The Young King

‘The land is free,’ said the young King,
‘and thou art no man’s slave.’

‘In war,’ answered the weaver, ‘the strong make slaves of the weak, and in peace the rich make slaves of the poor.
We must work to live, and they give us such mean wages that we die. We toil for them all day long, and they heap up gold in their coffers, and our children fade away before their time, and the faces of those we love become hard and evil.
We tread out the grapes, and another drinks the wine. We sow the corn, and our own board is empty.
We have chains, though no eye beholds them;
and are slaves, though men call us free.’

Oscar Wilde (1894/1987) “The Young King” in The Works of Oscar Wilde London:Galley Press, pp. 224–233. Quote from p. 227. Available on UCC Celt.

On 14th April 1894 the Spectator reviewed The House of Pomegranates by Oscar Wilde. The review found the tales “more mystical and less purely fanciful” than George McDonald’s The Light Princess, which the review also covered. It recognised “the hand of a leader of the modern aesthetic school” in the long descriptive passages but ultimately found those passages “after a while pall on the reader, as a banquet chiefly composed of luscious fruits and perfumed wines would pall on the appetite.”

The stories held some hard truths between the luscious fruits. The tale cited for its beautiful description, “The Young King”, also contained passages such as the one quoted above, condemning through fairy-tale language the ill-treatment of workers at home and abroad to provide goods for the wealthy. This echoes Wilde’s denunciation of Victorian economics in “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” (examined in detail in this post.)

The tale tells of a young king on the eve of his coronation, who dreams three dreams about the pain, suffering and death involved in the creation of his beautiful coronation robes. In the morning he rejects the robes, and faces the rejection of his people as a result. Read the whole story here.

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