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The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

22 Mar

As I’ve mentioned before, Oscar Wilde is quite the well-beloved literary figure, and why not? We’ve already gone over his fun, flamboyant, ridiculous self before, I won’t repeat myself here. But who couldn’t use a little more of his humor nowadays? “The Importance of Being Earnest” is probably one of his best known plays, and one of his funniest works, in my humble opinion. So if you can’t get enough of Mr. Wilde, look no further than “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Published: 1895

Quick Read?: For sure.

Difficulty: Not very. Do slow down for all of Wilde’s clever wordplay and jokes, however!

Synopsis: In a classic case of identity switcheroo, the play opens with protagonists Algernon and Ernest in London. Ernest is deeply in love with Gwendolyn, Algernon’s cousin, but it Algernon soon realizes Ernest isn’t really Ernest (or earnest) at all, but is actually Jack.  Ernest is merely the name he uses while gallivanting in the city, for when Ernest goes home to his sister in the country, he doesn’t want her to know his “double life” partying and having a merry time in the city (this was before the days of embarrassing facebook photo tags, of course).  When Ernest/Jack goes to finally propose to Gwendolyn, however, he must fight off her cranky grandmother Lady Bracknell, who sees Ernest/Jack as “unsuitable.” Yet it turns out Gwendolyn only loves Ernest/Jack for one reason–his name “Ernest.” The story further complicates and becomes hilariously entangled when Ernest/Jack returns to the country with Algernon, only to have Algernon learn that Cecily is in love with him (though they have never met), and he falls for her, but not without a few complexities along the way.

Why this book? Oscar Wilde is hilarious, timelessly so. While it’s a fun play to watch, it’s just as fun to read, and great if you want a quick laugh. It’s a personal favorite of mine, out of what I’ve read of his works–others have not agreed with me, but I think it’s a definite classic, and a worthy one to have stored away in your literary arsenal.

If nothing else, this is the book for anyone with a love of clever wordplay. The most obvious of these wordplays is on the name “Ernest” and the adjective “earnest,” of course, but nonetheless, it’s a satisfying work that is never dull or boring. Nothing slows down the pace or keeps the laughter at bay.

If Tyra Banks and Oscar Wilde had lived during the same time period, Tyra would've said "Irish eyes are sm-eye-sing!"

Some neat-o facts:

  • Wilde cultivated the social wit he employs throughout this play through his social interactions in London with famous artists, playwrights, writers, and the late 19th century upper-crust. I get the feeling “The Importance of Being Earnest” had some basis in his experiences, but I can’t say that for a fact.
  • The play also makes fun of the Victorian melodrama, a popular theatrical genre at the time in England. The drama in this work is so over the top, even for Wilde, there was no mistaking its poking fun at other works during that time period

If you like this, try: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Wilde; any play by George Bernard Shaw; Orlando by Virginia Woolf; Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

And for those of you who are film-inclined, here’s the movie trailer!

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

21 Jan

In the age of the internet cute cat pictures, Youtube, and all things witty reign supreme. And there is no one wittier than Oscar Wilde. Not before him, and not since him has the world seen someone as skilled with wit, irony, and humor as this guy. A social butterfly and flamboyantly gay, Wilde was a unique personality and a distinctive writer. While his image lives on today, it always surprises me how few people have actually read his work. Do consider him to warm up your winter blues, or store away for a distant beach day some many months from now!

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Published: 1890

Quick Read?: Yes, though slow down if you want to appreciate all of Wilde’s subtle (and not-so-subtle) wit.

Difficulty: Not very. There is a lot of wordplay, but overall, it’s a very straight forward read.

Synopsis: Dorian Gray is one handsome young man, and he knows it too. An upper-crust gentleman unable to control his own, ahem, vulgar urges, he has made quite a name for himself. As he poses for the meek painter Basil, he expresses that what he feels is most important in life is beauty, and the pursuit of it in every possible way. But when he asks to sell his soul so that his portrait will age instead of his body, he finds himself embroiled in a conflict he could not have anticipated. With act of debauchery on part, Dorian’s portrait, hidden away, slowly becomes more aged and disfigured. Dorian knows he must one day confront the true reflection of himself, but not without dire consequences.

Why should I read this? Wilde is a wonderful, humorous writer whose humor is still just as satisfying today as it was in the late 19th century. His works are, at times, laugh out loud funny, an accolade I don’t give out to just any old funny book. Wilde’s antics in his life and his works inspired many humor writers long after him. Timeless humor is truly impressive, and always refreshing to read.

Also, I know a number of folks like to read and understand a book, but hate esoteric, vague symbols and themes. The Picture of Dorian Gray is pretty upfront in its symbolism–Dorian’s portrait stands for who he really is, the disfiguration of portrait is disfiguration of the soul, on and on. His ideas are straightforward and right on the surface, so you don’t have to delve far to see where oh where Wilde was trying to go with this text. Another way of saying: this book is nowhere near as much work to read as you might think!

Some fun facts (it’s hard to pick just one with this guy. Google him. His life was so, so ridiculous):

I can't tell you how much fun I had Google searching "Oscar Wilde." I just love his dandyism. It was hard to pick just one photo, I got to admit.

  • Wilde won a scholarship to school, but his gossipy, extravagant childhood made him more rebellious than intellectual. He once turned up late to university three weeks into the semester…just because.
  • Paris Hilton and the Kardashians and all of those socialites ought to pay tribute to Wilde. While he garnered fame for being a playwright at first, he’s considered one of the first celebrities who was “famous for being famous.” If only he knew what he was starting (a slew of terrible reality shows, am I right?).
  • Wilde was arrested for homosexuality and sodomy after news of his intimate relationship with Alfred Douglas came to light. He eventually got out of jail and moved to Paris, though all reports say he was never quite the same. Douglas was known to be vain–and was was rumored to be the inspiration for the cocky Dorian Gray.

If you like this, try: “The Importance by Being Earnest” by Wilde; any poetry by Dorothy Parker; Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence