The Portrait of Mr W.H.

By Oscar Wilde

ISBN: 9781847497512

128 pages

RRP: £6.39

During a conversation about literary forgeries, Erskine tells his young guest that he has received – as a legacy from a friend, the Cambridge scholar Cyril Graham – what is purported to be an Elizabethan portrait. The painting depicts a beautiful young man in late-sixteenth-century costume, whom Graham claimed to be Willie Hughes, a boy-actor serving in Shakespeare’s company. This prompts Erskine’s guest to delve deeper into the mystery surrounding the real identity of the dedicatee and the inspiration of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, with unforeseen consequences.

Far from being a dry exposition of a literary theory, The Portrait of Mr W.H. – which the author himself described as one of his “early masterpieces” – is an engaging and entertaining narrative exploring the intricate facets of trust and betrayal, historical truth and fiction, written with Wilde’s trademark dialogical sharpness and stylistic perfection.

Alma recommends Sonnets by William Shakespeare and Is Shakespeare Dead by Mark Twain as a companion pieces


  • The Portrait of Mr WH is quintessential Wilde, introducing paradox into the realm of speculation and wit into the sphere of art.

    Peter Ackroyd

  • The Portrait of Mr W.H. is part literary criticism, part fiction; its wit and energy derive from Wilde’s insight that the more impassioned the critic, the less easy it becomes to separate these two kinds of writing… Wilde’s Portrait remains a fresh and moving account of the enduring power of [Shakespeare’s] Sonnets to beguile their readers.


  • Wilde’s Portrait is important to him, and so to us, as a musing on the nature of our response to art.

    Nicholas Lezard
    The Guardian

Oscar Wilde

Famed for his brilliant wit, Oscar Wilde (1854–1900) was a prolific writer and one of the most successful playwrights of Victorian Britain, as well as a champion for the values of Aestheticism.