The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Irish (1854-1900)
ABOUT OSCAR WILDE
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, the son of Sir William Wilde, an ear and eye surgeon, and Lady Jane Wilde, an Irish Nationalist, was the second of three children, born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854. Oscar attended Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied Greek literature, joined the University Philosophical Society, and won the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek studies. He then attended Magdalen College, Oxford, England, where he developed a refined sensibility for beauty, wearing his hair long, and decorating his room with blue china and flowers–especially lilies and sunflowers. He said, “I find it harder every day to live up to my blue china.” Oscar believed in the aesthetic movement of the late 19th century: Art for Art’s sake. He had a wonderful sense of humor, becoming very famous–and infamous–during his glorious Oxford years for his satirical wit and wisdom. Wilde’s strong classical education paved the way for his successful career as an editor, writer, poet, and playwright.
OSCAR WILDE’S WORKS
As a child, I read all Oscar’s fairytales with relish, enjoying them again as an adult. I particularly like “The Selfish Giant,” “The Happy Prince,” The Remarkable Rocket,” and “The Star Child.” As a teenager, I devoured, The Picture of Dorian Gray, considered scandalous and sacrilegious by the English public for its homosexual overtones. I immersed myself in Wilde’s descriptive language that sometimes took my breath away. It is the story of a young man who sells his soul to the Devil in return for eternal youth–a page-turner–and a must for any discerning reader. I am particularly fond of Wilde’s satirical comedies, especially his plays Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Earnest.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Mr. John Worthing (Jack) resides in the country (Hertfordshire) with his “excessively pretty ward,” Miss Cecily Cardew. Cecily is chaperoned and educated by Miss Prism, “the most cultivated of ladies, and the very picture of respectability.” Jack invents a younger brother, Ernest, whom he uses as an excuse to visit London. Meanwhile, his best friend, Mr. Algernon Moncrieff (Algy), an “ostentatiously, eligible young man,” lives in London and invents Bunbury, an invalid, so he can visit the country when he wishes. Algy introduces Jack to Miss Gwendolen Fairfax as “Ernest Worthing.” Soon after the play opens, Algy escorts Lady Bracknell (Gwendolen’s Wagnerian mother) into the music room to allow Jack time to propose to his beloved Gwendolen.
However, Lady Bracknell interrupts poor Jack Worthing while he is still on his knees. She separates the ardent lovers who pledge eternal constancy to each other. Gwendolen promises to write to Jack at his country address. Algy, hearing their conversation, decides to visit Jack’s country manor under false pretenses as Jack’s younger brother, Ernest, to woo “little Cecily.” In the words of Shakespeare’s Lysander, “The course of true love never did run smooth.” Between Lady Bracknell’s interference, Jack Worthing’s spurious origins (he was “found” abandoned in a handbag at Victoria Station when he was a baby), Algy’s lack of fortune, and poor Miss Prism’s “moment of mental distraction” all those years ago when she “lost” a baby, it is a wonder that love triumphs at all. Miss Prism says, “The good end happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.” By the end of the play, we also discover Jack Worthing’s real name and the identity of his relations.
Oscar Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest, is full of witty dialogue, beautiful language, and clever epigrams–a delight for any reader or theater lover. It was first performed in London in February 1895, at the height of Wilde’s career. Sadly, three months later, Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for two years of hard labor for his homosexual relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas. His wife, Constance, divorced him, refusing him access to his two sons. Oscar wrote his famous letter to Douglas (Bosie), “De Profundis” (Out of the Depths), where he says,
“Do not be afraid of the past. If people say it is irrevocable, do not believe them. The past, the present and the future are but one moment in the sight of God, in whose sight we should try to live…. You came to me to learn the pleasure of life and the pleasure of art. Perhaps I am chosen to teach you something more wonderful–the meaning of sorrow and its beauty.”
When released from prison, Oscar moved to France, living under the name of Sebastian Melmoth. It was here that he wrote his moving poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.” He died in Paris at the age of 46, retaining his humor to the very last. He said of his hotel room,
“My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has to go.”
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Sarah M. Fredericks © 2015
Carpe Librum!📚Seize the Book…and let the page-turning begin!