English Book Club: ‘The importance of being earnest’ by Oscar Wilde
First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James’s Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personæ to escape burdensome social obligations.
Working within the social conventions of late Victorian London, the play’s major themes are the triviality with which it treats institutions as serious as marriage, and the resulting satire of Victorian ways.
The successful opening night marked the climax of Wilde’s career but also heralded his downfall. The Marquess of Queensberry, whose son Lord Alfred Douglas was Wilde’s lover, planned to present the writer with a bouquet of rotten vegetables and disrupt the show.
Wilde was tipped off and Queensberry was refused admission. Their feud came to a climax in court, where Wilde’s homosexuality was revealed to the Victorian public and he was sentenced to imprisonment. Despite the play’s early success, Wilde’s notoriety caused the play to be closed after 86 performances.
After his release from prison, he published the play from exile in Paris, but he wrote no further comic or dramatic work.
In contrast to much theatre of the time, the light plot of The Importance of Being Earnest does not tackle serious social and political issues, something of which contemporary reviewers were wary. Though unsure of Wilde’s seriousness as a dramatist, they recognised the play’s cleverness, humour and popularity with audiences.
Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854 in Dublin, Ireland.
Wilde was a bright and bookish child and, after graduating, won a scolarship to attend Trinity College. Upon graduating from Oxford, Wilde moved to London to focus on writing poetry, publishing his first collection, Poems, in 1881.
On May 29, 1884, Wilde married Constance Lloyd. They had two sons.
Beginning in 1888 Wilde entered a seven-year period of furious creativity, during which he produced nearly all of his great literary works. Around the same time, Wilde commenced an affair with a young man named Lord Alfred Douglas.
Further events belated to this relatiosnhip (trial and imprisonment of the autor) marked Wilde’s life and health. Wilde died of meningitis on November 30, 1900 at the age of 46.
Wilde is still remembered for his personal life—his exuberant personality, consummate wit and infamous imprisonment for homosexuality—. Nevertheless, his witty beautiful works, in particular his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and his play The Importance of Being Earnest, are considered among the great literary masterpieces of the late Victorian period.
The English Book Club will meet again to coment this book on saturday February 16th.