Published by Dover Thrift on 1990 (original pu. 1895)
I read this play for a read-along hosted by Wallace of Unputdownables, and I must say I really enjoyed my first foray into Wilde’s work! I’m a little dismayed, even, that I’ve had The Picture of Dorian Gray sitting unread on my bookshelf for over a year. What was I thinking? This stuff is wonderfully funny and brilliant, and it could have been in my brain 12 months ago! Needless to say, as soon as I finished reading The Importance of Being Earnest yesterday, I pulled The Picture of Dorian Gray from my shelf and placed it on my dresser, where it happily awaits my eager perusal.
But back to The Importance of Being Earnest! This play, performed for the first time in London in 1895, is a witty comedy that gently mocks the rigid Victorian society in which it is set. Because the plot is a little bit complicated I won’t try to summarize it, but I can say that this play is full of double lives, secret engagements, confused identities, and mirthful contradictions at every turn. The story moves at a lightning-fast pace, buoyed by clever banter and witty turns of phrase, and I found myself laughing out loud many a time while reading!
One thing I really loved about this play is how relevant it is to current society despite being written over 120 years ago. It was interesting to see some of the ways our society really hasn’t changed in the last century, such as the great importance people put on silly superficial things like appearance and social status. It was really fun to see Wilde poke fun at his peers in a way that would make them laugh at themselves rather than take offense.
I’ll end with a few delightful quotes from the play. Go ahead, just try not to burst out some of these in conversation to impress your friends with how clever (or well-read) you are.
“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
“I am not in favor of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.”
“In manners of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.”
“I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing.”
“If I am occasionally overdressed, I make up for it by being always immensely overeducated.”
And my personal favorite:
“Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.”
It’s not the most clever quip in the play, but it just completely tickles me. For some reason this little line captures my imagination; I love the idea of this cultured, London society man solemnly holding forth on the correct way to eat one of the silliest (and tastiest) of breakfast foods.
I highly recommend reading this! It is hilarious, you can easily read it in one day (my copy is 54 pages), and you can buy the Dover Thrift edition at the low, low retail price of $1.50. What’s stopping you?