The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 The Cover of a Book
  • 0:32 The Model Millionaire
  • 1:00 Summary
  • 3:09 Analysis
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Expert Contributor
Jenna Clayton

Jenna received her BA in English from Iowa State University in 2015, and she has taught at the secondary level for three years.

How do you juggle wanting money while also giving it away? Oscar Wilde has a few ideas. In this lesson, we'll explore the idea of the importance of money but also the importance of being generous.

The Cover of a Book

When was the last time you heard someone say, ''Don't judge a book by its cover''? Do you know what it means? It's basically a warning not to form an opinion about something based on how it looks. That's where the main character of this lesson's story falters. He makes a judgment about someone based on looks and learns a valuable lesson.

Let's find out more about Hughie Erskine and the lesson that Oscar Wilde, author of The Model Millionaire, is trying to convey.

The Model Millionaire

When the story opens, we're introduced to Hugh Erskine, affectionately dubbed Hughie, who is admittedly handsome and charming, but not necessarily the smartest or wealthiest man alive. He is, however, in love with a young lady named Laura Merton. Her father, a retired colonel, likes Hughie well enough but doesn't want him engaged to his daughter. So, he issues a pre-requisite for their engagement: come up with 10,000 pounds or forget the idea of marriage.


Learning From an Artist

One morning on his way to the Mertons's house, Hughie runs into his painter and artist friend, Alan Trevor. Hughie visits his friend at his studio and observes a work in progress: ''a life-size picture of a beggar-man.'' The pair discuss the rare nature of the portrait's model. ''Such beggars as he are not to be met with every day,'' the artist says.

Hughie is interested in how much a model of his kind must be paid for posing for such a portrait. Alan tells him just a shilling an hour, though the artist earns 2,000 guineas. Hughie thinks that's quite unfair and tells his friend that the model should get a percentage of the overall earning for working ''quite as hard as you do.''

Meeting the Beggar-Man

When Alan leaves the room, Hughie meets the beggar-man from the portrait. He pities his appearance and finds a bit of change in his pocket to give to the man. The beggar is appreciative, and Hughie is quite pleased with his own generosity.

The Next Day

The following evening, Hughie and Alan run into one another at a club. Alan tells Hughie that his beggar model was quite interested in his benefactor and wanted to know all about him, as well as his girlfriend. Hughie is flattered and starts thinking of other ways to help the man, perhaps giving him some clothing.

The artist says: '' 'But he looks splendid in them. I wouldn't paint him in a frock-coat for anything. What you call rags I call romance. What seems poverty to you is picturesqueness to me.''

Unbeknownst to Hughie, the ''old beggar'' was, in fact, Baron Hausberg, one of the wealthiest men in Europe. He had commissioned the artist to paint him as a beggar. Hughie fears he's made a fool of himself. Alan assures him that his actions speak to his philanthropic, or financially generous, nature.

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Additional Activities

"The Model Millionaire" - Discussion Questions and Analysis:

Discussion Questions:

Answer the following discussion questions to further your understanding of Oscar Wilde's "The Model Millionaire." Make sure to answer thoroughly in complete sentences, and also make sure to include specific text examples when asked.

  1. Who are the main characters in the short story?
  2. Who are the minor characters?
  3. What is the setting of the story, and what role does the setting play?
  4. Who is the protagonist of the story? Explain your answer.
  5. What are three characteristics of the protagonist? Explain using details from the story.
  6. What major conflict does the protagonist face? Explain thoroughly.
  7. What is the climax of the story?

Possible Answers:

  1. The main characters in the story include Hughie Erskine, Alan Trevor, and Baron Hausberg. These characters greatly affected the overall plot of the story.
  2. The minor characters include Laura Merton and her father, a retired colonel. These characters do not play as large of a role as the other characters in the story.
  3. The setting of the story is London in the past. Although the year is not specifically stated, it can be assumed that the story is being told in the past based on the currency used. The setting is important because it impacts the impending marriage between Hughie and Laura. Social status and wealth often indicated who one could marry, and in this story, Laura's father didn't want Hughie to marry Laura unless he had a certain amount of money
  4. The protagonist of the story is Hughie Erskine. He is the protagonist because the major events of the story revolve around him and his actions.
  5. Hughie is charming, generous, and kind. He is described as charming by the narrator. The narrator also mentions that he makes friends easily, and women liked him. He is generous because he gives money to a "beggar" even though he did not have much money himself. Finally, he is kind because he stands up for the poor and advocates for fair payment between the painter and the subject of the painting.
  6. Hughie's major conflict relates to the fact that he wants to marry Laura, but he is not allowed to unless he can come up with 10,000 pounds.
  7. The climax of the story is Hughie finding out that the beggar is actually Baron Hausberg.

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