Wednesday, January 27, 2021

9. The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde. 1895. 76 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence:

Algernon.  Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?

Lane.  I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.

Algernon.  I’m sorry for that, for your sake.  I don’t play accurately—any one can play accurately—but I play with wonderful expression.  As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte.  I keep science for Life.

Premise/plot: The Importance of Being Earnest is romantic comedy--a play--written by Oscar Wilde. It concerns two friends and their adventures/misadventures in the town and country. Algernon Moncrieff, one of our two heroes, claims to be a confirmed bachelor. Marriage is NOT on his to do list. John Worthing (aka Jack) has entirely different plans. He's madly in love with a young woman--a woman who happens to be Algernon's first cousin--Gwendolen Fairfax. The problem? Well, Jack is living a double life. In the COUNTRY he's Jack Worthing (with a ward named Cecily). In the CITY (London) he's ERNEST B. WORTHING. His naughty, wicked brother Ernest is Jack's excuse for going to the city so often and staying away. Algernon thinks it's all good fun--when he stumbles onto his friend's secret--because he has such an acquaintance himself (though he's not pretending to be anyone else--yet), Mr. Bunbury is his COUNTRY friend who's always on death's door. 

If Gwendolen accepts his proposal, then Jack plans to kill off Ernest Worthing. (Even if it makes his ward, Cecily, upset. She fancies herself madly, deeply in love with Ernest Worthing. She wants to REFORM that BAD BOY.  

When Jack returns to the country and informs the reverend of his brother's death, he's in for a shock. His "brother" just arrived and plans on staying a week at least! 

There's plenty to laugh about in this three act play.

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. It was just a joy to read. Mom said that this was my grandma's favorite play. I can see why! It is hilarious and oh-so-quotable. 


When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. (Jack)

Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read. (Algernon)

Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall. That is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to decide for herself. You seem to think that every aunt should be exactly like your aunt! (Jack)

The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility! (Algernon)
I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them. (Algernon)
Lady Bracknell. Good afternoon, dear Algernon, I hope you are behaving very well.
Algernon. I’m feeling very well, Aunt Augusta.
Gwendolen. Yes, I am quite well aware of the fact. And I often wish that in public, at any rate, you had been more demonstrative. For me you have always had an irresistible fascination. Even before I met you I was far from indifferent to you. [Jack looks at her in amazement.] We live, as I hope you know, Mr. Worthing, in an age of ideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the more expensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial pulpits, I am told; and my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.
Jack. You really love me, Gwendolen?
Gwendolen. Passionately!
Jack. Darling! You don’t know how happy you’ve made me.
Gwendolen. My own Ernest!
Jack. But you don’t really mean to say that you couldn’t love me if my name wasn’t Ernest?
Gwendolen. But your name is Ernest.
Jack. Yes, I know it is. But supposing it was something else? Do you mean to say you couldn’t love me then?
Lady Bracknell. [Pencil and note-book in hand.] I feel bound to tell you that you are not down on my list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has. We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready to enter your name, should your answers be what a really affectionate mother requires. Do you smoke?
Jack. Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.
Lady Bracknell. I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is. How old are you?
Jack. Twenty-nine.
Lady Bracknell. A very good age to be married at. I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?
Jack. [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.
Lady Bracknell. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.

Jack. I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.
Algernon. We have.
Jack. I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk about?
Algernon. The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.
Jack. What fools!
Miss Prism. Memory, my dear Cecily, is the diary that we all carry about with us.
Cecily. Yes, but it usually chronicles the things that have never happened, and couldn’t possibly have happened. I believe that Memory is responsible for nearly all the three-volume novels that Mudie sends us.
Miss Prism. Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily. I wrote one myself in earlier days.
Cecily. Did you really, Miss Prism? How wonderfully clever you are! I hope it did not end happily? I don’t like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.
Miss Prism. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

Algernon. When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me. Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as any one who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink. At the present moment I am eating muffins because I am unhappy. Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins. [Rising.]
Jack. [Rising.] Well, that is no reason why you should eat them all in that greedy way. [Takes muffins from Algernon.]
Algernon. [Offering tea-cake.] I wish you would have tea-cake instead. I don’t like tea-cake.
Jack. Good heavens! I suppose a man may eat his own muffins in his own garden.
Algernon. But you have just said it was perfectly heartless to eat muffins.
Jack. I said it was perfectly heartless of you, under the circumstances. That is a very different thing.
Algernon. That may be. But the muffins are the same. [He seizes the muffin-dish from Jack.]

Gwendolen. The fact that they did not follow us at once into the house, as any one else would have done, seems to me to show that they have some sense of shame left.
Cecily. They have been eating muffins. That looks like repentance.
Gwendolen. [After a pause.] They don’t seem to notice us at all. Couldn’t you cough?
Cecily. But I haven’t got a cough.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

1 comment:

Paula Vince said...

A lovely write-up of a terrific play. I love Oscar Wilde's way of making complete fun of his own era. Probably one of my favourites too.