Book Review:  The Model Millionaire (Oscar Wilde).

The Model Millionaire is a short story written by Oscar Wilde. I have always enjoyed Oscar Wilde’s writing.  I have a book that has a collection of short stories by Wilde and I found this story in there. The story focuses on a young man who shows kindness to a beggar despite not having much himself.

The protagonist of the story is young man Hughie Erskine. He is unlucky when it comes to financial matters and doesn’t have a job. He gets a fixed amount of money annually from an Aunt. Hughie has fallen in love with a girl named Laura Merton. Her father, Colonel Merton, is fond of Hughie but doesn’t want him to marry his daughter because of his poor financial situation. Colonel Merton tells Hughie when he earns ten thousand pounds is when he will allow him to marry Laura.

Alan Trevor is an artist friend of Hughie. Once Hughie goes to see him and Alan is painting an old man in tattered clothes and is holding out a hat in one hand as if asking for money. Hughie feels pity for the old beggar. He knows how much Alan pays his models. Even though Hughie doesn’t have much money himself, and he will have to constrain his budget, he gives the old man the highest denomination coin he has with him.  Later, when Hughie meets Alan again, he tells him that the old man asked a lot of questions about him, and Alan told him about Hughie and Laura’s story.

When Alan tells him that the old man is one of the wealthiest men in Europe Baron Hausberg, Hughie feels ashamed of giving him the coin. The next day a representative of Baron Hausberg comes to see Hughie and hands him an envelope that contains his wedding present. The envelope contains ten thousand pounds that allows Hughie to marry Laura, and Baron attends their wedding.

There are two themes that seem to be prominent in the story. One is the materialistic world Hughie lives in. He is a good person, charming and kind, but he is unable to be financially independent. This lack of financial status, in a way, affects how people view him. Colonel Merton likes Hughie but is reluctant to let Laura marry him because of his financial situation. His love for Laura is on one hand and earning enough money for Colonel’s approval on the other. It’s difficult for him to make both these ends meet.

The second theme is that of kindness. Hughie knows that if he gives the old man a coin, it will mean his budget will be further tightened. Despite of constraints, he might have to suffer; he still gives the old man his highest denomination coin because he feels he needs it more. The lesson here is that in the end, kindness always pays off. Hughie’s act of kindness moves the Baron to give him the money which lets Hughie marry Laura.

The materialistic world and kindness do seem like contrasting ideas to put in one story, and logically they are, but in this story, it works. The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wild is a lovely short story. It has the charm of Wilde’s writing, and the message is subtly woven instead of being preachy. I enjoyed reading it.

*Click on the book cover above to get a copy.

Author: Aarti Athavle

Daydreamer - Writer - Bibliophile

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