The Sphinx without a Secret by Oscar Wilde
In The Sphinx without a Secret by Oscar Wilde we have the theme of appearance, love, mystery, escape, insecurity, trust, conflict and uncertainty. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed male and after reading the story the reader realises that Wilde may be exploring the theme of appearance. Murchison has fallen in love with Lady Alroy and seems to be intrigued with the element of mystery that he believes surrounds her life. It is as though this mystery is the trigger for Murchison’s infatuation with Lady Alroy. He sees her as being something special when the reality is the world that Lady Alroy has created around herself is not as mysterious as Murchison expects it to be. That is if he is to believe the narrator’s interpretation of who Lady Alroy might be. If anything Lady Alroy appears to wish to escape from the life she lives and as such creates many illusions of mystery in her life. As to why Lady Alroy might wish to escape is difficult to say but she may simply be looking for some type of happiness in her life. Happiness that Lady Alroy can only find by creating a shroud of mystery around herself.
There is also a sense that Lady Alroy may be insecure about who she is (a widow) and as such needs to manifest something else to keep herself occupied and to ensure that she may be considered attractive or interesting to others. The fact that Lady Alroy dies before she can explain herself to Murchison might also be important as in death she is afforded the opportunity to remain a mystery to Murchison. That is till the narrator decides upon telling Murchison that Lady Alroy is a sphinx without a secret. She has created a world around herself in order to appear to others as being something different to what she really is. Which may leave some readers to consider that Lady Alroy is being deceitful. There may have been no need for her to create an alternative world around herself. The fact that Lady Alroy sends a letter to Murchison, possibly to explain herself, may also be significant. As it suggests that Lady Alroy had genuine feelings for Murchison. She too may have loved Murchison as much as he loved her.
Wilde could also be using the mystery around Lady Alroy to symbolically highlight the complicated nature of a man and woman’s relationship. At no stage in the story does Murchison really know who Lady Alroy actually is. Her friends say very little about her and it is only by chance that he exposes the truth behind the mystery or at least what Murchison considers to be the truth. Hence his not opening the letter that Lady Alroy sent him. Murchison does not feel as though he can trust Lady Alroy. Something which would be a precursor to the continued development of Murchison’s relationship with Lady Alroy. It is as though the breakdown in trust between Murchison and Lady Alroy is the final straw for Murchison. He is prepared to open his heart to Lady Alroy. Yet he knows that he cannot trust her. No matter how much he might wish to. In reality Murchison’s relationship with Lady Alroy was doomed from the start. Though this is not something that was clearly obvious to Murchison. It is only when Lady Alroy lies to Murchison that he breaks off their engagement. A decision that the reader senses that Murchison might regret. It is as though he is conflicted.
The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense that Murchison remains as uncertain as to who Lady Alroy is as he was when he first met her. Despite the narrator’s attempt to decipher who Lady Alroy might have been. Murchison is not so sure. It is as though Murchison is unable to let go of Lady Alroy. He still feels for her. He still loves her and he remains intrigued by her despite her passing. If anything the narrator’s words to Murchison do not give Murchison any form of resolution. He is to live his life not knowing who Lady Alroy really was and to wonder about what might have been. While the narrator on the other hand feels assured that there is no real mystery as to who Lady Alroy really was. Something which some readers might consider to be the correct appraisal of affairs. Yet some readers might wonder as to why Lady Alroy would go to such lengths to create an alternative world for herself. If the reality is that there is no mystery to who she was. It might also be important to remember that Lady Alroy has done nothing wrong. She is a free woman who is allowed to create mystery around herself.