The Importance of Being Earnest: And Other Plays

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Penguin Books USA, 1985 - Drama - 200 pages
26 Reviews
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of Wilde's most famous plays and still commands the affection of the public through its cinematic adaptations; most recently with Reece Witherspoon and Colin Firth. In Earnest, Wilde uses a mixture of social drama; popular at the time and other popular but less politically engaged forms such as melodrama and farce. The use of gentle parody is probably what protected Wilde from the more biting attacks aimed at his contemporaries such as Henrik Ibsen and Thomas Hardy who commented to similar effect on the values and attitudes of Victorian society. Within the drama Wilde manages to satirise the values that many still believed were the very reason for the great triumphs of Victorian Britain on the world stage. These were the ideas of respectability, self sacrifice, moral rectitude and high mindedness that were closely associated with the Victorian aristocracy. Little by little however Wilde reveals all these to be simply elements of an elaborate mask worn by the ruling elites, behind which each is engaged in precisely the opposite modes of behaviour. In short the principle characters will go to any lengths to avoid their responsibilities and place self interest at the top of their own agendas. Through the literary techniques of dramatic irony parody and reversals Wilde reveals the moral hypocrisy at the heart of the Victorian establishment. -- Description from http://www.online-literature.com (June 5, 2012.).

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - stillatim - LibraryThing

Sometimes your reading habits look completely nonsensical. Why would I have read any Wilde? Sure, he was a socialist, elitist wit. But why would I like such a thing? Anyway, I'm glad I got around to ... Read full review

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays

User Review  - Cleo - Goodreads

"A Woman of No Importance, for all its charm, exposes an aristocratic world that is smug, snobbish and morally bankrupt. An Ideal Husband portrays a glittering diplomatic gathering which is revealed ... Read full review

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About the author (1985)

Flamboyant man-about-town, Oscar Wilde had a reputation that preceded him, especially in his early career. He was born to a middle-class Irish family (his father was a surgeon) and was trained as a scholarship boy at Trinity College, Dublin. He subsequently won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was heavily influenced by John Ruskin and Walter Pater, whose aestheticism was taken to its radical extreme in Wilde's work. By 1879 he was already known as a wit and a dandy; soon after, in fact, he was satirized in Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience. Largely on the strength of his public persona, Wilde undertook a lecture tour to the United States in 1882, where he saw his play Vera open---unsuccessfully---in New York. His first published volume, Poems, which met with some degree of approbation, appeared at this time. In 1884 he married Constance Lloyd, the daughter of an Irish lawyer, and within two years they had two sons. During this period he wrote, among others, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), his only novel, which scandalized many readers and was widely denounced as immoral. Wilde simultaneously dismissed and encouraged such criticism with his statement in the preface, "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all." In 1891 Wilde published A House of Pomegranates, a collection of fantasy tales, and in 1892 gained commercial and critical success with his play, Lady Windermere's Fan He followed this comedy with A Woman of No Importance (1893), An Ideal Husband (1895), and his most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895). During this period he also wrote Salome, in French, but was unable to obtain a license for it in England. Performed in Paris in 1896, the play was translated and published in England in 1894 by Lord Alfred Douglas and was illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley. Lord Alfred was the son of the Marquess of Queensbury, who objected to his son's spending so much time with Wilde because of Wilde's flamboyant behavior and homosexual relationships. In 1895, after being publicly insulted by the marquess, Wilde brought an unsuccessful slander suit against the peer. The result of his inability to prove slander was his own trial on charges of sodomy, of which he was found guilty and sentenced to two years of hard labor. During his time in prison, he wrote a scathing rebuke to Lord Alfred, published in 1905 as De Profundis. In it he argues that his conduct was a result of his standing "in symbolic relations to the art and culture" of his time. After his release, Wilde left England for Paris, where he wrote what may be his most famous poem, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), drawn from his prison experiences. Among his other notable writing is The Soul of Man under Socialism (1891), which argues for individualism and freedom of artistic expression. There has been a revived interest in Wilde's work; among the best recent volumes are Richard Ellmann's, Oscar Wilde and Regenia Gagnier's Idylls of the Marketplace , two works that vary widely in their critical assumptions and approach to Wilde but that offer rich insights into his complex character.

Oscar Fingal O' Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854, the son of an eminent eye-surgeon and a nationalist poetess who wrote under the pseudonym of 'Speranza'. He went to Trinity College, Dublin and then to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he began to propagandize the new Aesthetic (or 'Art for Art's Sake') Movement. Despite winning a first and the Newdigate Prize for Poetry, Wilde failed to obtain an Oxford scholarship, and was forced to earn a living by lecturing and writing for periodicals. He published a largely unsuccessful volume of poems in 1881 and in the next year undertook a lecture-tour of the United States in order to promote the D' Oyle Carte production of Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera, Patience. After his marriage to Constance Lloyd in 1884, he tried to establish himself as a writer, but with little initial success. However, his three volumes of short fiction, The Happy Prince (1888), Lord Arthur Savile's Crime (1891) and A House of Pomegranates (1891), together with his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), gradually won him a reputation as a modern writer with an original talent, a reputation confirmed and enhanced by the phenomenal success of his Society Comedies—Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, all performed on the West-End stage between 1892 and 1895.

Success, however, was short-lived. In 1891 Wilde had met and fallen extravagantly in love with Lord Alfred Douglas. In 1895, when his success as a dramatist was at its height, Wilde brought an unsuccessful libel action against Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensberry. Wilde lost the case and two trials later was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for acts of gross indecency. As a result of this experience he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol. He was released from prison in 1897 and went into an immediate self-imposed exile on the Continent. He died in Paris in ignominy in 1900.

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