Oscar Wilde’s short stories are often prescribed in schools, the world over. The following analysis will help the students in understanding the essence of this short story.
Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) was a man ahead of his times. The literary genius could not comply with all of Muse’s decrees during his short life span, due to the controversies in his personal life. The modern perspective allows critics to view his writing not through a glass colored by his personal life, and due appreciation is being given for his brilliance as a writer.
Oscar Wilde’s short stories, some seemingly written for young readers, carry great substance and significance for all people under any circumstance.
“The Model Millionaire” is the one that is chosen for school text books, though not as often as “The selfish Giant.”
“The Model Millionaire gives a pleasurable read and it gives a glimpse of the attitude of the Victorian society.
Accomplishments and physical attraction are of no avail when one does not have the acumen to make money, is what we come to know through Hughie Erskine’s struggle in life.
Love for Laura Merton blossoms in his heart. But her father does not want his daughter to suffer in penury with Hughie. So he lays down a condition that Hughie should possess ten thousand pounds of his own for even getting engaged to his daughter.
His friend Alan Trevor is an artist, who is able to earn well as his paintings are much sought after. Hughie goes to meet him and finds him busy painting a beggar. The model who poses looks a typical old beggar. He is wizened by age, is clad in rags with an upturned hat held in one hand for alms while the other is engaged in holding a stick.
Hughie is moved by his look. He is particularly taken by pity, on seeing the piteous expression on the beggar’s face. He exclaims that the model is amazing and the face of a model is his fortune. But he is not happy to know that the model earns only a shilling an hour whereas the artist earns a thousand guineas for his painting! When Trevor leaves for a short while, Hughie, overcome by pity, gives the beggar a shilling.
What a shock it is for him when he later on comes to know through Trevor that the beggar model is none other than Baron Hausberg, one of the richest men in Europe! Hughie is aghast when Trevor tells him that he has told the Baron about Hughie’s love for Laura Merton and her father’s demand.
Baron proves a philanthropist of incredible generosity. He gifts Hughie the ten thousand pounds he needs to get married to Laura. Alan Trevor, by way of praising the Baron, observes that millionaire models are rare enough, but model millionaires are rarer still.
The subtle humour with which Oscar Wilde narrates the story makes it more attractive.
When he talks about the Colonel, he brings out his character in a line, tinged with humour.
“The girl he loved was Laura Merton, the daughter of a retired Colonel who had lost his temper and his digestion in India, and had never found either of them again.”
Trevor’ comment on Hughie’s donating a sovereign to the beggar model is amusing.
“I can understand your kissing a pretty model, but your giving a sovereign to an ugly one – by Jove, no!”
Oscar Wilde presents an unconventional millionaire here. His times would have looked for a cruel one, with tainted money. But Wilde’s millionaire is truly rare as Trevor observes.
The fact revealed here is how appearances can deceive people.
The story as such begins with a contrast between appearance and reality.
Hughie was an “ineffectual man with a perfect profile and no profession”
Trevor’s opinion on appearance gets changed when he becomes Hughie’s friend.
“He had been very much attracted by Hughie at first, it must be acknowledged, entirely on account of his personal charm. ‘The only people a painter should know,’ he used to say, ‘are people who are bête and beautiful, people who are an artistic pleasure to look at and an intellectual repose to talk to. Men who are dandies and women who are darlings rule the world; at least they should do so”
One is curious to know why Hughie did not try to become a model.
Again, the description of the beggar’s appearance by the author is picturesque and interesting.
“He was a wizened old man, with a face like wrinkled parchment, and a most piteous expression.”
“Over his shoulders was flung a coarse brown cloak, all tears and tatters; his thick boots were patched and cobbled, and with one hand he learnt on a rough stick, while with the other he held out his battered hat for alms.
‘What an amazing model!’ whispered Hughie, as he shook hands with his friend. “
Trevor’s words reflect Oscar Wilde’s attitude as an artist.
‘An artist’s heart is his head,’ replied Trevor; ‘and besides, our business is to realize the world as we see it, not to reform it as we know it.