Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Classics Club: The importance of being Earnest

One of the fun parts in blogsphere, in my mind, are the read-a-longs.  Several bloggers read one piece of literature and exchange ideas and opinions about it.  What usually comes out of this, are bits that one had never thought about and comparisons with similar (or not) pieces that may trigger further interest (and additions to the TBR lists...)

Wallace at Unputdownables hosted the read-a-long of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde in August.  It was a brilliant little play, perfect for the laid-back month of holidays (at least for me...)

This play is truly a farce, a looking glass through which we get to see society and its superficiality (and while this is 1895, I'm happy to report that not much has changed...)

We follow the lives (for lack of a better word) of Algeron and his best friend Jack, two members of the middle-upper class, a pair of good-for-nothing chaps who, nevertheless, have both come up with an ingenious idea:  invent an imaginary friend/relative somewhere far away, so that they can escape any society that is uncomfortable and a nuisance.  What a pity, then, that it all turns against them, when they fall in love:  Jack with Algy's cousin Gwendolen and Algy with Jack's ward Cecily.  A confusion of unsurpassable measure ensues, when we come to understand that both women wish to marry an Ernest (little play with words here...).  It is important to be an Ernest, just as it is important to be earnest (not...).  But not to worry, all ends well, as Cecily will be content to marry an Algy, while Jack (who, by the way, is Algy's real brother of course) finds out that he is actually an Ernest...

While this play is really over-the-top, it has several points that should be seriously taken into consideration, otherwise we risk ending up like the portrayal in this play - a look at the (famous) quotes in this play provides food for thought:

When Algy's imaginary friend Mr. Bunbury is yet again ill and Lady Bracknell is upset Algy will not dine with her, she says: "It is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die" -- our lives are so unimportant that we should all accomodate to the calendars of the more important people...

When Lady Bracknell runs a check on Jack to see whether he's suitable for her daughter, she asks whether he smokes, which he does:  "A man should always have an occupaton of some kind.  There are far too many idle men in London as it is".  How about getting a job, dear?

and, further on, when she realises that Jack an orphan is:
"to lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness".
How true, orphans are at fault of their situation.  One should invent all the necessary background in order to succeed in life...

Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell
When Algeron is caught pretending to be Earnest, the brother of Jack, Cecily and Gwendolen discuss whether to accept his explanation of why he did this:
 "In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing"
(I believe this is the main theme of the play, in any way...)

or when Lady Bracknell realises that Cecily a good catch is:  
"A hundred and thirty thousand pounds! and in the Funds! Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her"
How many people look much better in the light of money... but it's not enough, one must also look the part:   "There are distinct social possibilities in your profile"

Yes, this is the life these people at higher classes lead... While we may think of them as idle, hypocrytes, arrogant and wish for them to disappear, while we are glad that such things only existed in those times (not true - while the class distinction is no longer as evident as then, there are still people who belong to the "good society"), we still are at awe of their existence: 
"Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon.  Only people who can't get into it do that."
That for me sums up the essence of the play - we want to belong to the good society, whatever this may be, and are willing to change, bend the truth, even lie - in a word stray from our true person and values, in varying degrees, in order to fit in there with that society.  Superficial? Indeed, but how disturbingly true as well...

For the visual interpretation of this play, I watched the 2002 film adaptation by the same name.  A wonderful cast of extremely well known actors throws in even more sarcasm to the story, and provides for a delighful insight into Society and its mechanisms...

Also read for the 2012 Ireland challenge


  1. Oooooh Dame Dench is in the film! I have to check it out!

    1. hi hi hi... yes, my dear, you will be in for a treat!

  2. I loved how the nuisance just goes up a notch with every Act - I can easily imagine Wilde chuckling while writing it. Also loved that the female characters were so clever :)

    1. indeed, the writing is exemplary...

  3. Oh I loved this play! So fun and absurd - and completely quote worthy. You chose a few great quotes to highlight :) -Sarah

  4. I loved the movie, will definitely try the play. Love the new background!

  5. I had fun reading this one a couple years ago and then watching the movie. Thanks for linking your review!




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