ChapterThe Model Millionaire

The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde is a story of a young man who receives a handsome sum of money due to his act of kindness. All you need to know and learn about this chapter is given below.

Meet the Author

  • Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and celebrated playwright.
  • Born: 16th October, 1854
  • Place of Birth: Westland Row, Dublin, Ireland
  • Died: 30th November, 1900
  • Major Works: The Canterville Ghost, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest.
  • Best Known for: He is known for his wit, epigrams and plays.
Artist painting
Artist painting

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Summary of the Chapter

The story opens with the author saying that unless one is rich, he or she should not fall in love or think about it. The poor should be practical. Having a permanent source of income is better than being fascinating. These are a few things which the main character Hughie Erskine never realized.

Poor Hughie. Intellectually, we must admit he was not of much importance. He never said a brilliant or even ill-natured thing in his life.

Poor Hughie was a good person but not very successful. He was good-looking and was popular with both men and women. He had achieved many things however he was unable to earn for himself. His father had left him a Cavalry sword and a History of the Peninsular War in fifteen volumes. He did not inherit any wealth.

Hughie hung the first over his looking-glass, put the second on a shelf between Ruff’s Guide and Bailey’s magazine, and lived on two hundred a year that an old aunt allowed him.

Hughie hung the sword over his looking-glass and kept the books given by his father on a shelf between two magazines. He supported himself with two hundred pounds a year lent to him by an old aunt. He had made several attempts to earn a living. He had attempted to make money in the stock market and had been a tea-merchant as well. However, nothing worked for Hughie. It was the same as ever. Then he tried selling sherry. That too didn’t give him money. He ended up doing nothing. He was a delightful young man and everything was perfect, except that he didn’t have a profession.

Whether for worse or good, he was in love with someone. She was a retired Colonel’s daughter. Her name was Laura Merton. Her father had been to India and changed a lot. His digestion and temper was affected after coming back.

Laura adored Hughie and he too was passionate about her.

They were the handsomest couple in London, and had not a penny-piece between them. The Colonel was very fond of Hughie but would not hear of any engagement.

They were a great couple and had no money with them. The Colonel too liked Hughie very much but he was against the two of them getting engaged. He would tell Hughie to come to him after becoming rich and having a net-worth of at least ten thousand pounds. He would then think about the future.

When he spoke like that, Hughie would look glum and turn to Laura for consolation.

One morning, when Hughie was on the way to Holland Park where the Mertons lived, he decided to drop by at his friend’s house. His friend’s name was Alan Trevor and he was both a painter and artist. As a person, he was quite strange but when he picked up the brush, he was a real master. His works were highly sought after.

He liked Hughie a lot. He had been impressed by his personal charm. Hughie was a high-spirited man and had a generous nature. That attracted the artist, Trevor and he welcomed Hughie to visit his studio permanently as and when he pleased.

When Hughie came, Alan Trevor was giving finishing touches to the life sized picture of a man dressed in tattered clothes. The beggar was standing on a raised platform when Hughie saw both of them. He had a pitiable expression. He was an old man with wrinkles. Flung over his shoulders was a thick brown cloak which was not in good condition. His shoes too were worn out. With one hand, he held out a rough stick and the other hand had a battered hat held out for alms.

‘What an amazing model’ whispered Hughie, as he shook hands with his friend.

‘An amazing model?’ shouted Trevor at the top of his voice; ‘ I should think so!

Hughie commented to his friend that the model was outstanding. He shook his hand. Hughie said that he felt sorry for the poor old man. Hughie said that the beggar indeed looked miserable however for artists it is the expression that is indeed priceless.

Trevor agreed and said that one doesn’t want a beggar to have a happy face. Hughie seated himself comfortably and asked Trevor how much a model is paid for a single sitting. Alan replied that the model is paid a shilling for an hour,

Then, Hughie asked Alan how much he would earn for painting this picture. Alan replied that he would get two thousand guineas. Hughie said that the model should also get a percentage of the profit because they are working equally hard.

Alan said that painting was not an easy job. It is not just about sitting or standing in one place and painting. It also involves effort like manual labor. Then Alan asked Hughie to not disturb him.

‘Smoke a cigarette and keep quiet.’

After some-time, the servant came in and told Trevor that the frame-maker wanted to speak to him.

Trevor told Hughie that he must not run away and he would come back very quickly.

In the absence of Trevor, the old beggar took the opportunity to rest for a moment on the wooden bench behind him. He looked so forlorn and wretched that Hughie immediately felt sorry and checked his pockets. He found a sovereign and some coppers. Even though Hughie himself was poor, he decided to give the beggar whatever he had. He was a poor old fellow, Hughie told himself and he needs the money more than I do.

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He gave the sovereign to the beggar. The old man smiled a little and thanked Hughie. Soon, Trevor returned and Hughie took his leave. He blushed a little at what he had done. When he met Laura and told her, she scolded him for his extravagance. He walked back home and went to the Palette Club at around eleven in the night. Trevor was sitting alone in the smoking room, having a drink.

‘Well Alan, did you get the picture finished all right?’ he said, as he lit his cigarette.

‘Finished and framed, my boy!’ answered Trevor; and, by-the-bye, you have made a conquest.

Hughie asked Alan if he had completed the picture they had been working on. Alan replied that the painting was finished and even framed. He then revealed to Hughie that he had made a conquest - the old model had become quite devoted to Hughie.

Alan went on to explain that he had shared all the details of Hughie's personal and professional life with the old beggar. He had even told the old beggar about Hughie’s love interest, Laura, her colonel father and the ten thousand pounds. Hughie was dismayed, feeling the old man should not be made privy to such private information. He expressed concern for the beggar's wellbeing, noting the man's tattered rags were almost falling apart. Hughie offered to give the old man some of his own old clothes to help.

‘My dear boy’, said Trevor, smiling, ‘that old beggar, as you call him, is one of the richest men in Europe. He could buy all London tomorrow without overdrawing his account.

Trevor then said that the old man is not a beggar as Hughie thinks. He is one of the richest men in all of Europe. He is so rich that he can buy the entire London and still have money in his account. Trevor continued that the old man has a house in every capital, he dines in gold plates, and can even stop Russia from going to war if he wants.

Oscar Wilde Portrait by Napoleon Sarony
Oscar Wilde Portrait by Napoleon Sarony

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The old man whom Hughie had seen in his studio was none other than Baron Hausberg. Hughie was startled. He was shocked that he had given such a wealthy man only a sovereign. Trevor burst into laughter. Hughie sulked and thought that he had made a fool of himself. Trevor said that he didn’t know that Hughie used to go about distributing alms so recklessly.

I can understand your kissing a pretty model, but your giving a sovereign to an ugly one - by Jove, no! Besides, the fact is that I really was not at home today to any one; and when you came in I didn’t know whether Hausberg would like his name mentioned.

Trevor said that he wasn’t sure if Hausberg would like his name mentioned because he was not dressed fully. Hughie thought that Hausberg would think he was a big fool. Trevor said that it was nothing like that. In fact, he was extremely elated after that. Trevor said that Hughie’s luck would change now. In a fit of joking, Trevor told Hausberg that he would invest his sovereign and Hughie would receive interest from the money.

Hughie called himself an unlucky devil. He was upset and said that the best thing was to go home and sleep and he would tell Alan that he must share all this with anyone or it could get very embarrassing.

Trevor said that Hughie was talking nonsense. In fact he told Hughie that his act of philanthropy is indeed a very noble deed. He told Hughie to stay and not run away. He told him to have another cigarette and talk about Laura as much as he wanted.

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However Hughie didn’t cheer up and kept feeling hopeless. Alan Trevor found it very funny and he started laughing. The next morning at breakfast, the servant brought a card which said that someone by the name of Monsieur Gustave Naudin had come on behalf of M. Le. Baron Hausberg. Hughie thought that he had come for an apology and asked the servant to let him in.

An old gentleman with gold spectacles and grey hair came into the room, and said, in a slight French accent, ‘Have I the honor of addressing Monsieur Erskine?’

The man said that he came from Baron Hausberg. He continued talking however Hughie suddenly interrupted and offered him his apologies.

The old gentleman smiled and said that the Baron had asked him to give him a letter. He handed Hughie a sealed envelope. On top of the envelope, it was written that this was a wedding gift for Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton. Inside was a cheque for ten thousand pounds. When they were married, Alan Trevor was his best man and the Baron made a speech at the wedding breakfast.

‘Millionaire models,’ remarked Alan, ‘are rare enough; but, by Jove, model millionaires are rarer still!’

Alan said that although it was rare enough to find millionaire models, what was even rarer were model millionaires.

Trevor explains that the "model millionaires" who use their means to help others are the rare exceptions, contrasting the novelty of simply wealthy models with the even greater rarity of those who possess both riches and admirable character. He is referring to the generosity, kindness, and civic-mindedness that Baron Hausberg showed to Hughie. This speaks to the difference between mere wealth and true virtue.

Thus, the story ends on a positive note. Hughie is rewarded for his act of generosity and everything becomes alright in his life.

Class and Society In The Story

In Oscar Wilde's short story "The Model Millionaire," class differences are a significant theme. The protagonist, Hughie Erskine, is a young man who is well-liked and attractive but struggles financially. He is unable to secure a stable job and lives off an annual stipend from his aunt. In contrast, the beggar-man, Baron Hausberg, is a wealthy socialite who commissions a portrait of himself as a beggar. This stark contrast highlights the class divide in Victorian society, where wealth and social status were closely tied to one's occupation and financial security.

The story critiques the materialism of the time by showing how Hughie's kindness towards the beggar, unaware of his true identity, ultimately leads to a significant financial windfall for Hughie.

The class differences in the story are also underscored by the characters' social interactions. Hughie's attempts to marry Laura Merton, the daughter of a retired colonel, are hindered by his lack of financial resources. The Colonel explicitly states that Hughie must first earn £10,000 before he will consider the marriage proposal.

In contrast, Baron Hausberg, despite his wealth, is portrayed as a generous and kind individual who rewards Hughie's kindness with a substantial sum. This juxtaposition emphasizes the societal pressure to conform to certain financial standards and the limited social mobility available to those from lower economic backgrounds. This is made clear by the author in the opening lines of the story itself. He says that the poor should be practical. Having a permanent source of income is better than being fascinating. However, the story ultimately suggests that true value lies not in material wealth but in the character and actions of individuals, regardless of their social class.

Above and Beyond the Text

Life of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde died after contracting meningitis. He loved flowers and often used them. He studied at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

Once loved by the Victorian society, he lost his reputation and had a hard time in jail where he was kept in solitary confinement. He was convicted and sentenced for indecency. He wrote even while in prison. He wrote a poem called ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’ while in prison.

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The Model Millionaire Questions and Answers

Below are a few questions that you can look out for your examinations and class tests. Stand out with perfectly written answers with help of Aneetta Class.

Hughie Erskine was a handsome young man who lacked nothing except an income. He was kind and generous and it was his philanthropic nature which handsomely rewarded him one fine day unexpectedly.

Baron Hausberg is a rich old man who poses one day as a model in an artist's studio. He pretends to be poor for the portrait but in fact he is one of the wealthiest persons in Europe.

Yes, the title is apt. Baron was a millionaire model. Subsequently, he also turned Hughie into a millionaire. Hughie too is an ideal millionaire or model millionaire.