Two "poor Woodcutters" are trudging through a "pine-forest" (237), so that we are immediately thrown into the symbolism of the unconscious, typical of fairy tales. The atmosphere here, despite the bitter cold, is almost magical. The animals, as in "The Devoted Friend," have a discussion, this time about the weather. Wilde personalizes them in a way more typical of literary fairy tales than of folk fairy tales. The wolf, for example, is a bully who would eat those who disagree with him.
A "beautiful star" falls, and hoping to find a "crock of gold," the Woodcutters rush to where the star fell (238). There they indeed find a "thing of gold": a "cloak of golden tissue, curiously wrought with stars" (238-239). When they discover the cloak contains a sleeping child, one wants to abandon the child as a thing of no worth. The other shows the compassion characteristic of Jung's concept of Eros. He rescues the child while his friend marvels at his "foolishness and softness of heart" (239), traits usually considered feminine in patriarchal society. The compassionate Woodcutter's wife at first feels as the other Woodcutter. She already has too many mouths to feed. But she relents and takes the child in.
The Opies observe that "in the most-loved fairy tales [. . .] noble personages may be brought low by fairy enchantment or by human beastliness, but the lowly are seldom made noble. [. . .] The magic in the tales (if magic is what it is) lies in people and creatures being shown to be what they really are" (Classic Fairy Tales 14). Wilde's tales, subversive as they are, are no exception to the Opies' observation. The Star-Child is in fact the son of a King and Queen; therefore, he is more beautiful than any other child in the village. Whereas the other children of the Woodcutter are "swarthy and black-haired," he is "white and delicate as sawn ivory, and his curls were like the rings of the daffodil" (240). Significantly, Wilde compares his body to the "narcissus of the field where the mower comes not" (240-241). The Star-Child intuits that he is of noble birth and, like the mythological Narcissus, admires his reflection in water. However, the child's nature is hardly noble. Though the local priest tries to teach him to love the animals in "God's world" (241), the boy is cruel to animals, just as he is cruel to the other children, albeit he becomes their leader. If the young King had worshiped beauty in the form of objets d'art , the Star-Child worships his own personal beauty, again not unlike Dorian Gray. When he is ten years old, his mother comes, disguised as an ugly, beggar woman, an embodiment of Eros seeking his love. He rejects her because she is lowly and ugly.
This rejection of the Eros principle, of human compassion, prompts his first transformation--into an ugly creature, "foul as the toad," as the other children say, "and as loathsome as the adder" (244). This transformation is for him what Campbell labels the "call" (49-58). He goes into the forest (symbolically into himself, his unconscious) seeking the forgiveness of his mother. Like many heroes, he learns what it is to be a scapegoat. Because of his looks, children mock and throw stones at him. Adults drive him away. One is reminded of the boy in Jerzy Kosinski's novel, The Painted Bird, set in Eastern Europe during World War II. Kosinski's boy is also a scapegoat because he is dark and thus taken for either a Jew or a gypsy.
The Star-Child searches for his mother for three years in a world with "neither love nor loving-kindness nor charity for him." At last he comes to what Campbell would call a threshold--"the gate of a strong-walled city" (245). The only way he can pass the threshold is through being sold to "an old and evil-visaged man" for a "bowl of sweet wine" (246). The man turns out to be "the subtlest of the magicians of Libya" (247), who takes the now thirteen-year-old through "a little door that was set in a wall that was covered with a pomegranate tree." After they pass through "a garden filled with black poppies and green jars of burnt clay," the magician blindfolds him (a symbolic blindness paralleling the real blindness of a mole whose eyes he had pierced, an example of what Hindus call karma), and places him in a dungeon. The dungeon is symbolic of what Campbell calls "the belly of the whale," "a sphere of rebirth" (Campbell 90), like the kiva of the American Pueblo Indians. From this dungeon, the boy is sent to perform three tasks: to find, successively, pieces of white, yellow, and red gold. If he doesn't bring back the gold each time, he is threatened with beating and finally with death. Not unexpectedly, he must search in the woods for the gold. There he fails to find it until he helps a Hare out of a trap. The Hare, an animal helper such as is found in so many fairy tales, helps him find the gold each time, but each time when the boy reenters town, he is accosted by a hungry leper (another scapegoat). Having learned empathy and compassion by now, the boy each time gives the leper the gold, even though he knows he can expect a beating or death.
Instead of being put to death, however, upon passing the third test, the boy is transformed the second time. His beautiful looks are restored, and they now match his interior. The people recognize him as the son of the king, who was to return on that very day, according to prophecy. He sees the beggar-woman, kisses and sheds tears on her wounded feet, and begs her forgiveness. He also clasps the "white feet of the leper" (251). The feet here are symbolic because his attachment to them shows the character and extent of his transformation. Jung has shown their phallic significance, that the foot "is supposed to possess a magical generative power" (Symbols of Transformation 126), and because they are associated with the earth, they have a "fertility significance" (ibid. 315). The feet therefore combine both masculine and feminine symbolism. Again in Wilde, the Eros principle is embodied in a male, but he has had to acquire the principle of connection, relatedness, and love. After the beggar-woman is revealed to be his mother, the leper his father, he rules over the city, banishing the evil Magician (who ironically had been an instrument, a sort of necessary negative mentor, in his transformation). The new King also sends "many rich gifts" to his foster parents and honors their children (251). He has also learned his vital connection to the animal world:
Nor would he suffer any to be cruel to bird or beast, but taught love and loving-kindness and charity, and to the poor he gave bread, and to the naked he gave raiment, and there was peace and plenty in the land. (251-252)
Like the fourteen-year-old hero of the Grimm fairy tale "The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs," this thirteen-year-old has become king through prophecy and his courageous passing of three initiatory tests. He has become, like the young King, a symbol of wholeness, uniting the principles of Eros and Logos.
However, Wilde does not end the tale here. Instead, he has the new king die after only three years, "so great had been his suffering, and so bitter the fire of his testing. [. . .] And he who came after him ruled evilly" (252). This letdown is not unique to Wilde. Von Franz notes that in fairy tales "there may be a double end to the lysis [. . .] namely, a happy ending followed by a negative remark by the story-teller" (Introduction 28). Von Franz explains this phenomenon thus: "These strophes at the end of a fairy tale are a rite de sortie, because a fairy tale takes you far away into the childhood dream world of the collective unconscious where you may not stay" (29). While in prison, Wilde wrote the following:
The other half of the garden [of the world] had its
for me also. [. . .] all this is foreshadowed and prefigured in my art.
Some of it is in "The Happy Prince:" [sic] some of
in "The Young King," notably in the passage where the Bishop says to
kneeling boy, "Is not He who made misery wiser than thou art?" a
phrase which when I wrote it seemed to me little more than a phrase: a
great deal of it is hidden away in the
of Doom that like a purple thread runs through the gold cloth of Dorian
Gray . [. . .]
(De Profundis , Letters 475)
It is as if the thinking function in Wilde were at war with the
function. He had intuitively created an image of psychic
in "The Star-Child," banished doom, as it were, and then the conscious,
logical side asserted itself, the side that perceived the actual world
he lived in with all its poverty, illness, and indeed its sexism and
Rather than leave the image whole, as he had in "The Young King," he
the pessimism of the exterior world. Perhaps, as von Franz says,
he knew that he could not stay in the "childhood dream world of the
unconscious." Or perhaps Wilde consciously or unconsciously
a version of the ancient custom which Frazer cites, that of "investing
the king's son [here the king's grandson] with the royal dignity as a
to sacrificing him instead of his father" (419).
Whether or not Wilde echoes the ancient custom of the temporary king who is sacrificed, a kind of scapegoatism, he clearly depicts other types of scapegoatism in "The Birthday of the Infanta," the story he felt was "in style [. . .] my best story" (Wilde, Letters 248). Like "The Young King" and An Ideal Husband, it is especially influenced by the visual arts, particularly Velazquez's Las Meninas (1656), with its portraits of Philip IV's Infanta Margareta Teresa, her ladies-in-waiting, and the court dwarfs (Hyde, Plays, Prose and Poems 127, n. 2 and 128). The story takes place on the twelfth birthday of the only daughter of the king of Spain, who still grieves for his wife, who had died within six months after the birth of their daughter. Here Wilde takes a satiric stab at the Victorian cult of death (initiated by Queen Victoria herself upon the death of Prince Albert), for the King has had his wife embalmed and kept on a "tapestried bier in the black marble chapel of the the Palace." Influenced perhaps by Swinburne's "The Leper," Wilde adds a touch of necrophilia by having the King "try to wake [his dead wife] by his mad kisses [on her . . .] cold painted face" (186).
Wilde's description of the palace garden hints at some of the conflicts in the story. The flowers are haughty. The "tall striped tulips" are phallic symbols which stand "straight up upon their stalks," while the pomegranates are vaginal: "split and cracked with the heat, [. . . they] showered their bleeding red hearts" (185). In the middle are the roses. The white rose which the Infanta gives to the Dwarf is supposed to symbolize her virginity. In this intensely Catholic country, the rose would be associated with the Virgin Mary and thus, being white, would stand for "virtue, virginity, and love of God," according to Barbara Seward, whereas a red rose would symbolize the Virgin's "charity, spirituality, and annihilation of vice" (23), qualities the Infanta totally lacks. Love, charity, spirituality, a recognition of her own potential for vice (her shadow side),--all these Eros qualities the Infanta lacks while at the same time she possesses the negative Logos qualities of arrogance and cruelty.
Accompanying the King are "his brother, Don Pedro of Aragon, whom he hated, and his confessor, the Grand Inquisitor of Granada" (186). The Inquisitor, it goes without saying, is unspeakably cruel, but the cruelty of the King's brother is "notorious." He is even suspected of having murdered the Queen. The King, "wedded to Sorrow" (187), refuses to consider a second marriage. Like the others, he is an example of the divided psyche. With such a background, it is no wonder the Infanta herself should be cruel, physically attractive and graceful as she is. She is the product of a patriarchal system that by means of the Inquisition murders countless heretics, gypsies, and since they are at war with the English, many Englishmen.13
In his epochal book, Depth Psychology and a New Ethic, Neumann shows that scapegoats are the result of the projection of the shadow, that unconscious part of the psyche we would prefer not to recognize (50). Because the individual (and the collective) shadow cannot be accepted by the ego, the individual (or the community or nation at large) attributes his or her own shadow defects to the scapegoat. Neumann divides scapegoats into three categories: "aliens," who include "religious, national, racial and social variations" (52); the "'ethically inferior'--that is to say, those persons who fail to live up to the absolute values of the collective and who are also incapable of achieving ethical adaptation by the formation of a 'façade personality'"--these include "psychopaths and other pathological and atavistic persons" (53); and, finally, the kind (such as the Star-Child) I have already discussed, "personalities who are actually superior--for example, leaders and men of genius" (54), of whom examples are "Socrates, Jesus and Galileo" (55). The victims of the Inquisition fall into the first category. Of them, Neumann writes: "The fight against heretics, political opponents, and national enemies is actually the fight against our own religious doubts, the insecurity of our own political position, and the one-sidedness of our own national viewpoint" (52).
Since homosexuality used to be considered pathological, gays and lesbians would fall into the second class; yet since homosexuality in and of itself is not in fact pathological, and homosexuals are in fact a persecuted minority, they really should fall under Neumann's first category. Neumann, who died in 1960, published Depth Psychology and a New Ethic in German in 1949. An English translation did not appear till 1969, the year of the Stonewall riots and the beginning of the modern gay liberation movement. Were he writing today, it is not unlikely he would have explicitly included gays and lesbians in a category where he does name "the Chinese, the Negroes, and the Jews," as well as "religious minorities in all religions" and Fascists in Communist societies and Communists in Fascist societies.14 My point in bringing up the subject here is that Wilde himself, as an Irishman in England, an aesthete, a homosexual, and indeed a man of genius, knew what it was first hand to be a victim of scapegoatism, to be an outsider, like the Dwarf in his story. Wilde's personal history not only lends authority to how he consciously portrays scapegoatism in "The Birthday of the Infanta," but also lends credence to the unconscious contents of his tale that portray the scapegoat archetype.
The Dwarf, of course, is the chief scapegoat. A version of Rousseau's "noble savage," he has been raised in the "cork-wood that surrounds the town" (192), totally naïve about civilized society (he's never seen a mirror), yet totally in tune with and quite happy in the wild. If anything, he has too much Eros, too much connection with nature (apart from the haughty plants in the formal palace garden, almost all other animals and plants seem to love him). Considering him an "ugly and useless child," his father , "a poor charcoal-burner," had been only too happy to allow two nobles to take him off as a source of amusement for the Court. And he is exactly that: "The Dwarf [. . .] was really quite irresistible, and even at the Spanish Court, always noted for its cultivated passion for the horrible, so fantastic a little monster had never been seen" (ibid.). The Dwarf mistakes the laughter of the Infanta, with whom he falls in love immediately, as affection. When he learns that she wants him to dance a second time for her, he concocts an impossible fantasy that she will run away with him into the forest.
As if to emphasize the Dwarf's naïveté, Wilde recounts an incident when the Dwarf saw some monks and soldiers tramping through the forest with "three barefooted men, in strange yellow dresses painted all over with wonderful figures, and carrying lighted candles in their hands. Certainly there was a great deal to look at in the forest [. . .]" (197). In his innocence, the Dwarf has no idea that the "three barefooted men" are on their way to be burned as heretics--scapegoats just as surely he is a scapegoat. Like the Star-Child during his wanderings in the forest, the Dwarf is ridiculed because he is ugly, a personification of shadow traits others project onto him. When, having sneaked back into the palace alone, he discovers a mirror, what he sees is "the most grotesque monster he had ever beheld [. . .] hunchbacked, and crooked-limbed, with huge lolling head and mane of black hair" (200). The Dwarf has an amusing time playing in front of the mirror, mimicking the "monster" he sees and who does everything he does, until it dawns on him that he is the monster and that the Infanta and her special birthday entourage (most of the year she can play only with those her own rank and therefore "always had to play alone," 185) are laughing at him, not with him. This is too much for him to bare, and he dies of a broken heart. The heartless Infanta decrees: "For the future let those who come to play with me have no hearts" (202), and the story ends with her running into the garden, the very garden which had rejected him.
The Dwarf is a victim of what Neumann calls the "old ethic," where moral perfection, as opposed to psychic wholeness, is the goal. Evil is separated from the ego. As Neumann writes:
The ego confuses itself with the façade personality (which is of course in reality only that part of the personality that is tailored to fit the collective), and forgets that it possesses aspects which run counter to the persona. This means that the ego has repressed the shadow side and lost touch with the dark contents, which are negative and for this reason split off from the conscious sector. (New Ethic 40-41)
The persona, the "mask" or role one assumes for the exterior world, of the Infanta is that of an exalted person, so exalted she cannot play with children her own rank save on her birthday nor make "merry," as she does when the Dwarf dances for her, "before those who were her inferiors in birth" (Complete Shorter Fiction 192). Wilde describes her thus: "She had all the Queen's pretty petulance of manner, the same wilful way of tossing her head, the same proud curved beautiful mouth, the same wonderful smile [. . .]" (188). For all her feminine appearance, she represents the same psychic division evidenced by the Grand Inquisitor, who upon seeing a play put on by some Italian puppets, finds it "intolerable that things made simply out of wood and coloured wax, and worked mechanically by wires, should be so unhappy and meet with such terrible misfortunes" (190). He is like Hitler, who could be kind to his dogs and send millions of human beings to war and to the death camps.
Both the Inquisitor and the Infanta are
of psychic inflation. Again, to quote Neumann: "The inflation of
the ego is brought about by its identification with the collective
(New Ethic 42). If the collective values invest them with
powers and virtues, the Inquisitor and the Princess need not--probably
cannot--feel any guilt for their cruelty and heartlessness.
Wilde may not have had the psychological theory to support this truth,
surely he knew it instinctively. This perhaps accounts for one of
his saddest stories. No marvellous transformation occurs, only a
tragic transformation from happiness to despair. Eros and Logos
Murray believes "The Fisherman and his Soul" to be "Wilde's most ambitious and complex working out of the conflicts of spirit and flesh, beauty and goodness, earth and heaven" (15). Raby concurs: "'The Fisherman and his Soul' is in some ways the most substantial, complex and significant" of Wilde's stories (63). Among the many sources and influences on the story (See Murray 217, n. 1), a chief one must have been Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," only in Andersen's story the mermaid pursues the young Prince and yearns for a soul. In Wilde's story, the Fisherman falls in love with the Mermaid whom he catches by accident in his net, and he accedes to her demand that he rid himself of his soul before she can love him.
As Raby notes, this part of the story "has some affinity with The Picture of Dorian Gray, as the Fisherman consciously cuts away his Soul . . ." (63). Following the usual fairy tale pattern of threes, he successively goes to a Priest, to merchants, and finally to a Witch in order to be rid of his soul. Only the Witch is able, reluctantly, to help him. First he must dance with her at a moonlit Black Mass reminiscent of the one attended by Hawthorne's Young Goodman Brown, who in a sense also loses his soul. As in Salomé , the dance is an important symbol in this story, for it is with the promise of his being able to dance with a veiled girl with naked feet (the Mermaid, of course, has no feet) that the Soul finally lures the Fisherman to reunite himself with his Soul. Cirlot comments on the dance: "There is a universal belief that, in so far as it is a rhythmic art-form, it is a symbol of the act of creation. [. . .] This is why the dance is one of the most ancient forms of magic. Every dance is a pantomime of metamorphosis" (76). Here the dance is associated with both the severing of the Fisherman's Soul and his reuniting with it. "The dance," Cirlot writes, "is the incarnation of eternal energy" (ibid.), and since for Jung libido is psychic energy, we may say the dance here symbolizes also psychic energy--directed outward at first, inward at the last.
The pomegranate functions as a symbol in this story more than in the other stories in House of Pomegranates. The Soul, a male, travels on exotic journeys to such places as Syria, Egypt, and Mecca, for three years, each year returning to the seashore and calling up the Fisherman, trying to get him to allow him (the Soul) to reunite with him. During the first journey, the Soul and his companions come upon "ripe pomegranates," which they break open, drinking their "sweet juices" (217). In the context of all the other exotic images (the Tartars, the Gryphons, the Pygmies, the Tower of Apes, the Tower of Serpents, and so on), the pomegranates suggest the Soul is in the underworld of the collective unconscious (remember that the pomegranate in the Persephone myth is symbolic of the underworld). The Soul comes back from this trip to tempt the Fisherman with the offer of Wisdom, a kind of negative Logos. The Fisherman prefers Eros--he stays with the Mermaid.
During the second journey, the Soul encounters a Moslem Emperor in whose city is a Street of Pomegranates (223). The Emperor allows the Soul into his palace, and when the Soul refuses to reveal his name, he has his "brass-turbaned Nubian" attempt to kill the Soul with a "scimitar of steel" (224). Of course the scimitar goes right through the impervious Soul. The Soul obtains from this young Emperor a "Ring of Riches," or so he tells the Fisherman as he tempts him with it. Clearly the pomegranate, coupled with the other symbols here, stands for masculine authority, power, and acquisitiveness. The Ring, the ultimate symbol of this episode, is a false symbol of unity, a negative mandala, as it were. Again the Fisherman rejects the Soul's temptation.
The third temptation, the girl with the naked feet, he cannot resist. As we have seen already the foot, like the pomegranate, has both masculine and feminine qualities: it has phallic "magical generative power" (Jung, Symbols of Transformation 126), as well as earthly "fertility significance" (ibid. 315). The girl's naked feet possess a numinous attraction for the Fisherman and he yields. The Soul, by now thoroughly evil because the Fisherman had refused to give him his heart, reunites with the Fisherman.
Instead of taking the Fisherman to the girl with the naked feet, the Soul leads him on a three-day journey into the depths of the shadow, that is, into the unconscious, where he steals a silver cup and strikes an innocent child, thus dishonoring the spirit, the Eros principle of compassion. On the third day a merchant with a "garden of pomegranates" (228) takes them in. Here the pomegranates symbolize the Eros principle, for the merchant is generous and kind to the Fisherman, putting him up in his guest room. The Soul yet again urges evil. He tells the Fisherman, who seems unable to resist, to slay the merchant and take his gold. Again Eros is rejected in favor of negative Logos: the Fisherman strikes the merchant and absconds with "nine purses of gold" (229). Until now, the Fisherman has been possessed by (inflated with) the archetype of the shadow, which the Soul represents. The Witch had told the Fisherman: "What men call the shadow of the body is not the shadow of the body, but is the body of the soul" (213), and when the Soul becomes separated from the body, he looks exactly like the Fisherman (214). Here the Jungian term corresponds precisely with Wilde's term. Without heart, without Eros, only the negative characteristics of the shadow thrive, and the Fisherman at last realizes this: "Nay," he tells the Soul in Wilde's pseudo-biblical diction, "but thou art evil, and hast made me forget my love, and hast tempted me with temptations, and has set my feet in the ways of sin" (230).
The Fisherman desires to return to the earlier, less conscious state he had enjoyed with the Mermaid. She is clearly an anima figure, but a negative one who instead of helping him relate to the unconscious has forced a split between the ego and the unconscious. So great is the power of love, the Fisherman waits for two years by the sea, hoping to reunite with the Mermaid. The Soul again tempts him with the dance, specifically "the dancing-girls of Samaris" (231). When this doesn't work, the Soul tempts him with "good," urging him to go out and "mend" the suffering in the world. "But," the story continues, "the young Fisherman answered it [the Soul] nought, so great was the power of his love" (232). Finally the Soul gives up and asks only to be allowed into the Fisherman's heart. Having learned empathy, he replies that he would allow him to enter because he has suffered so much, but the Soul can find no place through which to enter the heart.
At length the Mermaid washes up dead on the shore. In a distinctly Swinburnian passage, Wilde has the Fisherman "put the little hands [of the Mermaid] round his neck, and with his fingers he touched the thin reed of the throat. Bitter, bitter was his joy, and full of strange gladness was his pain." Although the fearful Soul urges him to flee, the Fisherman remains on the shore kissing "with mad lips the cold lips of the Mermaid. . . ." His heart breaks, and "the Soul found an entrance and entered in, and was one with him even as before. And the sea covered the young Fisherman with its waves" (234). Psychic unity has come at a high price for the Fisherman. Only in her death has the Mermaid become the positive anima, allowing the Fisherman connection to his unconscious and a final wholeness.
The Priest buries him and the Mermaid in unconsecrated ground. But on their grave grow "strange flowers," which the people place on the church altar. These beautiful, sweet, white flowers work a miraculous change in the Priest so that he begins preaching of "the God whose name is Love," standing "as one in a dream" (235). He preaches the same message the Star-Child learned: relatedness to nature and, additionally, to the mythological beings in nature. He "blessed the sea, and all the wild things that are in it. The Fauns also he blessed, and the little things that dance in the woodland, and the bright-eyed things that peer through the leaves. All the things in God's world he blessed, and the people were filled with joy and wonder." How such a miraculous change occurs in the Priest can only be explained by what Jung called the "transcendent function": "How the harmonizing of conscious and unconscious data is to be undertaken cannot be indicated in the form of a recipe. It is an irrational life-process which expresses itself in definite symbols" (Jung, The Essential Jung 226).
As he does in "The Star-Child," Wilde ends
this penultimate story of House of Pomegranates with a negative
note. The "Fuller's Field" where the Fisherman and the Mermaid
buried remains barren "even as before. Nor came the Sea-folk into
the bay as they had been wont to do, for they went to another part of
sea" (236). Perhaps the ending is not so negative after
The Fisherman has gained unity with the unconscious. Through his
example, the Priest has learned relatedness, connection, and love; Eros
has been united with Logos. Perhaps because the flowers and the
have done their jobs they are needed elsewhere. Balance has been
restored for the time being.
Whatever psychic wholeness is achieved in Wilde's fairy tales, it is made, like the young King's robe, "on the loom of Sorrow" (180). But such sorrow, it must be said, is necessary for psychic growth. As von Franz points out, if in analysis "there is neither the fire of despair nor hatred nor conflict nor fury nor annoyance nor anything of that kind--one can be pretty sure that not much will be constellated [. . .]" (Introduction 75-76). Some kind of spiritual discontent, some psychic trauma is necessary before one is compelled to grow. That is the archetypal message of Wilde's fairy tales for the late Victorians and for us.
1In The Child, Neumann writes: "The independence of the child as ego and individual, [sic] begins at the conclusion of the post-uterine embryonic phase and coincides with its emergence from the strict confines of the primal relationship. The child then becomes open to other relationships, an ego inwardly and outwardly confronting a thou" (18). The uroboric stage in which the ego is undifferentiated lasts till about twelve to fourteen months. Then follows the "magic-phallic stage of the ego" in which "there is still a partial identity of the ego with the body-self" (149). Neumann does not designate the approximate ages of the post-uroboric stages of child development, but in a foreword to the new edition of The Child, Louis H. Stewart suggests "that the magic-phallic [stage] is roughly sixteen months to four years of age" (3). For a fuller discussion of these issues, consult Neumann's books which I have cited.
2The appeal of the fairy tales, however, is hardly limited to English-speaking peoples. As Michael Hardwick notes: "Wilde's fairy tales have lived on in collected editions and have enjoyed a life of their own, especially in translation . . . " (76).
3See chapters two and three of my book, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made On: A Jungian Interpretation of Literature, in which I examine the legendary figure of Merlin in nineteenth-century British literature and Swinburne's Tristram of Lyonesse.
4Holland includes in an appendix to his book four previously unpublished "poems in prose" given to him by a woman whom his father had known as a girl. She went home and wrote down the stories "exactly as he had told them, so far as she could from memory" (54). The stories seem authentic in their themes of the artist, art, life imitating art, and in their biblical motifs. Wilde might easily have turned "Jezebel" into a play as he did the biblical story of Salome. The diction, as in some of his tales, is biblical.
5The authors of Oscar Wilde's London observe that "By 1891 [three years after The Happy Prince was published and the same year A House of Pomegranates came out], London's poor had become ever more numerous" from the time (1845) Benjamin Disraeli had declared Victorian England had two nations--"the Rich and the Poor." By 1891 the middle class had arisen, but that had hardly eliminated the sufferings of the ever more numerous members of the lower classes who immigrated to London from the rural and mining areas and from Russia and Poland (von Eckardt 146). Many from Russia and Poland were Jews who came to the slums of London to escape even worse conditions at home. Because they competed for the already scarce jobs and houses, they were often victims of anti-Semitism, "expressed in minor riots against Jews whenever things went wrong" (Ibid. 131). As for the poor houses: "The landlords in the East End would subdivide their tenements in ever smaller units so much that often large families were forced to live in one or two rooms, packing as many as four people--children and grownups, male and female--into one bed. [. . .] Rents were extortionate, a quarter to a half of the family's weekly wage" (Ibid.). Selling matches was one way poor children earned money (Ibid. 158).
6In The Stranger Wilde, a study published after this essay, and the first half of it published in The Victorian Newsletter (Fall 1993). Gary Schmidgall proclaims: “the ramifications of Oscar’s gay identity have still not been fully and satisfyingly explored” (xv). I agree with his belief that “the main reason for Oscar’s success with the fairy tale [. . . is] the remarkable and long-sustained interpenetration of the child and the adult in his personality” (147). I also agree that “the sense of estrangement felt by a late-Victorian homosexual [. . .] helps to explain the subtle strangeness in several of the most moving [fairy] tales” (152). For Schmidgall’s discussion of the fairy tales, see pp. 145-168.
7In The Psychological Meaning of Redemption Motifs in Fairytales, von Franz writes: "In fairytales, redemption refers specifically to a condition where someone has been cursed or bewitched and through certain happenings or events in the story is redeemed. This is a very different condition from that in the Christian idea" (7). Here, however, the Giant is redeemed both in the Christian sense and in the sense von Franz describes, for his garden, if not himself, has been cursed. Similarly, the Star-Child will be cursed with ugliness and redeemed in both senses.
8See Chapter Four in my book, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made On, for a Jungian examination of schizophrenia in The Picture of Dorian Gray and how it mirrors contemporary psychic imbalance.
9Quite probably Wilde projected his male anima unto such younger love-objects as Robert Ross and Lord Alfred Douglas. However, these young men could also be images of what Mitchell Walker calls the "double" (165-175). Clearly, Wilde's homosexuality influenced Wilde's art for the better. Ellmann says that his relationship with Ross, who became his first male lover, probably in 1886, "marked a transformation of Wilde's life" (276). Furthermore, "Homosexuality fired his mind. It was the major stage in his discovery of himself" (281); indeed, it "liberated his art" (286).
10Zipes believes the ending of "The Selfish Giant" "is related to Wilde's homosexuality, and he depicted the love for the boy as a form of liberation. On another level, this love is the type of humane compassion which Wilde felt was necessary for the building of socialism. Finally, the giant's pursuit and union with Christ is the pursuit of Christ within us . . ." (Art of Subversion 120).
11For an analysis of the rose symbolism in Salomé , see Seward 85-86.
12The jury is still out on whether Wilde did indeed have a hand in writing Teleny. I tend to believe he had at least a small part in the writing; certainly one can see his influence, parallels to Dorian Gray , and so forth (See John McRae's introduction to the GMP edition). In any case, the allusion to Antinous in the novel is a clear example of the attraction his story had for late nineteenth-century gay writers and, one assumes, readers as well.
13James A. Michener notes in his popular book on Spain, Iberia, that shipwrecked English sailors in the mid-sixteenth century "were in real danger of being burned" as heretics if they made it to Spain (453); this fact is relevant even though Wilde's story cannot be dated precisely. The Spanish Inquisition lasted right into Wilde's own century. It was not officially abolished until 15 July 1834 (Ibid. 454).
14Neumann actually wrote even less on homosexuality than did Jung. For commentary on what he did write (in Origins and History of Consciousness and in Amor and Psyche), see Hopcke, Jung, Jungians, and Homosexuality (70-72) and Men's Dreams, Men's Healing (133-135). Curiously, Hopcke omits comment on Neumann's brief mention of homosexuality in his essay on Leonardo in Art and the Creative Unconscious. There Neumann writes: "the ultimate sexual attitude of the personality is determined not by a single factor but by many, not by a single developmental constellation, such as an orientation toward the 'Great Mother,' but by a number of such constellations and phases. Thus the bond with the uroboric Great Mother is characteristic of many creative men who show no sign of homosexuality" (29),--a fairly enlightened comment for the time. Also worth noting is what he says about the Great Mother, because it supports Hopcke's idea and my own that it is a mistake to be too rigid in assigning gender to such concepts as Eros/Logos or anima/animus: "the uroboric Great Mother has also phallic, procreative, masculine, paternal features, in relation to which--to the phallic breast, for example--the child is receptive and 'feminine'" (Ibid.) If, as Jung believes, every archetype has a negative as well as a positive manifestation, then why not a male and female dimension as well?
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--Copyright © Clifton Snider, 2004.
Part of this essay originally appeared, in a different form, as
and Logos in Some Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde: A Jungian
Victorian Newsletter No. 84 (1993): 1-8.