Beauty of Soul: Oscar Wilde & Anton Chekhov

Everything we know about people is wrong.

Well, perhaps that’s going a little far. But, really. Take Oscar. Oscar Wilde. He stands for one thing and one thing only. Wit. Sharp wit. Glittering wit. Keen, wicked, penetrating wit. Camp. Clever. Crushing. Proud, peacocky and impertinent.

Recording Oscar Wilde and Anton Chekhov. © Samfry Ltd 2008

Recording Oscar Wilde and Anton Chekhov. © Samfry Ltd 2008

Wrong. Wrong, wronger, wrongest.

Certainly Wilde was witty, certainly he is remembered for firing off epigrams like a belt-fed mortar. But look properly at the man and his works and you will see that the spirits that most animated him were in fact those of sympathy and imagination., which are really one spirit. Wilde was an artist; he was of course prince among artists in his time. He championed art above everything. But that is because he understood that art is the product, not of intellect, wit or superior faculties of understanding, but of imagination. As it happens he had intellect, wit and superior faculties of understanding and he had them in spades. Such qualities can make a critic, a businessman, a lawyer, a politician, a scholar or a general. They can fit a person to be almost anything; anything, that is, but an artist. To be sure they are fine qualities for an artist to have, but they are not necessary or sufficient for the making of an artist. For that what is needed is imagination.

We know that imagination is about making things up. About pretending. About creating worlds, pictures, situations and characters all out of our head.

Everything we know is wrong.

Wrong. Wrong, wronger, wrongest.

It is fantasy that makes things up and fantasy is quite another thing. Imagination is the ability to enter someone else’s mind. To penetrate another’s experience. To feel what another feels: to see the world as they see it, to suffer their pain, participate in their sins and in their triumphs, loves, fears and hopes. Imagination is a product of memory and sympathy. Some have it, just as some have perfect pitch or athletic hand-eye coordination. Or maybe some can be trained to have it, I don’t know. A paradox is that it seems harder to penetrate one’s own mind, participate in one’s own experience and discover one’s own feelings than those of another. You might find it easier genuinely to imagine what it is to be a Guatemalan coffee grower or a Siberian oil-pipe welder, really to see the world as they see it, smell it, understand it and experience it, than to imagine what is like to be yourself, the reader of this sentence, the owner of your own eyes and personality. But that’s a whole nother question and you haven’t bustled out of the cold real world and into the warm glow of my cosy cyber cabin just to be regaled by improbable verbal surds and untenable ontological curlicues. And if you have, you’re silly and must stop it right now please.

Stephen Fry reads a selection of Oscar Wilde’s short stories. © Samfry Ltd 2008

Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Stories are, in a true sense then, triumphs of the imagination. His wit was always the triumph of the imagination. That is why he is still so venerated around the world. Not because he was the master of the clever aside and lord of the titter-worthy bon mot, not because he was a gay martyr or an Irish hero. His wit endures because it is the kind of wit that has been inside our heads and hearts and discovered for us what we think and feel before we knew it ourselves. His stories endure for that reason also. The eponyms of The Happy Prince and The Young King, for instance, are both granted artistic visions, one through a bird, one through a dream. They both imagine, see and feel what most of us fail to, as even the swallow fails, and he physically sees what the prince cannot. In the case of the Nightingale and the Rose it is the scholar who is without imagination while the nightingale bleeds her own heart’s blood in a kind of parable of art, love, sacrifice and suffering.

Because Wilde was an artist he saw the artist in everyone. He believed that Christ was an artist and that Satan was an artist. He believes that you and I are artists too.

Everything we think we know about people is wrong.

Anton Chekhov is a case in point. Grim. Russian. Gloomy. Stark. Bleak. Melancholic. Sorrowful. Suicidal. Tragic. Well, I’ll give you Russian. He was that all right. As for the rest. Grim? Chekhov? Bleak? No, no. Chekhov was the foremost comic artist of his age. If by comic we mean something more than slapstick, farce or revue. There are satirists, like Swift, who cannot hide the fact that they believe humanity in all its forms from the grandest king to the lowliest serf to be nothing short of pathetic, ludicrous and disgusting; there are others, like Chekhov who find it just as hard to conceal their sympathy, kinship and fellow feeling. Of course there are many who share that feeling – indeed I like to think I am one of their number – but ninety-nine percent of us are sentimentalists. Chekhov is almost unique in that his optimism, humanity and sympathy are never sentimental. His gaze is apparently pitiless and yet the effect of his stories is the opposite. Perhaps that is because Chekhov was a doctor. Indeed so far as he was concerned he was a doctor first and a writer second. Doctors are very often merciless to the point of callous indifference and yet the purpose and outcome of their work is the opposite of merciless. It is one of the characteristics that marks out the artist too: pitiless truth that might seem hurtful but which heals.

Perhaps what connects the works of these two extraordinary writers is a quality that was once called, without embarrassment, Beauty of Soul.

Oscar Wilde’s Fairy Tales continue to exert the same pull over the imagination and emotions as they did when he first read them to his children in the 1880s. Written with inspired poetic intensity and sudden flowerings of the matchless wit for which he is so well remembered, the stories combine the wisdom of parables with the impact of drama. I have loved them since I was a child: indeed they continue to make a child of me. I do not mind admitting that at the recording some passages were hard to read out loud without choking. I hope you will be as entranced by them as I have always been.

Chekhov is probably better known in Britain for his plays than for his prose. For many, however, it was his short stories that mark the high water of his genius. It might at first glance be hard for those not used to his style of narrative to see what the fuss is about (and fuss there is: for most authors and lovers of literature Chekhov is incomparably the greatest short story writer there ever was): these tales appear to be about nothing. Some are shockingly short and seemingly inconsequential. They often fail to provide that sting in the tail or punch in the gut that we associate with the kind of popular Roald Dahl, Somerset Maugham story. But if you let the character, observation and language do its work I hope you will agree with me that no writer captured, mood, moral entanglement, familial love and the pains and joys of humanity quite as well and with quite so much sympathy and fellow-feeling as Anton Chekhov.

Reading these stories aloud is a sensuous and sensual pleasure. Wilde’s words are like luscious fruits. His sometimes biblical orotundity is counterpointed by little stabs of contemporaneity, bathos and surprise. But how I kept myself from choking and sobbing when reading The Happy Prince and the Nightingale and the Rose is no mystery. I didn’t.

Chekhov’s stories demand I suppose, as do his plays, a rather different vocal thread to be unwound. These delicate, located slices of life require a simpler narrative style than Wilde’s fables which inhabit the neverland that is the alwaysland of fairytales. There remains, of course, the problem that one is reading Chekhov in English sentences that he wrote in Russian. The translations I chose are long-established (let’s be honest, they are old enough to be out of copyright) and not uninfected with uncomfortable instances of ‘translationese’. But to be inside a Chekhov short story is an experience I wouldn’t exchange for a wilderness of monkeys.

Everything we know may be wrong, but art helps us believe that…

Everything we feel is right.

It is odd that we value knowledge above feeling and persuade ourselves too that knowledge is more difficult than feeling But that is a thought for another day and another pair of pyjamas.

Oscar Wilde read by Stephen is available here on iTunes Store and good digital retailers.
© Samfry Ltd 2008

Stories read are:
THE YOUNG KING (Duration 33:59)
THE SELFISH GIANT (Duration 10:56)
THE HAPPY PRINCE (Duration 20:56)
THE DEVOTED FRIEND (Duration 24:34)

Anton Chekhov read by Stephen is available here on iTunes Store on and good digital retailers.
© Samfry Ltd 2008

Stories read are:
THE LADY WITH THE DOG (Duration 40:37)
THE HUNTSMAN (Duration 10:49)
OYSTERS (Duration 9:56)
MISERY (Duration 13:30)
BOYS (Duration 15:37)
AN AVENGER (Duration 12:27)
A BLUNDER (Duration 4:57)

So. There they are, residing on the servers and patiently awaiting your inspection. Click here for Oscar Wilde and Click here for Anton Chekhov. I’m sorry I can’t bring them to you free: see the books on the store, see my blog here or hear my podgram here for a fuller explanation of that, but I hope you will agree that they are good value. My advice is to load them into your favourite MP3 player and go for a good long walk. You will be in the company of masters. Well, two masters and your obedient servant

Stephen x

* Available on iTunes globally. Also available on alternative digital retailers including Audible and Go Spoken.

This blog was posted in Blessays

53 comments on “Beauty of Soul: Oscar Wilde & Anton Chekhov”

  1. Bianca_Icaras says:

    Wow. Now you’ve really convinced me to either buy a Mac for Itunes (really above my budget right now), get an Ipod (darn, allready have an MP3 player. Ah well, i can probably get a second hand one somewhere cheep) or buy the Iphone.
    It’ll be a joy to hear you on my next long trainride crosscountry, so i’ll see if I can’t work a bit harder/longer, just to get a way to properly listen to your great voice and off course the other masters. ;)

    And thanks for brightening my day on Twitter! It was really great to see all those beautifull qoutes when i got home this morning from work. I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
    I really enjoy the site and everything you do for yóur humble servants, making some of our days a bit more fun. (oh gosh, I’m getting all mushy ;))

    Hope you have fun in the States!

    Love, Bianca_Icaras

  2. Tessa says:

    I have always LOVED Wilde’s Fairy Stories and can’t wait to get your rendition on iTunes – which is still not showing it here in Canada. Rats. FYI, I used to work in Dublin, in an office a few doors down from the Wilde house on the corner of Merrion Square. Last time I was in Dublin, I paid a pilgrimage to his statue in the park – known, with typical Dublin wit, as the Quare in the Square.

    Following your Tweets, as Chasaveen (Tessa was already taken. Double rats.)

  3. dpm says:

    As always, I enjoyed your ranting. I’m curious, however, how you distinguish imagination (under your definition) from empathy.

  4. Stephen_D says:

    This is exciting!
    been waiting ever since Fry2.0 was released.
    Will this all be the inspiration I need for my A level art that i’m nowhere in, if not you owe me some.

  5. HeidiW says:

    And you couldn’t have released this yesterday when I had the $25 iTunes gift card? Ah well, something to look forward to during the holidays, then. We’ll call it my special treat after finals. :)

  6. Patricio says:

    Perhaps this is my young brain trying to make sense of the world, but I think Wilde wrote or said some things because some things just have to be said. Not because they are true (true?), but because there is something in them (beauty? effervescence?) that needs to be shown. In a way, Wilde’s epigrams and witticisms were words that had to exist, and if he was the one with the task of making sure they did, well so be it.

    That’s a very personal sensation that is very difficult to describe, so sorry if I failed at it.

  7. Pickwick says:

    Do we love Wilde because he imagined and described how we actually feel and what we actually experience, or do we love him because he described for us the usually-unarticulated longing we share to feel and experience a level of beauty that is just beyond our reach?

    Hope you have great fun here in the States. I’m looking forward to purchasing this as soon as I’ve finished shopping for the people on my Christmas list.

  8. JeroenHoek says:

    Firstly, as a first time poster on this website I would like to express my gratitude for all you have done, and continue doing. I have been pleasantly entertained ever since you performed the role of Lord Snot, and continue to be inspired by your wit and eloquence. I suppose a huge amount of people say, mail, or e-mail these kind of statements to you all the time, and I can imagine it becoming a bit tedious. Nevertheless, I would consider myself rude if I just barged in here commenting without at least showing some appreciation for you, well, being Stephen Fry, I suppose.

    On to the gist of this comment. Your stories about Oscar Wilde have whet my appetite for this collection of short stories you present us with, but unfortunately, for users of one of the many flavours of the GNU/Linux operating system, there appears to be no viable method of purchasing this product on-line.

    The iTunes Store requires the iTunes software, Go Spoken appears aimed exclusively at mobile phones, and Audible seems to insist on a DRM encumbered file format. I understand that considering — let alone resolving — these kind of issues takes time, but would you consider selling your audio books in an open, or at least DRM-free, file format through an on-line store that does not require Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s MacOS and proprietary software to play back?

  9. Dmitrivna says:

    I agree – The Happy Prince is heartbreaking. If you really want something to sob over though, try Turgenev’s “Mumu.” My god, what a story.

    Also, just wanted to mention that I find the very upfront, unsentimental nature that you wrote about for Chekov a very [i]Russian[/i] trait. Or, who knows, maybe that’s just my family, ha.

  10. monochromeprincess says:

    As much as I love what you’ve written here it is that reoccuring statement that catches my imagination so; this existentialist feeling of the unknown that can sit so cold in our minds, that can make us feel the most alone that mankind is able to feel – and to know that above all things, art is there to centre us, to make us feel more human, more real, to link us together in a metaphorical world, a fantasy, which becomes more real, more profound and ultimately more truthful than the confusing barrage of reality that hits us so gracelessly every time we wake. What is this strange world we inhabit? Art can, if not lay the path to understanding, offer a portal, a window into a world that everyone else is looking into; and so we see each other, for what we really are, bare and without artificial construction; it can glimpse the true nature of the human soul.

    I will be honest with you; I am entirely more interested in the other pair of pyjamas, but that is merely because I, as someone who struggles with knowledge and emotion equally, am deeply interested in the dynamic that they share. Knowledge can make the process of experiencing emotion a more transparent thing, but we still find ourselves looking at the cogs behind glass, unable to poke our fingers through and change the patterns in place. That is a problem that I don’t think will ever disappear from the human psyche, and the discomfort we feel towards our own human condition: we can explain away the world, but we cannot explain ourselves.

    I love the quasi-academia that I can find on your site (not only of your offerings but of other members that frequent this ‘cosy cyber cabin’…hurrah for the forum): it sets me at ease because it is the world that I know and the world in which I wish I could live my life. Because, as naiive it may be for me to say so, I still believe that literature and art contains an essential truth; I do believe that the Surrealists were right. So thank you for that.

    I’ve written quite enough. Have a lovely time in America.

    Debs xxx

  11. Yana says:

    Wonder which short stories of Checkov you’ve chosen and why…

  12. [ICR] says:

    With regards to playing on Linux, you can run the Audible software with WINE. Not ideal, certainly, but a stop-gap solution for now.

  13. Momgoth says:

    I was pretty excited to hear that the short stories you’d be reading were Wilde’s fairy tales. I’d been wanting to give my daughter a copy of “The Happy Prince” for Xmas this year, but this fits in very nicely with her love for our iPods.

    I’m wondering now if imagination requires a sense of empathy, but isn’t really the same thing. Just an extension of empathy, if that makes any sense.

    I’m equally happy about an audio version of Chekov’s short stories, but sadly they’ll have to wait until January. Worth waiting for, though.

  14. Thank you so much for doing this.
    The titles of Oscar Wild’s fairy tales themselves make me tearful… I remember them from my early childhood (read in Russian) – they always made me cry – so sad, so poignant… Looking forward to listening to them in your voice (Oh, dear! – I will be imagining that scene from ‘Wilde’ when Oscar reads to his children about the Giant – well – few more tears guaranteed…)
    And – thank you for your wise words about Chekhov – often “Russian” is associated directly with “Grim. Gloomy. Stark. Bleak. Melancholic. Sorrowful. Suicidal. Tragic. ” in people’s minds… Hope it will change. (With your help.)
    Thank you SO much! (You should know – you are absolutely LOVED by many of my Russian friends!) xx
    Julia, Lewes, UK

  15. bWare says:

    Did I imagine:

    Why do you not want be to buy these?

  16. “There are satirists, like Swift, who cannot hide the fact that they believe humanity in all its forms from the grandest king to the lowliest serf to be nothing short of pathetic, ludicrous and disgusting; there are others, like Chekhov who find it just as hard to conceal their sympathy, kinship and fellow feeling.”

    And what of Oscar Wilde’s view of humanity?

    I wonder… did he view humanity as a weakness? Or a thing of beauty? Many of his stories seem to rail at the pathos encompassed in humanity’s actions, along with the unthinking and unfeeling aspects of people, demonstrated in stories such as the Nightingale and the Rose, the Birthday of the Infanta, the Selfish Giant and the Happy Prince.

    I always wondered what it would be like to sit next to Oscar Wilde at a dinner party… I worry that he would be scathing and cynical. I would love to know what you think.

  17. catepolacek says:

    I downloaded these from audible around 2 this morning and fell asleep listening to The Happy Prince. This is a good thing.

    If a girl has regular bouts of insomnia and nighttime anxiety (which I do), and if this girl worked on her thesis until 2 am (which I did), and if she was too wound up to sleep (which I was), and she didn’t have anyone around to read her to sleep as she did when she was a kid (which I don’t), then her best option is to employ the tools of the modern day and find an audiobook to put on her iPod.

    I have your version of the Paddington stories virtually memorized and find them immensely comforting to listen to on bumpy plane rides (I ALWAYS get the bumpy trips, it’s so not fair).

    I’m so glad to have something new from you to listen to, and these were some of my favorite stories to read as a kid.

    Wonderful narration, as expected. Highly recommended additions to the playlist.

  18. Len says:

    The phrase “Everything you know is wrong” was, of course, the product of another highly imaginative artistic combine: The Firesign Theatre. It was the title, in fact, of their 1974 album, Everything You Know Is Wrong, and if you don’t know that, then you don’t know that Aztecs invented the vacation and that spaceships look like giant fried eggs!

  19. michael says:


    ( )

  20. JeroenHoek says:

    [ICR] wrote, “With regards to playing on Linux, you can run the Audible software with WINE. Not ideal, certainly, but a stop-gap solution for now.”

    Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, the problem remains that those files appear to come with a protective DRM-layer. As much as I enjoy listening to Stephen Fry, I refuse, principally and practically, to purchase digital files from stores that assume I am a criminal before I even step through their digital doors. I enjoy being able to choose freely in what player, be it a software or a hardware player, I play such files. Are the iTunes files encrypted as well?

    I won’t use this space as a soapbox for advocating the wrongs of Digital Rights Management — there are people who can do this much better than I can*, and it is not my soapbox after all — but from the standpoint of a concerned would-be customer, I would at least like to bring this issue to Mr Fry’s attention. I sincerely hope I don’t appear overly rude by doing so.

    * These two organisations explain the problem with DRM quite well I believe:

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation:
    The Free Software Foundation (sporting a very nice picture of Mr Fry on their front page as well, I may add):
    In particular their anti-DRM campaign:

  21. gjhsu says:

    I will admit, I have not had much exposure to Oscar Wilde’s work (aside from The Importance of Being Earnest, was never on our reading lists in grade school), but this is quite a treat for first “readings.”

    Also, those are some really cool reading glasses!

  22. canis rufus says:

    I twittered this, but it’s worth saying again–the Wilde short stories are absolutely wonderful. They didn’t help my insomnia but they have certainly made it more enjoyable. Am looking forward to trying some Chekhov as well. Thank you for (once again) expanding my horizons!

  23. mapleleiah says:

    Ah … the wonderful Oscar Wilde … He is definitely my favourite writer of all times!

    I shall never forget the ONLY oral exam at college I walked away from SMILING … I had drawn a question about Shakespeare, gave my teacher the kind of “oh no, I hate this guy” grin and before I knew it I was asked why I didn’t like Shakespeare. So I started talking about how I preferred people like Wilde, who were unique in a lot of ways … whereas people like Shakespeare adapted too much to what people wanted and even took other people’s ideas. I won’t elaborate too much on this … I might get flamed by Shakespeare fans! :-)

    Anyway, good job on reviving his work … and may I add Wilde was a brilliant movie … which I watched in the middle of my Wilde frenzy (you know, the T-shirt-with-quote-wearing and drinking-out-of-cup-with-quote kind of frenzy) and which I still enjoy now and again.


  24. Robert Harper says:

    I had the very real privilege of being a member of the cast of The Trials of Oscar Wilde by Christopher Fitz-Simon – dramatised for Radio 4, which included the illustrious talents of Simon Russell Beale as Oscar Wilde.
    It was a gorgeously apt role for Simon and the play was a beautiful insight into Oscar Wilde’s life. Of course it was also incredibly good fun as a young(ish) actor back in the mid 90’s to be working in ‘BH’ at the probably now rarely used Studio 6. I had a great year working with some of the most exciting luminaries of the thespian world.
    Sadly, I never found myself in your good company Mr Fry, and it is a shame that as I have given up the life of an actor, I probably never will now.

    I shall continue to imbibe on your good spirit through the medium of ‘Pod’ and ‘blog’ and perhaps one day our paths may meet across a crowded noise muffler at Broadcasting House. They say you can always go back to it and perhaps I will. If only to have experiences like walking into Pret A Manger with 5 fellow actors who had been frogmarched there by Tom Baker, to have bellow to the staff at the back, “You there! Cake for all my friends!”

  25. Negative Dialectics says:

    “Everything we feel is right.” It’s just totally true, we can be wrong in our thinking, the process of significate our experiences, but our feeling is never wrong. In fact, that is one of the premises of Constructivist Therapy, the next level for Cognitive Therapy. The irrational thoughts (the judgementes that we made from our experiences and feeling) are the ones who drives us into depression, narcissism and many, many other psychological desorders. So feelings are the most pure things that can ever exist.

    “Imagination is the ability to enter someone else’s mind. To penetrate another’s experience. To feel what another feels: to see the world as they see it, to suffer their pain, participate in their sins and in their triumphs, loves, fears and hopes.[...] A paradox is that it seems harder to penetrate one’s own mind, participate in one’s own experience and discover one’s own feelings than those of another.” I’m sorry to say that I don’t agree with that, and I need to bring Lyotard words to explain myself: “Human beings need to develop his own laguage to become so complex that no one can understand each other.” Even my dear Lyotard wasn’t totally right. We need to create a very own language, based in our experiences and feelings, and is because of those that we can understand what others mean and put ourselves in others shoes. So sympathy IS our LIFE, ergo we are Imagination beings.

  26. Negative Dialectics says:

    Love ang huges from Chile Stephen!

  27. galadrial says:

    After watching “Simply Wilde”, you inspired me to read “De Profundis”, and my previous stereotypical ideas about Oscar Wilde were totally transformed. I went on to read much of what he has written, and discovered a man of extraordinary intellect, perception and sensitivity, and at times the beauty of his writing would stop me in my tracks. The more I read Oscar, the more I loved Oscar. I am very grateful for the introduction, because he has come to mean a great deal to me. I have never read Chekov, and look forward to discovering him, too. You write so eloquently, and, to me, the beauty of soul in you shines through very clearly.

  28. Pamela says:

    Wit cannot exist without intelligence.

  29. alia says:

    I’m Russian and I first heard Oscar Wilde’s short stories almost at the same time as Chekhov’s when my parents were reading them to me when I was about five. At the age of seven I started reading them myself. And I should say that my motivation to learn English was mostly connected with being able to read Wilde, Dickens, Shaw, Carroll, Keats, Wordsworth, Austen in the original. I was so enchanted and fascinated by the language, that I decided to make it my profession. That’s how I’ve become an English teacher. May be it all began with my parents reading Oscar Wilde’s stories to me?
    As for Chekhov, his short stories go with me through my life. Even the fact that I know many of them almost by heart doesn’t prevent me from reading them over and over again.
    Of course, he is so different in his attitudes to life and human nature in the stories compared to his later period dramas. Technically, even the name was different – for his short stories he used a pen-name Antosha Chekhonte, as amusing as the stories themselves. And the style is so different. Sharp, shrewd satire of his stories opposed to a delicacy and nearly crystal fragility of the dramas. For me the stories are better. I’ve never read them in translation and I can imagine what is lost but I can as well imagine that if there was a contest for the best language to translate humour English would undoubtedly win the first place. And if to seek any literary correspondence in style my feeling is that the ‘taste’ of Chekhov’s short stories in Russian is very close to that of P.G.Wodehouse’s in English if I can express my humble opinion about an English icon.

  30. jrady says:

    Anton Pavlovič Čechov, the man!
    coincidentally his great-grand-niece was on the NDR-Talkshow here in germany yesterday, she is the actress/director Vera Tschechowa. who was there to promote her documentary on Michael Ballhaus that is going to run on german telly next week (sometimes there IS wortwhile programming on german television, believe it or not!). She was telling droll stories of her acting career in the 60´s where she apparently was the object of a short interest by one Aaron E. Presley, while he was stationed here. He was visiting to have dinner with the Mom&Daughter, and the housekeeper had to sign autographs instead of him, since he was busy eating egg&bacon with the great-grand-niece and her own grandmother, olga Tschechowa. Truly bizarre.

  31. Monty says:

    I’ve downloaded both of these wonderful audio books and they are amazing. Thank you Stephen :-) Btw, your reading glasses are fantastic!

  32. alex4d says:

    Thank you for reminding me of my century-old edition of the Happy Prince. A good place to go for a cry.

    Looking forward to more ’grams of either kind.

    In the version of this vodgram that downloaded from iTunes, you may have an error in the credits. I recognised West End Lane Books as it is my closest bookshop. You have special thanks to West End Land Books.

    ‘Harry pocketed it’

  33. Lenusha says:

    It is my god – wit. “Wit. Sharp wit. Glittering wit. Keen, wicked, penetrating wit. Camp. Clever. Crushing. Proud, peacocky and impertinent.”

    I tend to get so caught up in admiring “superior faculties of understanding”, to develop such a jaw-dropping, eye-popping fascination over lingual and intellectual lusciousness of the world’s most eloquent ranters, like Carlin, Sedaris, Maher, and – well – Fry, that sometimes I forget that the sole purpose of any sharp tongue’s performance is delivering “pitiless truth that might seem hurtful but which heals.” It’s a breath of fresh air. Thank you!

    P.S. I’m getting more and more frustrated about my country, Ukraine, being outlawed by iTunes store… And long walks occur to me daily, so suitable for Wilde’s majestic, heart-breaking stories… Pity.

  34. ryancmn says:

    You say: It is odd that we value knowledge above feeling and persuade ourselves too that knowledge is more difficult than feeling But that is a thought for another day and another pair of pyjamas.

    Might you put on that pair of pajamas sometime soon? I’d be interested in hearing you expand on that…

  35. righton says:

    if you happen upon this suggestion stephen it is with my compliments and best wishes i submit the same…..

    my suggestion for your memoirs or your autobiography …how about

    ” Born to be Wilde ”



  36. dib4uk says:

    Oscar Wild, one of my inspirations, there was something oh so define about him that I can not quite explain. His finest work, The Importance of Being Earnest- just great.

    Wish that there was more greatness in the world today.

    It was sad that he was imprisoned just for being who he was.

    He really was born before his time…

  37. ‘Chekhov was the foremost comic artist of his age.’ I completely agree with this, his works and quotes are littered with wonderfully dark humour, for example here are some of his quotes,

    ‘Doctors are just the same as lawyers; the only difference is that lawyers merely rob you, whereas doctors rob you and kill you too. ‘

    ‘Any idiot can face a crisis – it’s day to day living that wears you out. ‘

    ‘Money, like vodka, turns a person into an eccentric. ‘

    ‘One must be a god to be able to tell successes from failures without making a mistake. ‘

  38. tangerinebuddah says:

    I have just pulled off my shelf my copy of The Selfish Giant illustrated by Mary Fidelis Todd, copyright 1954. It has a yellow cover with black flowers on it. When I see it I am immediately 4 or 5 years old and I hear my late mother’s voice reading it to me. It was a favorite of hers and became a favorite of mine. Very good books are worth saving for over 50 years and reading time and again.

    What a good deed to keep these stories alive for a new generation.

  39. Rika Nauck says:

    …’A paradox is that it seems harder to penetrate one’s own mind, participate in one’s own experience and discover one’s own feelings than those of another.’

    Oh, there you are saying something! And it is more threatening, too! If one doesn’t like what one sees in others – well, one might just walk away. In regard to oneself it would be very hard to shut the doors again once they are unlocked. A phantastic experience, nevertheless; and as I believe the only way to true freedom.

    Guess, I should visit here more often and put some reading/hearing materials on my next birthday wishlist!

  40. Gayle says:

    Personally I believe the power of Wilde is less within his (extremely enchanting) wit and more in his ability to force the reader to face characters, situations and traits that they may find immediately abhorrent. A recent first read of The Picture of Dorian Gray left me extremely perturbed as I found myself unconsciously empathising with the great instigator Lord Henry.

    This leaves my moral stand points greatly in question, but certainly not my desire to read more Wilde; consider the short stories on my ever-lengthening list. Inspiring insight, as ever.

  41. lizargall says:

    The screen flickered and I’m not sure if I pressed the correct button, please forgive me if this is posted a second time.
    Dear Stephen,

    Your Oscar Wilde essay is an unspoken influence on this – “Fire, grief, stories and sense making”. The joys of language, imagination and a reminder of how Mr Wilde has influenced me. I encountered Wilde as an author long before I encountered him as a notorious wit (many praises to the parents who will give their child in primary school the Complete Works of). His pained compassion, empathy, transcendent sensibilities and clear love of language have always called to me and made me feel close to him before I ever knew the simplest details of the man.

    Thank you for reminding me of the joys of Wilde. I wish I could gift a specific download on iTunes, purchase your stories to spontaneously turn up in someone else’s basket… I don’t like gift certificates, but I would love to give your readings to some friends in need of creative comfort when their well runs dry.


  42. Sylke says:

    Quite unrelated to the blog post as such and I didn’t check every single comment in detail to see whether anybody told you before – but just wanted to let you know that your blog seems to have been hacked. I read your posts in Bloglines and only in there after your last post sentence there are quite a number of links for drugs I don’t want to name here. I’ve had this same thing happen to my own WordPress blog and had to open the actual post to see and delete the links in the post. I then searched for the drug name in my own blog and found a number of posts that had been changed. Hope it’s not too bad!

  43. Stephen Fry says:

    Thanks very much for the heads up. The team has secured the site again for now. All the best, Andrew Sampson

  44. Aurora says:

    Immagination …do you feel more as Wordsworth or as Shelly?

  45. wafflefan says:

    I have a very old copy of the complete works of Oscar Wilde, & really must re-read it but as I really enjoy the sound of your vouce will have to investigate itunes & buy a copy of this. I adore good writing with plenty of imagination.

    I have a huge Hecs debt (Australia) but that only kicks in when I earn above $30,000 & I’m told by my older cousin & friends that uni wasn’t what it used to be , people were actively engaged in other things other than attending lectures. As for the 5th test you can be very happy Stephen as England won but I am very sad.

    I don’t twitter but i do use facebook

  46. Esme Montebank-Bliss says:

    Dear Stephen

    I recall reading in my brother’s Boy’s Own Paper the following reply from an editor to a young writer. Could this be the master Wilde to whom you refer.

    WILDE. – No; we only employ the highest available talent and cannot accept such amateur compositions.
    (SATURDAY, JUNE 18, 1887)

    One does hope he persisted and went on to greater things.

  47. catinthehatuk says:

    I love Oscar Wilde! Of all the writers and works I’ve read (which probably number 1000’s) Oscar Wilde hits home for me, more poignantly than any other. ESPECIALLY, ‘The Ballad Of Reading Gaol’.
    Stephen Fry, as my daughter commented, reminds both myself and her, of a modern day ‘reincarnation’ of Oscar Wilde.
    To me, Oscar Wilde was a man far ahead of his time. He was a humanitarian and activist for social change. Aside from the fact that he was blessed with unique and inimitable talents (the man was genius!) I think he was largely misunderstood on many counts. I wish I could’ve known him. I thank heaven that he left his works for us to enjoy and generations on, his life (and death) made a difference on this planet. I think thats why there are so many parallels to be drawn between Oscar Wilde and our Stephen…:-) (imho). Lotsaluv Cat xxx
    PS my first post and I’m not an academic or particularly clever. So forgive me if my post is gibberish or ‘off topic’. Nice to ‘meet’ you all:-) xxx

  48. igorgor says:

    “Everything we know may be wrong, but art helps us believe that…
    Everything we feel is right.” This is brilliant!

    Yet, to believe is one thing, and to hold on is another.

    I need to get more strength from art… from the faith in art…

  49. Dianski says:

    Such wise ponderings Stephen. You are one of the things I miss about England. As a Brit who has lived in Italy for the last 10 years (returning home less as time goes by) my spoken English is not evolving to keep up with the times. When I visit Tngland or even sites like the BBC I find that a lot of new words and phrases are lost on me…I think I was one of the last people to find out what ‘chav’ means… only because my kids told me!

    I completely agree that language is a living organism and that you should adapt and keep up to date. I love my mother tongue (lovely phrase) language but I fear my English has deteriorated (as has my spelling) and I don’t even speak great Italian because my Italian husband prefers to speak English… I live in a linguistic twilight zone…and have fallen prey to the Anglicization of Italian words and vice versa…oh dear…not much hope for me….and to think I was a Lit grad once upon a time…!

    Yours linguistically frustrated but a great lover of the sumptuousness of language!


  50. Dianski says:

    Sorry Stephen….this was posted to the wrong thread!

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