The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde

Published January 7, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Oscar Wilde’s madcap farce about mistaken identities, secret engagements, and lovers entanglements still delights readers more than a century after its 1895 publication and premiere performance. The rapid-fire wit and eccentric characters of The Importance of Being Earnest have made it a mainstay of the high school curriculum for decades.

Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gewndolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack’s ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack’s country home on the same weekend the “rivals” to fight for Ernest s undivided attention and the “Ernests” to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!

What did I think?:

This entertaining play from Oscar Wilde has become an instant classic, loved the world over, and a perfect example of Wilde’s wit and talent. It has also fairly recently been made into a film starring Colin Firth, Rupert Everett and Reese Witherspoon, which I came across first before reading the play and loved. The story opens on two old friends, Jack and Algernon, who are entertaining themselves with people that they invent, to get out of certain tiresome events. For example, Algernon has an imaginary friend called Bunbury who is often sadly quite ill, and he is obliged to dash off at a moments notice to the aid of his sickly friend, like a knight in shining armour, which may unfortunately lead to him missing one of his Aunt Augusta’s (Lady Bracknell) events. Shame! Jack on the other hand, has a house in the country and a young ward called Cecily whom he is very protective over, but occasionally a man has to get away doesn’t he? So he invents a troublesome younger brother called Ernest, who is constantly getting into scrapes which his poor older brother has to rescue him from! (And usually involves a trip to town of course!).

It is obvious that Jack and Algy have been friends for a while, but for some reason Algy has never heard him mention a young, pretty ward before…perhaps there was a good reason for that as Algy decides to visit Cecily at Jack’s country house masquerading as Ernest, the roguish younger brother and falls in love with her. In Jack’s story, he is courting Gwendolyn, the daughter of the fearsome Lady Bracknell, without much hope of ever getting her approval to marry Gwendolyn due to the fact that Jack was found in a train station. In a handbag to make it worse! And there’s also the slight problem of Jack wooing Gwendolyn under the name of Ernest, especially when all four meet at Jack’s house and there are misunderstandings a-plenty! Just imagine – two women both engaged to a man called Ernest….it’s asking for trouble.

This play is without a doubt one of the funniest things I have ever read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The characters are fantastic, especially the intimidating Lady Bracknell who has some of the best lines in the entire play, and I can imagine it being quite fun to act her part:

“To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”

I thought Wilde made some really humorous references to the English class system, the whole “courting” process and the occasional fickleness and selfishness of human nature. It’s sharp and quick, but so easy to read and absorb, and his cynical eye often shows us a new (and very funny) face of society. Although this is my first foray into the world of Wilde, it won’t be the last, and I can’t wait!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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4 comments on “The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde

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