Monday, December 20, 2010

The Importance of Being Earnest - Book Review

My firstborn talked me into this one.  I'm ashamed to say that even though I'm an English teacher, I have never read anything by Oscar Wilde until now. I've had a smattering of literature over the course of my college career but my major focus areas are reading and writing/rhetoric and composition/literacy so while I had a lot of lit in college, it was not the major focus of my coursework...especially when I made it to grad school. 
How I missed this hilarious 3 Act play about two snooty Englishmen and their desire to guessed it, Earnest, I'll never know.

Jack and Algernon are not exactly friends...but they have to act civil to one another bc English society expects it of them in their gentlemenly positions.   Both are guilty of "bunburying" as Algernon labels the practice of being one person in the city and another person in the country....essentially leading two lives completely separate from one another.
As both men are contemplating marriage, each has his own ideas about remaining a "Bunburyist" into marriage.  Jack intends to give up his "brother" Earnest who lives in the country and must be seen to on a regular basis while Algernon has no intention whatsoever of giving up his poor sickly friend Bunbury.
As a matter of fact, bunburying is, according to Algernon, completely acceptable by one's wife and even appreciated.


Jack has his sites set on Algernon's cousin Gwendolyn while Algenon is infatuated by Jack's 18 year old ward Cecily.
Both must overcome society's restrictions (in the form of Algenon's aunt, Lady Bracknell) before attaining their hearts' desires.  Complicating things even more is that each of the ladies thinks her suitor's name is Earnest.

Confused yet?

What is absolutely hilarious about this read is the sincerety of the characters' ridiculous comments to one another as they work their way through this conundrum as only those who've been bred to a life of leisure can.
I laughed out loud more times while reading this short play than I have in much longer works of fiction.
Here are a couple of snippets for your teasing enjoyment:

LADY BRACKNELL (to Jack as she is trying to decide if he is "worthy" of her Gwendolen): Are your parents living?
JACK: I have lost both my parents.
LADY BRACKNELL: To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

GWENDOLEN (conversing with Cecily about their two men who have distractions "in the country"): Personally I cannot understand how anybody manages to exist in the country, if anybody who is anybody does.  The country always bores me to death.
CECILY: Ah! This is what the newspapers call agricultural depression, is it not?  I believe the aristocracy are suffering very much from it just at present.  It is almost an epidemic amongst them, I have been told.  May I offer you some tea, Miss Fairfax?

You must experience this little play yourself in order to completely enjoy it...again, only 3 Acts, and you'll finish it in an hour probably...snorting with laughter all the way through at Wilde's comic treatment of London upper class in the late 1800's.



  1. Great review! I love Oscar Wilde and this play is so enjoyable. I love its honesty and wit. I recommend you read more by Oscar Wilde. He's great, at least to me he is.:)

  2. Your book review caught my attention because I am always up for a good read! Thanks for bringing this book to my attention! I do love Oscar Wilde and I love his wit and imagination completely. I read this play long ago when I was in college as I was an English major as well. It is a very enjoyable play, I agree!

  3. This book is SO SO GOOD!! I read it for the first time earlier this year and was very happy I did. I'd read The Picture of Dorian Gray before but it was the only thing by Wilde, so it was fun to see a lighter, funnier side. :D