Release Date: first performed/published 1895
Age Group: Technically adult, but suitable for YA audiences
Genres: Comedy, romance
Pages: approx. 58 pages (Kindle edition)
Format/Source: Kindle, Downloaded free from Kindle store
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Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gwendolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack’s ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack’s country home on the same weekend the “rivals” to fight for Ernest s undivided attention and the “Ernests” to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!
Uh, Oscar Wilde? I didn’t know this until now, but you rock.
I first became interested in this after seeing the film version (the one with Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, yeah). I adored it, of course, not only because I love period films, but because this was a good period film. No, quite a lot more than good. It was amazing. I was shocked, though, to learn that the movie had actually taken a lot of lines from the play itself.
Obviously I had to read this. It was meant to be.
Analysis is going to be difficult for this, because it’s a relatively simplistic story. It’s basically all fluff and banter – but there are few things that I love more than nineteenth-century fluff and banter. Actually, it’s a play, so it’s almost entirely dialogue, which makes it even more of a laughter-inducing, witty social romp.
About that: banter banter banter. It’s absolutely hilarious. Every line sparkles with wit in the most clever sense of the word, with some of them being so funny that it’s absurd. A warning, if it can be called that – there is nothing whatsoever that is serious about this play, and that is its greatest strength. The ridiculously overt, shameless flirting directed at Cecily from Algernon is a delight to read, as well as Cecily’s exaggerated “young lady” pretension. Gwendolen’s high opinion of herself is easily forgiven when communicated through her lightning-fast quips used to discipline Jack and Algernon. Plus, Gwendolen’s aunt, Lady Bracknell, is perfection. (Think sort of in the same vein as Downton Abbey‘s Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, except not as serious.) And Jack and Algernon are quite possibly one of the best pairs of friends I’ve ever read. The sarcasm. The sarcasm.
Speaking of sarcasm, the servants who actually have speaking roles in this are hysterical.
And anyway, as dictated by the rules of 1800s society, it’s all intelligent talking. Every character is terribly smart about his or her words, and they all know it.
Also? There’s romance. There is such obvious chemistry involved in each of the two couples that they’re both instant ships, and they’re sure to appeal to most fellow YA shippers like myself. Like I said before, Algernon and Cecily’s flirting is to die for, and Gwendolen and Jack are so perfectly besotted with each other that it makes me cackle inwardly just to think about it. (I promise I’m not that creepy in real life.)
The storyline’s a little weak, but honestly, the plot is of less importance (see what I did there?) in plays in my opinion, and The Importance of Being Earnest utilizes its medium wonderfully in that aspect. The way things fall together at the end oh-so-conveniently might be eye-roll-worthy in a novel, but it works really well in a play. But don’t read this for the plot – read it for the talking. I know that it seems counterintuitive, but if you appreciate well-written dialogue, you’ll love this.
I do believe that’s most readers who have ever existed.
So, if you need an even shorter summary of that short review of a short play? Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest will give you ALL THE HAPPY. Obviously this writer was as fabulous as I’ve heard. Go forth. Enjoy. Get it for free on your Kindle (public domain works, ahh) and begin.