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The Sphinx without a Secret -Oscar Wilde

by Stella Maris Berdaxagar


The Sphinx Without a Secret
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By Oscar Wilde
Table of Contents
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Learning Goals
Identify and enjoy features of classic literature.

Analyze interactions among discourse elements that constitute a genre.

Acquire vocabulary and grammar structures in context.

Develop higher order thinking skills to spot clues, make inferences, think critically and draw conclusions to pose arguments in answer to writing and speaking prompts.

Engage in individual and collaborative group work in integrated language skills.
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The Author
Born Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde on October 16, 1854, in Dublin, Ireland. An Irish-born English writer. Wilde was the leader in the aesthetic movement that was based on the principle of art for art's sake.
Educated at the Trinity College in Dublin, Wilde was inundated with the brilliant literary discussions of the time at his mother's Dublin salon. He went on to study at Oxford. There he excelled in the classics, wrote poetry and turned the Bohemian lifestyle from his youth into a new wave. As an aesthete, Wilde wore his hair long and velvet knee britches. He filled his rooms with sunflowers, peacock feathers, and china. He wanted to aspire to the perfection of china. Though ridiculed in periodicals and mocked in the comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan, Patience (1891) for his eccentricities, Wilde's brilliance, wit, and flair gathered him a lot of followers.
Wilde was a successful playwright and poet. His poetry was first published in 1881. and led to more successes and lecture tours. He married 1884 to a wealthy Irish woman and had two sons. Wilde then devoted himself to writing exclusively. He wrote some of his most auspicious works during this time, including The Happy Prince, The Picture of Dorian Gray, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest. A great many of his plays are being performed on the stage and screen to this day.
At the peak of his career, in 1895, Oscar Wilde was embroiled in one of the most sensational trials at the court of the century. Oscar had a close friend and suspected lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. Lord Douglas had and abusive father, John Douglas, the 9th Marquess of Queensberry. He was disgusted by his son's homosexuality and blamed Wilde for his son's depravity. For publicly slandering him, Wilde sued the Marquess. The Marquess retaliated by having Wilde arrested for sodomy. After a long and salacious trial, Oscar Wilde was accused and convicted of sodomy. Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor, and Lord Douglas was forced into exile. Afterward, Wilde was bankrupt and depressed, his writing took a much darker tone. The two reunited after Wilde's release from prison, but didn't stay together. Douglas later took part in several court cases standing against homosexuality.
Oscar Wilde spent the rest of his life in Paris, he wrote under the pseudonym Sebastian Melmoth. He converted to Roman Catholicism. During this time, he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a poem about the starkness of life in prison and the desperation of prisoners. Although published anonymously, it is hauntingly beautiful. Wilde died of meningitis on Nov. 30, 1900.
The Story
Two former classmates from Oxford meet by chance in Paris and discuss the mystery of a beautiful woman that one of them has known. It is a conversation between Victorian men in Paris. One is morose and the other assumes that his mood is the cause of a woman. The story commences and it is one in which the depression arrives because of a strange pursuit of a woman of mystery. Only it turns out that she wasn’t quite as mysterious as she seems. The friend suggests that this woman—Lady Alroy—set up the strangely secretive circumstances his friend has described specifically with intent because rather than being a woman of mystery, she is “a woman with a mania for mystery.”
An etching
One afternoon I was sitting outside the Cafe de la Paix, watching the splendour and shabbiness of Parisian life, and wondering over my vermouth at the strange panorama of pride and poverty that was passing before me, when I heard some one call my name. I turned round, and saw Lord Murchison. We had not met since we had been at college together, nearly ten years before, so I was delighted to come across him again, and we shook hands warmly. At Oxford we had been great friends. I had liked him immensely, he was so handsome, so high-spirited, and so honourable. We used to say of him that he would be the best of fellows, if he did not always speak the truth, but I think we really admired him all the more for his frankness. I found him a good deal changed. He looked anxious and puzzled, and seemed to be in doubt about something. I felt it could not be modern scepticism, for Murchison was the stoutest of Tories, and believed in the Pentateuch as firmly as he believed in the House of Peers; so I concluded that it was a woman, and asked him if he was married yet.
'I don't understand women well enough,' he answered.
'My dear Gerald,' I said, 'women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.'
'I cannot love where I cannot trust,' he replied.
The Sphinx Without a Secret was featured as The Short Story of the Day on Sat, May 25, 2019
'I believe you have a mystery in your life, Gerald,' I exclaimed; 'tell me about it.'
'Let us go for a drive,' he answered, 'it is too crowded here. No, not a yellow carriage, any other colour - there, that dark-green one will do;' and in a few moments we were trotting down the boulevard in the direction of the Madeleine.
'Where shall we go to?' I said.
'Oh, anywhere you like!' he answered - 'to the restaurant in the Bois; we will dine there, and you shall tell me all about yourself.'
'I want to hear about you first,' I said. 'Tell me your mystery.'
He took from his pocket a little silver-clasped morocco case, and handed it to me. I opened it. Inside there was the photograph of a woman. She was tall and slight, and strangely picturesque with her large vague eyes and loosened hair. She looked like a clairvoyante, and was wrapped in rich furs.
'What do you think of that face?' he said; 'is it truthful?'
I examined it carefully. It seemed to me the face of some one who had a secret, but whether that secret was good or evil I could not say. Its beauty was a beauty moulded out of many mysteries - the beauty, in face, which is psychological, not plastic - and the faint smile that just played across the lips was far too subtle to be really sweet.
'Well,' he cried impatiently, 'what do you say?'
'She is the Gioconda in sables,' I answered. 'Let me know all about her.'
'Not now,' he said; 'after dinner;' and began to talk of other things.