The Happy Prince
: A Paradoxical Aesthetic Tale and a Dual Critique of Victorian Times

  • Quentin Caizergues

Student thesis: Bachelor


This essay highlights The Happy Prince’s advantageous use of conventions of the fairy tale genre to stress critical issues of the Victorian period: the challenge of the established Christian socio-moral order, the rising of the bourgeois industrial society, and the advent of aestheticism as a response. Using the close reading technique supported by the Victorian socio-historical background, the analysis establishes that the criticism proceeds by double associations. Firstly, the clear structure of the tale, enriched by a plethora of aesthetical features and suitable narrative processes, is propitious for children’s access to a message calling for more human generosity. Meanwhile, subtle analogies to the Christian imagery appear blurred by paradoxical elements. This prevents a definite religious interpretation from adults to which those messages are intended. Secondly, in connection with aestheticism, a social and moral criticism takes the form of a satire of the utilitarian vision of the bourgeoisie and a questioning of the common Victorian beliefs: the link between beauty and moral integrity, as well as the moral code of femininity. Finally, the utilitarian discourse and the disapproval of the research for pleasure from beauty merging with a hedonist vision, advocate an “art for art’s sake” free of these respective considerations.

Date of Award2020-Jun-22
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLena Ahlin (Supervisor)

Courses and Subjects

  • English

University credits

  • 15 HE credits

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Specific Literatures (60204)


  • oscar wilde
  • the happy prince
  • fairy tale
  • aestheticism
  • moral standards
  • social satire
  • victorian society
  • christian values

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