Lord Arthur Savile's Crime by Oscar Wilde

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BBC Radio 7, 29 November - 1 December 2010

This was a tall tale of the perfect murder committed by Lord Arthur Savile to satisfy the desire of Mr. Podger the chiromancer, and hence permit Lord Arthur to marry Sybil, silence his doubters and salve his guilty conscience. In Michael Maloney’s three-part reading, the story came across as a black comedy, told with due reverence for Wilde’s absurdity by a narrator with a flair for the alliterative phrase and ludicrous analogy. Wilde piles alliteration upon alliteration to describe Lord Arthur’s feelings, as he tries to come to terms with the need to perform the perfect crime. The story becomes less a description of his inner state of mind and more a parody of the three-volume romantic novel or melodrama that enjoyed a peak of popularity during the Victorian era.


Needless to say Lord Arthur’s best-laid plans go awry, as his first chosen victim dies of natural causes, while his second escapes scot-free, due in no small part to the bungling efforts of the so-called explosives ‘expert’ Herr Winklehoffer to construct the perfect bomb hidden in an alarm-clock. Wilde has a great fun parodying the mores of the brainless aristocrat Savile, whose ideas concerning the perfect murder have been shaped by melodrama rather than practical concerns. Yet perhaps this is inevitable, given Savile’s limited social and educational horizons, circumscribed by great houses, gentleman’s clubs and fashionable Soho restaurants. Other targets for Wilde’s satirical pen include the Germans, who conform to every stereotype constructed about them by the English – their obsessive concern for precision, their anti-imperialism (especially where the British Empire is concerned), and their intrinsically violent nature.


Eventually the story comes to a happy end, as Savile completes his given task by pushing Podger into the River Thames. Soon afterwards he marries Sybil and starts a family. Wilde completes his parodic task by allowing him to escape scot-free; both the newspapers and police treat Podger’s murder as suicide. Hence Savile retains a perpetual debt of gratitude to the unfortunate chiromancer – not because Podger did anything, but because he acted as a convenient fall-guy for Savile. Lady Windermere, Savile’s closest friend, believes not one word of this fantastic tale, considering it just an aristocratic fancy. Maybe it is, but Wilde nonetheless renders it extremely funny. The director was Catherine Beacon.