Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Fiction Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

One of the classics I asked for at Christmas was The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde because I've never read anything by Wilde before. When I received the book, I was surprised to see that it's a play (forgive me, I went to a science/engineering university!). Fortunately, my version of the book included some interesting and informative front matter that helped to explain the history and importance of this famous play. I enjoyed reading that and the play itself, which is a farcical comedy.

The play is about two different men, each of whom makes up fake friends/family as an excuse to travel and escape their ordinary lives. So, John (Jack) Worthing leaves his estate in the country and his ward, Cecily, to visit his pretend outrageous brother named Earnest who lives in London. Jack then pretends to be Ernest while in the city, and comes home to tell wild stories about the wicked Ernest. Meanwhile, Algernon, a friend of Jack's who lives in London, often leaves the city to go to the country to visit his "sick friend, Bunbury." He has even made up a name for these frequent jaunts of his, "Bunburying." Everyone thinks he is such a compassionate, selfless man to spend so much time with a sick friend, while he does whatever he wants and roams the countryside from one home to the next. Things begin to get more complicated when Jack falls in love with Algie's cousin, Gwendolen, and wants to marry her. She only knows him as Ernest, however, and even says at one point that she could never marry anyone not named Ernest, since the name matches the disposition. Soon after, Algie visits Jack's country estate (after learning the truth of his facade) and falls in love with Cecily, while himself pretending to be Ernest! As you can imagine, hijinks ensue, as both men have used the same false name and now want to marry.

The play was described by a critic of the time (1895) as "a trivial comedy for serious people," and that is still an apt description! It's a silly but smart farce filled with puns, quotable lines, mistaken identities, and other fun. In fact, you may recognize some of its more famous lines, like when Gwendolen's aunt chides orphaned Jack with: "To have lost one parent is a misfortune, to have lost both looks like carelessness." It's a light, funny, frothy little play with its humor based largely in word play and ridiculous circumstances. I wish I had the opportunity to see it live on stage, but reading it was a lot of fun and a lot of laughs.

65 pages, Bibliophile Pro

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  1. With all the characters portraying various people and lying their way through it all, this reminds me of a Shakespeare comedy.

  2. I remember when I was in college in the 70s watching the movie version of this in the dorm lounge and just about laughing myself silly over it. I watch the more recent movie, and while it’s still fun I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as when I watch the original movie. It was my introduction to Oscar Wilde and I thought he was absolutely marvelous!

    1. Oh, I hadn't thought of a movie adaptation! Will have to look for that!

  3. Sue, your book review shines above other reviews because of its clear and straightforward approach. We at Orange Publishers would love it if you ever decide to write a book about reviewing books with us.