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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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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

30 Jun

A hell of a lot of people are afraid of Virginia Woolf, turns out (so much so that there’s a sociological work on her as a symbol in 20th century society, I read it for class, NERD ALERT). But this theater piece isn’t necessarily just for fans of the Woolfinator, as I affectionately call her–in fact, it barely mentions her at all. Albee’s play instead deals with two dysfunctional academic couples who slowly spiral out of control.

Published: 1962  (when it was first performed)

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

Genre: Theater, drama for sure.

Difficulty: Oof. Not difficult to read…just a little emotionally difficult is all. If you’ve been having a bad week, you might wanna skip this one.

Quick Read: Yes. A good, intense summer read.

Synopsis: A middle-aged couple, Martha (a college president’s daugher) and George (a history professor), invite the new faculty couple on campus to their house late one night after a party. When Nick (a professor like George), and his plain-jane wife Honey finally do stop by, they are forced to watch as Martha and George’s relationship falls apart hard and fast and they provoke each other in every which way. Their emotional “games” with one another are brutal, grating, cruel, and upsetting. Feelings, sexual tensions, and secrets are revealed and flow just as much as the alcohol does throughout (and they drink an INSANE amount of booze). Yet at the end of all of this disorientation, the true tragedy of their relationship is revealed, and their vulnerabilities finally show.

What makes this play awesome? If you’re someone who thinks reading or watching a play is boring, this play is definitely one you ought to check out and give a chance. The verbal action is non-stop. George and Martha’s arguments grow exponentially more violent, absurd, and shocking as the play progresses, and as horrific as it can be, you are totally sucked into their emotional highway to despair.

It’s also an enthralling satire and commentary on academia and the nature of intellectualism. The intellectual mind games, supposedly proving their worth to one another, threaten to tear them apart. It’s an interesting spin on what the definition of smart even really is.

It’s a bruising read, but a quick one, and one that really is unforgettable. It’s a classic theater piece that is as mystifying as it is satisfying, or at least I thought it was. If you have an opinion on that, be sure to leave your feedback, as I’d love to know what others thought.

Albee seems pretty calm for given all the shenanigans he's writin' up. It's always the quiet ones, huh?

Some  neat-o facts: 

  • If the names George and Martha seem like they have a ring to them, it’s because Albee used the names of America’s first First Couple, George and Martha Washington.
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? won a Pulitzer Prize in 1963. Looks like saving the drama for your mama won’t win you any awards then, huh?
  • The movie version (1966) features Liz Taylor as Martha, screaming her lungs out. See below for some of that craziness. Or is it too soon?

If you like this, try: plays by Samuel Beckett, Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald