Oscar Wilde at His Best

So I watched “The Importance of Being Earnest” again… for the hundredth time. Never gets old. I convinced a friend of mine to watch it with me, since he had never seen it. He’s always kind to indulge my Anglomania. I always get caught up in the witty web of “Earnest” – it’s all sarcastic and criticizing, and hilarious. Reading the play is even better than watching the movie, because you can read every sharp word without missing a beat.

Algernon and Jack argue about the cigarette case - from original production of the play in 1895

“The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” was written by Oscar Wilde, an Irishman, I admit, but the play is set in England. Wilde is at his best satirizing his Victorian society, exaggerating social customs, bringing out the ridiculous in a fashion surely Jane Austen herself would approve of. To give you a taste of the play’s cutting remarks, here is a sample of my favorite quotes:

Algernon:

It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact.

The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public.

I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.

I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.

Well, one must be serious about something, if one wants to have any amusement in life.

I never go without my dinner. No one ever does, except vegetarians and people like that.

Oscar Wilde in 1889

Gwendolen:

We live, as I hope you know, Mr. Worthing, in an age of ideals … and my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence.

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.

If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life.

Gwendolen

Lady Bracknell:

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune … to lose both seems like carelessness.

Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, of physical weakness in the old.

Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.

I dislike arguments of any kind. They are always vulgar, and often convincing.

Dame Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell

Miss Prism:

The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

Cecily's Daydream

Cecily:

… when one is going to lead an entirely new life, one requires regular and wholesome meals.

Oh, I don’t think I would care to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about.

What an impetuous boy he is! I like his hair so much.

Jack:

Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?

I’ve now realised for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.

Algernon and Jack in London

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s