The Importance of Being Earnest: a trivial comedy for serious people
This is a very different portrait of Victorian England. A play where every protagonist is an antagonist, and vice versa. There are no bad guys, there are no good guys, there are only people. Oscar Wilde’s characters have not the unforgettable personalities of Dickens nor the impressive realism of Tolstoy, yet they are somehow undeniably human. Lovable, relatable, susceptible, and somewhat incorrigible.
This is a satire, an attempt to poke fun at himself and his culture. Wilde jabs and jokes from the title to the last sentence. You cannot go a paragraph without encountering some witty line or clever pun. His main character (Jack) is a picture of the Victorian dandy: Elegant, refined, philanthropic – yet also ( surprise surprise) a hypocrite and a liar.
The other lead man, Algernon ( who most definitely steals the show in my humble opinion) is less of a picturesque Victorian gentleman. He is more dandy with a heavy helping of Oscar’s own “wilde” personality” ( excuse the horrid pun, I think one pun is permissible in a review of the “punniest play in the English language”). He leads the same sort of life as Jack, and yet his actions do not effect others quite as profoundly. He is a soloist, his mistakes are all games, and as such are stamped with approval by the author.
In the end, this book is an extremely funny fun-read. Although he does jest and joke, he makes no profound statements or analysis of anything. He makes no strong points, and doesn’t seem to have any purpose beyond just writing a really funny play. This is not the sort of thing that you read and then muse over for an hour feeling really good about yourself and thinking “Wow, I am much smarter then when I first opened the cover” ( I’d head over to War and Peace or any Dostoevsky/Tolstoy novel if that is what your looking for). And yet there is a time and a season for the short, complicated, and extremely hilarious “love story” that Oscar Wilde has provided for us.
My only advice is to read this in a private place. Apparently (based on the queer face expressions of local librarians and other patrons ) reading a book while stifling laughter and occasionally breaking out into giggles is not acceptable, at least not in my hometown library.