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The Sphinx Without a Secret by Oscar Wilde

“The Sphinx Without a Secret” was first published in a collection of Wilde’s stories that he edited in 1891, Lord Saville’s Crimes and Other Stories.  Most of Wilde’s work focuses on lower level members of British aristocracy. His prose style is pleasant and a bit unique. This is a story filled with suspense and mystery, yet, there seems to be nothing mysterious to it.

Summary of The Sphinx Without a Secret

In brief, the narrator gets together with his really old companion, Lord Murchinson, who, as the narrator quotes, “would be the best of fellows, if he did not always speak the truth”. The narrator comes to notice the nervous and apprehensive look of Murchinson and has a suspicion that some woman is engaged.

He is right and eventually, Murchinson tells the tale of Lady Alroy. As Murchinson narrates his meet with Lady Alroy, he notifies us that he was energized by her air of obscurity.  As he begins a relationship with her, he is of the conviction that she is hiding a secret from him.

The entire story weaves around this scheme of vagueness and secrecy.  The narrator gets worked up; and the readers at this point, become extremely curious about the secret.  However, they never learn it. The discrepancy of the story was that Lady Alroy is an inexplicable woman who detains the heart of Lord Murchison with her secrecy to the point that he tags on her to find out her secret which becomes really mysterious.

The complication becomes a conflict when he sees Lady Alroy getting into a little house in a rather poor part of town. Seeing this, he immediately jumps to the conclusion that she has a secret lover. The rising action is when he lays blame on her for this and says other dreadful things to her and she blatantly rejects the accusation. The plot’s most spectacular, the climax, is when she dies without the mystery being understood.

The Sphinx Without a Secret – Final words

It is a short and enjoyable story.  It is well crafted; Wilde builds the whole story around this idea of mystery and, if you pay attention, there are many clues that draw attention to secrecy, mystery and truth.  He is successful in getting the readers to expect a big revelation and leaves our thirst for discovery unsatisfied.  However, the story is satisfying as it is a pleasure to read. It was a sedate little piece but was well written and quite clever.