The Importance Of Being Earnest
This counts for:
Victorian Literature Challenge
ABOUT THE BOOK
The Importance of being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at St. James’s Theatre in London, the play is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personae in order to escape burdensome obligations. Working within the social conventions of late Victorian London, the play’s major themes are the triviality with which it treats institutions as serious as marriage, and the resulting satire of Victorian ways. Contemporary reviews all praised the play’s humour, though some were cautious about its explicit lack of social messages, while others foresaw the modern consensus that it was the culmination of Wilde’s artistic career so far. Its high farce and witty dialogue have helped make The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde’s most enduringly popular play.
The successful opening night marked the climax of Wilde’s career but also heralded his downfall. The Marquess of Queensberry, father of Lord Alfred Douglas, an intimate friend of Wilde, planned to present Wilde a bouquet of spoiling vegetables and disrupt the show. Wilde was tipped off and Queensberry was refused admission. Soon afterwards the feud came to a climax in court, and Wilde’s new notoriety caused the play, despite its success, to be closed after just 86 performances. After imprisonment, he published the play from Paris but wrote no further comic or dramatic work. The Importance of Being Earnest has been revived many times since its premiere, and adapted for the cinema on three occasions: in The Importance of Being Earnest (1952), Dame Edith Evans reprised her celebrated interpretation of Lady Bracknell; The Importance of Being Earnest (1992) by Kurt Baker used an all-black cast; and Oliver Parker’s The Importance of Being Earnest (2002) included material cut during the original stage production. [wikipedia]
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish writer and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. Today he is remembered for his epigrams, plays and the tragedy of his imprisonment, followed by his early death.
Wilde’s parents were successful Dublin intellectuals, and their son showed his intelligence early, becoming fluent in French and German. At university Wilde read Greats, and proved himself to be an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Oxford. However, he became known for his involvement in the rising philosophy of aestheticism (led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin) though he also profoundly explored Roman Catholicism (and later converted on his deathbed). After university Wilde moved to London, into fashionable cultural and social circles. As a spokesman for aestheticism, he tried his hand at various literary activities; he published a book of poems, lectured America and Canada on the new “English Renaissance in Art” and then returned to London where he worked prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress, and glittering conversation, Wilde had become one of the major personalities of his day.
At the turn of the 1890s, he refined his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays; and incorporated themes of decadence, duplicity and beauty into his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, combined with larger social themes, drew Wilde to writing drama. He wrote Salome (1891) in French in Paris, but it was refused a licence. Unperturbed, Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London.
At the height of his fame and success, whilst his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), was still on stage in London, Wilde sued his lover’s father for libel. After a series of trials, Wilde was convicted of gross indecency with other men and imprisoned for two years, held to hard labour. In prison he wrote De Profundis, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life. He died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six. [wikipedia]
In my teens, I used to love Oscar Wilde. I picked up this title because I have not read any play for a while, and it was an easy fit for my Victorian Literature Challenge. It is supposed to be Wilde’s masterpiece. However, I did not enjoy it that much. It did not make me lough out loud, though there were a few witty passages, and I could guess several elements of the plot before they came. I would be curious to see what they did from it with the more recent movie adaptation.
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