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June 2, 2024 27 mins

Margaret reads you a children's story written by one of the greatest queer icons of history.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Cool Zone Media book Club book Club book Club book Club.
Hello and welcome to Coolson Media book Club, the only
book club where I do the reading for you. I'm
your host, Margaret Kiljoy. And this week I'm really excited
about this week. I probably say that most weeks I'm

(00:24):
pretty excited about most weeks. I kind of love my job.
So today's story is by one of my all time
favorite people, Oscar Wilde. He's one of the most misquoted
and misremembered people in history. Oscar Wilde was an Irish
anarchist who lived at the end of the nineteenth century
and became for a while the most famous Irish Man

(00:46):
in England. He's remembered for being clever and various quips
like telling border guards I have nothing to declare but
my genius, or for how on his deathbed he kept
telling visitors me and that wallpaper, or in a fight
to the death. He's remembered as this basically a political
clever fellow, not just as a dandy, but as the dandie.

(01:12):
I remember him differently after all that I've read about him.
I did a two parter on cool people who did
cool stuff about him recently. Check it. Out if you
haven't already. Oscar Wilde was a flamboyant queer icon who
beat up his bullies and talked openly and intelligently about anarchism,
including paying the bail for an anarchist and writing this essay,
The Soul of Man under Socialism, which became one of

(01:35):
the most widely read tracts about socialism, and it was
about anti authoritarian socialism. Because he was cool, he was
persecuted relentlessly for his sexuality, and eventually the state essentially
hounded him to death. After a spectacular show trial, he
was convicted to hard labor for his sexual interest in men,
which broke his health and led him to an early grave.

(01:58):
It's how I learned that a treadmill was originally called
that because prisoners would walk on it to mill things
like he had to do. He wrote introspectively about his
time in prison, about how suffering is as much a
part of life as the joy and reckless abandoned that
he'd also sought out in his life. On his deathbed,

(02:18):
with his longtime lover and sometimes partner at his side,
he converted to Catholicism. He was also yes woody as hell,
so queer Irish Catholic anarchist Oscar Wilde. I see you.
This week's story is the title story of a book
he published in eighteen eighty eight, at the peak of
his career and as he was just discovering his politics.

(02:41):
The book is called The Happy Prince and Other Stories,
and the story is called The Happy Prince. You probably
figured that out because it's in the title of the
episode you downloaded, and also because I told you it
was the title story of a book called The Happy Prince.
I hope you enjoy this story as much as I do.
Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde eighteen eighty eight. High above

(03:05):
the city, on a tall column stood the statue of
the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin
leaves of fine gold for eyes. He had two bright sapphires,
and a large red ruby glowed on his sword hilt.
He was very much admired. Indeed, he is as beautiful
as a weathercock, remarked one of the town counselors, who
wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes. Only

(03:29):
not quite so useful, he added, fearing lest people should
think him unpractical, which he really was. Not. Why can't
you be like the happy prince, asked a sensible mother
of her little boy, who was crying for the moon.
The happy prince never dreams of crying for anything. I
am glad there is someone in the world who is
quite happy, muttered a disappointed man as he gazed at

(03:50):
the wonderful statue. He looks just like an angel, said
the charity children as they came out of the cathedral
in their bright scarlet cloaks and their clean white pen
How do you know, said the mathematical master. You have
never seen one, Ah, but we have in our dreams,
answered the children, And the mathematical master frowned and looked

(04:12):
very severe, for he did not approve of children dreaming.
One night, there flew over the city a little swallow.
His friends had gone away to Egypt six weeks before,
but he had stayed behind, for he was in love
with most beautiful Reed. He had met her early in
the spring as he was flying down the river after
a big yellow moth, and had been so attracted by

(04:34):
her slender waiste that he had stopped to talk to her.
Shall I love you? Said the swallow, who liked to
come to the point at once, and the reed made
him a low bow. So he flew round and round her,
touching the water with his wings, making silver ripples. This
was his courtship, and it lasted all through the summer.
It is a ridiculous attachment, twittered the other swallows. She

(04:57):
has no money and far too many relations. And indeed
the river was quite full of reeds. Then when the
autumn came, they all flew away. After they had gone,
he felt lonely and began to tire of his lady love.
She is no conversation, he said, And I am afraid
she is a coquette, for she is always flirting with
the wind, and certainly whenever the wind blew, the reed

(05:19):
made the most graceful curtsies. I admit that she is domestic,
he continued. But I love traveling, and my wife consequently
should love traveling also. Will you come away with me,
he said finally to her. But the reeds shook her head.
She was so attached to her home. You have been
trifling with me, he cried. I am off to the pyramids.

(05:40):
Good bye, And he flew away. All day long he flew,
and at night time he arrived at the city. Where
shall I put up, he said, I hope the town
has made preparations. Then he saw the statue on the
tall column. I will put up there, he cried. It
is a fine position with plenty of fresh air. So

(06:02):
he alighted just between the feet of the happy prince.
I have a golden bedroom, he said softly to himself
as he looked round, and he prepared to go to sleep.
But just as he was putting his head under his wing,
a large drop of water fell on him. What a
curious thing, he cried. There is not a single cloud
in the sky. The stars are quite clear and bright,

(06:22):
and yet it is raining. The climate in the north
of Europe is really dreadful. The reed used to like
the rain, but that was merely her selfishness. Then another
drop fell. What is the use of a statue if
it cannot keep the rain off? He said, I must
look for a good chimney pot, and he determined to
fly away. But before he had opened his wings, a

(06:43):
third drop fell, and he looked up and saw, Ah,
what did he see? I'll tell you what he saw,
but only after you listen to ads like a captive audience,
or press the forward fifteen seconds button. As many times
as you want, until you hear the bumper music, and
then I'll start again, and we're back. The eyes of

(07:13):
the Happy Prince were filled with tears, and tears were
running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful
in the moonlight that the little swallow was filled with pity.
Who are you? He said, I am the happy Prince.
Why are you weeping? Then asked the swallow, You've quite
drenched me. When I was alive and had a human heart,

(07:35):
answered the statue, I did not know what tears were,
for I lived in the Palace of San Souci, where
sorrow is not allowed to enter. In the daytime, I
played with my companions in the garden, and in the
evening I led the dance in the great hall. Round
the garden ran a very lofty wall, but I never
cared to ask what lay beyond it. Everything around me

(07:55):
was so beautiful. My courtiers called me the happy Prince,
and happy indeed I was, if pleasure be happiness. So
I lived, and so I died, And now that I
am dead, they have set me up here so high
that I can see all the ugliness and all the
misery of my city. And though my heart is made
of lead. I cannot choose, but weep. What is he

(08:17):
not solid gold? Said the swallow to himself. He was
too polite to make any personal remarks out loud. Far away,
continued the statue in a low musical voice. Far away,
in a little street, there is a poorhouse. One of
the windows is open, and through it I can see
a woman seated at a table. Her face is thin
and worn, and she has coarse, red hands, all pricked

(08:40):
by the needle, for she is a seamstress. She is
embroidering passion flowers on a satin gown for the loveliest
of the Queen's maids of honor to wear at the
next court ball. In a bed in the corner of
the room, her little boy is lying ill. He has
a fever and is asking for oranges. His mother has

(09:00):
nothing to give him but river water, so he is crying. Swallow, swallow,
little swallow, will you not bring her the ruby out
of my sword hilt. My feet are fastened to this pedestal,
and I cannot move. I am waited for in Egypt,
said the swallow. My friends are flying up and down
the nile and talking to the large lotus flowers. Soon

(09:24):
they will go to sleep in the tomb of the
Great King. The king is there himself in his painted coffin.
He is wrapped in yellow linen and embalmed with spices.
Round his neck is a chain of pale green jade,
and his hands are like withered leaves. Swallow, Swallow, little swallow,
said the prince, will you not stay with me for
one night and be my messenger? The boy is so thirsty,

(09:48):
and the mother so sad. I don't think I like boys,
answered the swallow. Last summer, when I was staying on
the river, there were two rude boys, the miller's sons,
who are always throwing stones at me. They never hit me.
Of course, we swallows fly far too well for that,
and besides, I come of a family famous for its agility.

(10:09):
But still it was a mark of disrespect. But the
happy prince looked so sad that the little swallow was sorry.
It is very cold here, he said, but I will
stay with you for one night and be your messenger.
Thank you, little swallow, said the prince. So the swallow
picked out the great ruby from the Prince's sword and

(10:30):
flew away with it in his beak. Over the roofs
of the town. He passed by the cathedral tower, where
the white marble angels were sculptured. He passed by the
palace and heard the sound of dancing. A beautiful girl
came out on the balcony with her lover. How wonderful
the stars are, he said to her, And how wonderful
is the power of love. I hope my dress will

(10:53):
be ready in time for the state ball. She answered,
I have ordered passion flowers to be embroidered on it,
but this seems stresses are so lazy. He passed over
the river and saw the lanterns hanging to the masts
of the ships. He passed over the ghetto and saw
the old Jews bargaining with each other and weighing out
money in copper scales. At last he came to the

(11:14):
poorhouse and looked in. The boy was tossing feverishly on
his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep, she was
so tired. In he hopped and laid the great ruby
on the table beside the woman's thimble. Then he flew
gently round the bed, fanning the boy's forehead with his wings.
How cool I feel, said the boy. It must be
getting better, and he sank into a delicious slumber. Then

(11:39):
the swallow flew back to the happy Prince and told
him what he had done. It is curious, he remarked,
But I feel quite warm now, although it is so cold.
That is because you have done a good action, said
the prince. And the little swallow began to think, and
then he fell asleep. Thinking always made him sleepy. When
day broke, he fled down to the river and had

(12:01):
a bath. What a remarkable phenomenon, said the professor of
ornithology as he was passing over the bridge. A swallow
in winter, and he wrote a long letter about him
to the local newspaper. Everyone quoted it. It was so
full of so many words that they could not understand. Tonight,
I shall go to Egypt, said the swallow, and he

(12:22):
was in high spirits at the prospect. He visited all
the public monuments and sat a long time on top
of the church steeple. Wherever he went, the sparrows chirruped
and said to each other, what a distinguished stranger. So
he enjoyed himself very much. When the moon rose, he
flew back to the happy Prince. Have you any commissions
for Egypt, he cried, I am just starting. Swallow, Swallow,

(12:45):
little swallow, said the prince, Will you not stay with
me one night longer? I am waited for in Egypt,
answered the swallow. Tomorrow my friends will fly up to
the second cataract. The river horse couches there among the bulrushes,
and on a great granite throne sits the god Memnon.
All night long he watches the stars, and when the
morning star shines, he utters one cry of joy, and

(13:08):
then he is silent. At noon, the yellow lions come
down to the water's edge to drink. They have eyes
like green barrels, and their roar is louder than the
roar of the cataract. Swallow, Swallow, little swallow, said the prince.
Far away, across the city, I see a young man
in a garret. He is leaning over a desk covered

(13:28):
with papers, and in a tumbler. By his side there
is a bunch of withered violets. His hair is brown
and crisp, and his lips are as red as pomegranate,
and he has large and dreamy eyes. He is trying
to finish a play for the director of the theater,
but he is too cold to write any more. There
is no fire in the grate, and hunger has made

(13:49):
him faint. I will wait with you one night longer,
said the swallow, who really had a good heart. Shall
I take him another ruby? Alas I have no ruby now,
said the prince. My eyes are all that I have left.
They are made of rare sapphires, which were brought out
of India a thousand years ago. Pluck out one of
them and take it to him. He will sell it

(14:11):
to the jeweler and buy food and firewood and finish
his play. Dear Prince, said the swallow. I cannot do that,
and he began to weep. Swallow, swallow, little swallow, said
the prince, Do as I command you. So the swallow
plucked out the prince's eye and flew away to the
student's garret. It was easy enough to get in, as

(14:33):
there was a hole in the roof. Through this he
darted and came into the room. The young man had
his head buried in his hands, so he did not
hear the flutter of the bird's wings, and when he
looked up he found the beautiful sapphire lying on the
withered violets. I am beginning to be appreciated. He cried,
this is from some great admirer. Now I can finish

(14:54):
my play, and he looked quite happy. The next day,
the swallow flew down to the harbor. He sat on
the mast of a large vessel and watched the sailors
hauling big chests out of the hold with ropes. Heave
a hoy, they shouted as each chest came up. I
am going to Egypt, cried the swallow. But nobody minded,
and when the moon rose, he flew back to the

(15:16):
happy prince. I am come to bid you good bye,
he cried, Swallow, Swallow, little swallow, said the prince. Will
you not stay with me one night longer? It is winter,
answered the swallow, and the chill snow will soon be
here in Egypt. The sun is warm on the green
palm trees, and the crocodiles lie in the mud and

(15:37):
look lazily about them. My companions are building a nest
in the temple of Baldbeck, and the pink and white
doves are watching them and cooing to each other. Dear Prince,
I must leave you, but I will never forget you,
and next spring I will bring you back. Two beautiful
jewels in place of those you have given away. The
ruby shall be redder than a red rose, and the
sapphire shall be as blue as the great sea. In

(16:01):
the square below, said the happy Prince, there stands a
little match girl. She has let her matches fall in
the gutter, and they are all spoiled. Her father will
beat her if she does not bring home some money,
and she is crying. She has no shoes or stockings,
and her little head is bare. Pluck out my other
eye and give it to her, and her father will

(16:22):
not beat her. I will stay with you one night longer,
said the swallow. But I cannot pluck out your eye.
You would be quite blind. Then, swallow, swallow, little swallow,
said the prince, Do as I command you. So he
plucked out the Prince's other eye and darted down with it.
He swooped past the match girl and slipped the jewel

(16:44):
into the palm of her hand. What a lovely bit
of glass, cried the little girl, and she ran home laughing.
Then the swallow came back to the prince. You are
blind now, he said, so I will stay with you always. No, swallow,
said the poor prince, You must go away to Egypt.
I will stay with you, always, said the swallow, and

(17:07):
he slept at the Prince's feet, and Umm, here's ads,

(17:28):
and we're back. All the next day he sat on
the Prince's shoulder and told him stories of what he
had seen in strange lands. He told him of the
red ibises, who stand in long rows on the banks
of the nile and catch goldfish in their beaks, Of
the sphinx, who is as old as the world itself
and lives in the desert and knows everything. Of the

(17:51):
merchants who walk slowly by the sides of their camels
and carry amber beads in their hands. Of the king
of the mountains of the moon, who is as black
as ebony and worships a large crystal. Of the great
green snake that sleeps in the palm tree and has
twenty priests to feed it with honeycakes. And of the pigmies,
who sail over a big lake on large flat leaves

(18:13):
and are always at war with the butterflies. Dear little swallow,
said the Prince, you tell me of marvelous things, but
more marvelous than anything, as the suffering of men and
of women. There is no mystery so great as misery.
Fly over my city, little swallow, and tell me what
you see there. So the swallow flew over the great

(18:34):
city and saw the rich making merry in their beautiful houses,
while the beggars were sitting at the gates. He flew
into dark lanes and saw the white faces of starving
children looking out listlessly at the black streets. Under the
archway of a bridge, two little boys were lying in
one another's arms and trying to keep themselves warm. How

(18:54):
hungry we are, they said. You must not lie here,
shouted the watchmen, and they wandered out into the rain.
Then he flew back and told the prince what he
had seen. I am covered with fine gold, said the prince.
You must take it off, leaf by leaf and give
it to my poor. The living always think that gold

(19:14):
can make them happy. Leaf after leaf of the fine
gold the swallow picked off, till the happy prince looked
quite dull and gray. Leaf after leaf of the fine
gold he brought to the poor, And the children's faces
grew rosier, and they laughed and played games in the streets.
We have bread now, they cried. Then the snow came,

(19:36):
and after the snow came the frost. The streets looked
as if they were made of silver, they were so
bright and glistening. Long icicles like crystal daggers hung down
from the eaves of the houses, and everybody went about
in furs, and the little boys wore scarlet caps and
skatered on the ice. The poor little swallow grew colder

(19:56):
and colder, but he would not leave the prince. He
loved him too well. He picked up crumbs outside the
baker's door when the baker was not looking, and tried
to keep himself warm by flapping his wings. But at
last he knew he was going to die. He had
just enough strength to fly up to the prince's shoulder
once more. Goodbye, dear Prince, he murmured, will you let

(20:20):
me kiss your hand? I am glad that you are
going to Egypt. At last, a little swallow, said the prince.
You have stayed too long here, but you must kiss
me on the lips, for I love you. It is
not to Egypt that I am going, said the swallow.
I am going to the house of death. Death is
the brother of sleep, is he not? And he kissed

(20:41):
the happy prince on the lips and fell down dead
at his feet. At that moment, a curious crack sounded
inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact
is that the leaden heart had snapt right in two.
It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost. Early next morning,
the mayor was walking in the square below in company

(21:03):
with the town councilors. As they passed the column, he
looked up at the statue. Dear me, how shabby the
happy Prince looks, he said, How shabby? Indeed, cried the
town councilors, who always agreed with the mayor, and they
went up to look at it. The ruby has fallen
out of his sword, his eyes are gone, and he
is golden no longer, said the mare. In fact, he

(21:24):
is little better than a beggar. Little better than a beggar,
said the town councilors. And here is actually a dead
bird at his feet, continued the mayor. We really must
issue a proclamation that birds are not allowed to die there.
And the town clerk made a note of the suggestion.
So they pulled down the statue of the happy Prince.

(21:45):
As he is no longer beautiful, he is no longer useful,
said the art professor at the university. Then they melted
the statue in a furnace, and the mayor held a
meeting of the corporation to decide what was to be
done with the metal. We must have an statue, of course,
he said. And it shall be a statue of myself.
Of myself, said each of the town counselors, and they quarreled.

(22:08):
When I last heard of them, they were quarreling. Still,
what a strange thing, said the overseer of the workmen
at the foundry. This broken lead heart will not melt
in the furnace. We must throw it away. So they
threw it on the dust heap, where the dead swallow
was also lying. Bring me the two most precious things

(22:29):
in the city, said God to one of his angels,
And the angel brought him the leaden heart and the
dead bird. You have rightly chosen, said God, For in
my garden of Paradise, this little bird shall sing for evermore,
and in my city of Gold, the happy prince shall
praise me. And that's the story. I got emotional when

(22:52):
the bird died. I likes the bird. I like this
story so much. I do have to acknowledge. Right, you
can see of very Victorian orientalism going on throughout here, right,
But it's interesting to me for a couple reasons. The
part that stands out to me, of course the most
is you know, then the Jews in their ghetto counting
money on scales, right, And it's like not exactly the

(23:13):
best representation. It comes in the context as I understand it,
and I could be wrong about this, it's like kind
of a description of how interesting and diverse the city is.
You know. The swallow is someone who clearly cares about
the great many different and interesting and beautiful things that
happen all over the world, and also like right at
home where he lives. And so you can look at

(23:35):
the orientalism as part of that. But then another aspect
of it that I think was probably conscious. You could
get hanged for being gay at this time, or maybe
they had just passed that, like we no longer hang you.
He just sends you to hard labor and then koll
you that way, which is what happened to Oscar Wilde.
He is the swallow very obviously in the story, and
he dies right about fifteen years after this came out.

(23:57):
And gay men would go to the Ottoman mp higher
because being a gay man in the Ottoman Empire was
not a death sentence, and instead it was like a
place where being gay it was a okay by and large.
There were like certain laws against it that weren't really enforced.
Those different at different times and places. But I've read
a bunch of different times about European men with enough

(24:19):
means getting themselves the fuck over to the Ottoman Empire,
and so it seems like all of the other swallows
have gone to Egypt. It feels to me like that's
what he's talking about. Though of course obviously swallows, you know,
literally migrate, right. But that's my read on that part
of it. Is there a word for when someone writes

(24:40):
a parable about their own future and gets it kind
of creepily right? Like, I don't know, because that's what's
happening in this story. Oscar Wilde was a dandy and
he you know, kind of didn't care about anything, and
he was you know, he was Irish. He was a
colonized subject, but he was a Protestant and from a
good background and not doing particularly badly right, and he

(25:03):
was part of high society in London. And so here's
this thing about being like, oh wait, no, fuck all
of that. The thing that matters is to turn my
attention to oppression and start trying, through whatever means, to
start dealing with that. And that's what he did. The
most quotable man in history. But one of the quotes

(25:24):
that people don't say as often is I'm going to
get it wrong, but misquoting Oscar Wild's like part of
the fun. But people ask what is the best government
for the artists to live under? And the answer is
no government at all. The other thing let's talk about
more in the episode about him, but I just like
really want to reiterate. You know, yes, there is a

(25:45):
moral lesson to this story, right, and it's like not
surprising that this man ended up both an anarchist and
Catholic after reading this story. But his whole thing was
that art should not be in service of the revolution,
that the revolution should be in so of art. And
you can see that even in this story, even though
the story is like in service of the revolution in

(26:05):
as much as like a moral tale, right, But it's
like the playwright can't write because he's fucking starving, and
so he is aware of the fact that he gets
to write is a privilege and He's like, how do
we share the wealth so that these other people have
a chance to write? You know, and just happens to

(26:27):
be the playwrights attractive. This doesn't necessarily bother him that
the playwright's attractive and any other thing. For anyone's not aware.
The match girl is a common and shitty job that
poor children, especially girls had during this era, to stand
on the street and sell matches to people, let alone
the horrors of the people who made the matches. But

(26:47):
that's a story for a different time. Probably not next week.
Oh maybe I'll find some story about a match girl
who I actually know the story about a match girl.
Maybe I'll do that. I'm not sure you'll find out
next week on cool Zone Media book Club Club. It
Could Happen here as a production of cool Zone Media.

(27:07):
For more podcasts from cool Zone Media, visit our website
coolzonemedia dot com, or check us out on the iHeartRadio app,
Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can
find sources for It Could Happen Here, updated monthly at
coolzonemedia dot com slash sources. Thanks for listening,

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