The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde: Summary and Review

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Has it ever happened to you that you tipped someone you shouldn’t have tipped in the first place, or that you asked a saleswoman for help who you thought was one, but was actually a shopper like you?

Do you remember the look on their faces when you did that? It’s likely that they stared at you for a whole minute before they went their way, or were they one of those rare quiet angels who just shot you a broad smile and apologized for confusing you.

I am sorry to I made you go down the memory lane, but I promise that you’ll soon know why.

Without further ado Ado, Here is the model millionaire of Oscar Wilde for you.

The Model Millionaire: Summary and Plot Analysis

The story begins with an introduction to Hugh Erskine, affectionately known as Hughes. This guy is so charming that he could pull your socks off, but otherwise he is not very remarkable – neither intellectually nor financially.

He lives on an annual allowance of two hundred pounds from his aunt. He was in love with a beautiful woman named Laura Merton and wanted to marry her.

Laura’s father – a retired colonel, though he loved Hughes very much – would not hear of an engagement until he had ten thousand pounds.

One day, on his way to the Mertons, he stopped to see his friend, a rather strange-looking fellow, but a brilliant painter. His paintings were very much in demand.

Alan was busy painting a beggar when Hughie came into the studio.

Hughie instantly expressed his amazement upon seeing the model but felt really sad for the beggar right after. He asked Alan if a model could make good money for a sitting, and was disappointed with Alan’s answer.

Upon receiving a message that the framemaker had come to see Alan, he quickly excused himself asking Hughie not to go away. The beggar model took this opportunity to get himself some rest. He looked so forlorn that Hughie’s heart filled with pity.

He searched in his pocket, found some money and thought the beggar needed it more than him, quickly went to him and put it in the beggar’s hands. He had to walk home because of this extravagance.

Later that evening he met Alan in a club. He learned that the model had expressed great interest in learning more about Hughes and Laura.

Overcome with pity, he asked Alan if it was okay to give the beggar his old clothes. Alan laughed out loud and told Hughes that the beggar was actually Baron Hausberg, who was one of the richest men in Europe and had to come to Alan to make his own portrait.

Hughes was very embarrassed by the revelation and left shortly afterwards, leaving Alan in fits of laughter.

The next day Baron Hausberg sent a messenger to Hughes. Hughes was convinced that this visit was meant for him to apologize to Baron for this terrible mistake the other day.

Instead, the messenger brought him a sealed envelope.

One with a check for £10,000 in it.

On the outside was this message:

“A wedding present to Hugh Erskine and Laura Merton, from an old beggar.”

The Model Millionaire: Review and Quotes

Cute little story, right?

The story – as simple as it might seem, has one profound lesson- one that you have heard way too often:

Do not judge a book by its cover.

We see a pretty person and we instantly conclude them to be a certain personality (after going past the drooling-over-them stage of course). This story makes you question that.

There are gems lying all around this beautiful story, here are a few that I particularly liked –  

1 – Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich and not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic.

2 – It is better to have a permanent income than be fascinating

Do you remember the book and its cover? Our films and television keep drilling this wisdom into our heads, don’t they?

How often is the millionaire picked up by the charming boy?

For many people, the idea of romance is the perfect holiday in an exotic place, a date in a fancy restaurant, parties in exclusive clubs and the like. Oscar Wilde was quite spot on with his observation back then.

You can’t help but root for Hughes when he shows compassion for the beggar – admittedly he had no fortune or much intellectual capital, but his heart was in the right place.

3 – Poor old chap, how miserable he looks ,But I suppose, to you painters, his face is his fortune?

You artists are a heartless lot.

Compassion and good looks – our Laura Merton hit a jackpot!

4 – The old beggar as you call him is one of the richest men in Europe. He could buy all of London tomorrow without overdrawing his account

That sudden twist when the beggar turned out to be a millionaire was an awakening jolt.

The way his richness has been described brought back flashes of The Dark Knight, where Bruce Wayne accidentally walks upon Harvey Dent and his date at a fancy hotel. 

A scene from The Dark Knight

When they were married, Alan Trevor was the best man and the Baron made a speech at a Wedding Breakfast.

Giving the beggar his souvenir prompted Hughes to go home that night, but the next mention of the beggar elicited nothing but sympathy from him. He also offered to give him his old clothes. He tried to help the old man in every way possible.

One thing readily apparent from this is Hughie’s big heart but the other not so plainly seen is that one of the richest men in Europe did not take offence at being given alms. This is what an ideal world would look like.

A world where the rich are not servants of their ego and the attractive people still have their hearts in the right place.

Millionaire Models are rare enough, but, by jove, model millionaires are rarer still.


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