« Lord Arthur Savile’s crime » is a short story written by Oscar Wilde and published in 1891. Originally part of a collection of short stories, “Lord Arthur Savile’s crime” came together with “The Canterville ghost”, “The Sphynx without a secret”, “The model millionaire”. Still, in its original form, it was first published in 1887 in the Court and society review.
Lord Arthur Savile is introduced by Lady Windermere to her chiromantist, Mr Podgers. Although doubtful about Podgers’ ability, Savile is intrigued. Hard pressed by Savile, Podgers reads his palms and reveals to him he will commit a murder. But Lord Savile is in love with his fiancée, Sybil Merton. Now obsessed with the revelation, he is concerned he might murder her. In order to avoid killing the woman he loves, he finds a solution: killing someone else. It is the only way he will then fulfil the prophecy and therefore protect his future. First he postpones his marriage and plans to kill his aunt Clementina, who is quite old and suffers from heartburn. He gives her a little silver bonbonnière containing a capsule of an efficient poison known as aconitine. He reads about his aunt’s death when in Venice, and is suddenly relieved. He later finds out she has not touched the capsule, meaning she died of natural death after all and that consequently he is not the murderer. He postpones his marriage with Sybil a second time. Disappointed with his unsuccessful first attempt at murder, he places his hopes in the person of the Dean of Chichester, distant family relative. He visits a German anarchist and obtains an explosive clock, which he then sends to his future victim. But the explosive clock does not explode. Rather it spends the day producing harmless explosions, much to the amusement of the family, for whom this toy is the next new thing. Disappointed, depressed, Lord Savile waanders aimlessly in London when he meets the chiromantist on a bridge over the river Thames. Lord Savile has a brilliant idea. Without hesitation, he grabs the man and throws him into the Thames, and goes away. The reader is then led to believe the chiromantist might have been a liar; regardless, Lord Savile lives happily ever after.Got to top
A jewel of dark humour
“Lord Arthur Savile’s crime” is a jewel. Wilde clearly mastered the art of writing short stories. The style is impeccable, simple and elegant at the same time, he sometimes forces the literary clichés in the description, probably to enhance and mock the high society feeling. The dialogues are a good reflection of his playwright skills; women are concerned with the usual frivolous matters, and men say the same platitudes with the expected stiff upper lip. The situations and the characters are pure genius: the logic of Lord Savile, who will become a murderer because he believes it is fate, and first thinks of the impact on his marriage, the German anarchist who supplies a bomb which then goes off, the chemist who sells a dangerous poison without blinking, the fiancée, whose marriage is constantly postponed… In addition, the short story is peppered with delightful Shakespearean allusions, Hamlet, King Lear… Here is a taste…When Lord Savile is confronted with destiny: “Many men in his position would have preferred the primrose path of dalliance to the steep heights of duty; but Lord Savile was too conscientious to set pleasure above principle.” or “Fortunately also, for him, he was no dreamer, or idle dilettante. Had he been so, he would have hesitated, like Hamlet, and let irresolution mar its purpose.”, or “Was there no escape possible? Were we no better than chessmen, moved by an unseen power, vessels the potter fashions at his fancy, for honour or for shame?...The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”.
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