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The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays (Penguin Classics) (2000)

– tekijä: Oscar Wilde

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
660325,966 (4.14)2
Enriched Classics offer readers accessible editions of great works of literature enhanced by helpful notes and commentary. Each book includes educational tools alongside the text, enabling students and readers alike to gain a deeper and more developed understanding of the writer and their work. Wilde's classic comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest, a satire of Victorian social hypocrisy and considered Wilde's greatest dramatic achievement, and his other popular plays--Lady Windermere's Fan, An Ideal Husband, and Salome--challenged contemporary notions of sex and sensibility, class and cultural identity. Enriched Classics enhance your engagement by introducing and explaining the historical and cultural significance of the work, the author's personal history, and what impact this book had on subsequent scholarship. Each book includes discussion questions that help clarify and reinforce major themes and reading recommendations for further research. Read with confidence.… (lisätietoja)
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näyttää 3/3
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 reading some of his plays. 'Lady Windemere's Fan' is very clever, and feels to me almost like a mythical allegory: social outsider takes on herself the 'sins' of society. Only the social outsider can do this, because only she is willing to recognize that those sins aren't particularly sinful. Happiness ensues, due to one woman's sacrifice. 'A Woman of No Importance' was my least favorite here; in the other plays the wittiest, most fun characters are also the upright ones. Here I wanted to slap the morally upright characters in the face. By contrast, in 'An Ideal Husband' the most attractive character is the one who ends up being the ideal husband. And it's funnier. Of course 'Earnest' is far and away the best piece here. Wilde makes his moral points without moralizing, and definitively chooses silliness over sententiousness. The characters might not be as impressive as Lord Goring in 'Husband', but the play as a whole is far better. The two symbolist works, 'Salome' and 'A Florentine Tragedy,' show Wilde's range, for the better in 'S', for the worse in AFT, which is almost unreadable. Anyone who enjoys Strauss' opera will enjoy reading Wilde's play.

As for the edition, the apparatus is a little overwhelming: there's no distinction between a note that you really need to know for reading the play (i.e., I imagine few will get the joke about the aristocracy suffering from 'agricultural depression' without the note about economic fluctuations of the time) and notes that will just irritate you (i.e., textual variations that are clearly less effective than the established text).

This is all very humorless, I know. And in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays

Penguin Classics, Paperback, [2000].

8vo. xxx+432 pp. Edited with an Introduction [vii-xxvi], Commentaries and Notes [pp. 364-432] by Richard Allen Cave. Excised scene from The Importance of Being Earnest [pp. 359-363].

First published thus, 2000.

Contents

Introduction
A Note on the Texts
Select Bibliography

Lady Windermere's Fan
Salome
A Woman of No Importance
An Ideal Husband
A Florentine Tragedy
The Importance of Being Earnest

Appendix: The excised scene

Notes

===========================================

Now this is what I call a classic: so far as I, personally, am concerned this a book that I pick up with very high expectations, yet they are far surpassed by what I find between the pages. I did expect a lot from Wilde's plays, but I certainly wasn't prepared for so enthralling a read. I cannot but be amused at those people who continue to rant that Oscar Wilde was a perfect example of style over substance, that he never wrote anything serious, or if he did it will be forgotten at expense of his social comedies, and that he was nothing but tons of epigrams. First of all, it doesn't require a brilliant intelligence to realise that most of Wilde's epigrams are dead serious - indeed, that's where their enduring value lies; on the surface it's all fun of course, but just a little below there is a fierce social satire and a just about unparalleled insight into human nature. As Bernard Shaw wisely observed once, ''nothing is more serious than great humour.'' He might well have spoken about Oscar. Unfortunately, there are two major disappointments that detract from the value of the book as a whole. But everything in time.

The Penguin Classics edition is an almost complete one. It contains six plays written between 1891 and 1895, at the time when Wilde was growing more and more famous as a dramatist, and it omits only his two early attempts from the 1880s, Vera; or, The Nihilists (1880) and The Duchess of Padua (1883). The six plays in this volume fall into two strikingly different categories: four of them are the classical social comedies Oscar Wilde is most famous for, namely Lady Windermere's Fan, A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, whereas Salome and A Florentine Tragedy can broadly and ineptly be described as historical and rather tragic plays. Before going into some detail about the plays themselves, few words about the editorial work.

The introduction of Richard Allen Cave is dull and tedious stuff one may skip without fear of missing anything of any importance. It starts promisingly, with the famous dichotomy between Wilde the brilliant wordsmith and Wilde the subversive homosexual, but then Mr Cave unfortunately switched to, and continued to be concerned with until the end, abominably mundane matters like Wilde's stage directions and the spatial relationships between his characters. The best I can say about this introduction is that Mr Cave is certainly very capable of extracting a good deal of tenuous and ultimately unimportant, not to say preposterous, relationships between the visual side of Wilde's plays and their force as social satire. I confess the first time I read this introduction I skipped half of it. But then I was ashamed and read it again, this time completely and conscientiously. I wish I hadn't. Perfect waste of time.

Be warned also that the introduction is rife with spoilers and should be read - if at all - only after the plays.

A word about the editor's meticulous notes must be made too. It is of course extremely annoying to constantly consult them when they are in the end of the book, but I daresay the notes could not have been printed otherwise: they are much too copious for that. Well, one doesn't really need to consult them; indeed, one must not do this. The notes are sometimes insightful, but more often than not they are concerned with largely irrelevant matters like publication history, revisions of certain passages or long-winded and pompous speculations about Wilde's apparent allusions. Worst of all, the notes often make explicit crucial details of the plots long before Wilde intended to reveal them. To say that such cases spoil the pleasure of Wilde's meticulous craftsmanship is a spectacular understatement. I imagine the best way is to read the plays once without referring to the notes at all and only then, on second reading when one is already reasonably familiar with the plots, one should peruse the plays more carefully together with constant excursions to the end of the book. For all verbose junk they contain, the notes are occasionally highly revealing in terms of specific meaning of some words in the vastly different social context of those times, or elucidating Wilde's elaborate, yet subtle and subversive, network of hints, allusions and metaphors.

Salome was my first major disappointment in the volume. Written originally in French in 1891 and later translated into English by Lord Alfred Douglas himself if the dedication is to be believed (actually, scholars now believe, Wilde himself did the job), the play was for many years banned and attacked as immoral, indecent and other such adjectives that are more likely to stimulate audience's interest more than anything else. With its extravagant metaphors, fantastic imagery and verbose repetitions, Salome is more akin to Wilde's second volume of fairy tales, but the play has neither their power nor their affecting quality. The story is the well-known and perfectly gruesome one from the Bible about Salome, the stepdaughter of Herod Antipas, and John the Baptist (here named in Hebrew fashion, Jokanaan). The play has some nice satirical touches, mostly in the character of the very practical Herodias, with her memorable line ''I do not believe in miracles. I have seen too many.'', and there are some hints of serious discussions about religion and God, but on the whole it is a lame stuff and makes a tedious read; fortunately it's one-act affair, and rather short at that. Perhaps I have read it in the wrong mood.

A Florentine Tragedy is a very singular piece. It is written in blank verse and apparently set in Renaissance Italy; ''apparently'' because nothing is mentioned in the stage directions and one must rely on subtle hints in the text. Scholars have argued that the play is just a fragment from an unfinished work, but it's perfectly sufficient as it is. I can't say that I find reading blank verse easy, but the play is very short (less than 20 pages) and it makes a very absorbing read indeed. There are but three characters - the merchant Simone, his wife Bianca and the Florentine prince Guido - who form a chilling love triangle that leads, predictably considering the title, to a tragic conclusion. The amazing thing is that Wilde has managed to achieve a very neat twist in the end. In combination with the swift exchange of blunt remarks, the play makes a very enjoyable read.

The rest four plays in this book are (mostly) Oscar Wilde at his absolute best as a playwright; I call these superb pieces of drama ''social comedies'' only with trepidation, for they are as much concerned with the individual than with the society, and they are far more serious than they are comic. The only exception, regrettably, is the most famous of them. Although each of the plays has a special character, all of them share several remarkable similarities.

They are all set in the present, 1890s that is, and the action is limited in time to no more than 24 hours during which dark passions and shady secrets from many past years relentlessly surface. They all contain tons of amusing epigrams as only Oscar Wilde, the scintillating wordsmith, can forge but none of them is on the whole a flippant or superficial affair; as for Wilde's pace of action and sense for dramatic climax, they are invariably well-nigh perfect. Perhaps what impresses me most strongly in these plays is the large diversity of characters that each one of them contains. Virtuous and vicious form a sublime counterpoint here, if I am allowed a musical analogy. Both among the male and the female characters the variety is impressive, if repetitive. Usually there are those who talk almost entirely in epigrams and take a decidedly flippant attitude towards life but in fact turn out to have a more secure grip of it than all other characters; and of course there are also prigs and prudes, moralists and cynics, social climbers and social outcasts, people in love and people in lust: you name it, separately or in various combinations. The verbal skirmish is guaranteed and so is the engrossing entertainment. When it comes to hypocrisy, conceit, shallowness, snobbishness, prejudice or stupidity - social or individual - Oscar Wilde is charmingly witty and devastatingly merciless. In both directions.

For the most part Wilde's stage directions are very sparse and consist almost entirely of characters' movements and brief descriptions of the surroundings; usually he also gives the reactions of all participants in the most dramatic scenes, but otherwise there is next to nothing about appearance, clothing or the manner in which certain lines are spoken. Yet the characters come to life with astonishing vividness and verisimilitude, entirely through dialogue. Another amazing thing about these plays: no character speaks out of character, ever. Now that is quite an achievement. Considering the severe stringency of drama, Wilde's character are remarkably complex and alive. Last but not least, actually most important of all, there are always several points of view, often conveyed by different characters but sometimes adroitly combined in one. The awesome collision of values, morals, fears and feelings is absolutely never one-sided, no matter whether one agrees with Wilde's conclusions or not. Unfortunately, I repeat, The Importance of Being Earnest is rather an exception from most of the above.

Perhaps the most striking, and surprising, overall conclusion to draw about all four of Wilde's ''social comedies'' is that Oscar is unabashed sentimentalist. Now such an attitude is not exactly my cup of tea, but in this particular case it seems that it doesn't matter a bit. I certainly haven't used it to degrade Wilde's plays and have nothing but contempt for those who do. In conclusion of the general part, it might be worth noting that the plays are printed in the order of their writing but in no way need they be read so; from the very beginning of his four years of theatrical success, Oscar Wilde was a supreme master of his craft. Now let's look more carefully into each of these gems.

Lady Windermere's Fan is my greatest favourite. It is superb on all fronts. For once, the blend of wit and wisdom, flippancy and profoundness, is brought to utmost perfection. The play is extremely clever in its construction, with all improbabilities masterfully handled and with simply mind-blowing dramatic climaxes. Oscar certainly knew very well how to pace and construct drama in a most gripping manner. In this play he has also surpassed himself as regards variety of characters. None of the next three works, fine as they are, may offer so vast a range of completely different personalties, all of them brilliantly conveyed by sparkling dialogue. Nor has Wilde ever again succeeded in creating so convincing a bundle of contradictions as Mrs Erlynne. I can certainly say that she is one of the most charming and lovable characters ever put down on paper in drama, fiction or non-fiction; considerable achievement since in the beginning of the play she is definitely despicable. Her transformation in the course of these four acts is unbelievable - from a heartless creature to one with a golden heart - yet absolutely convincing and deeply affecting. Last but not least, the play has an astounding finale which is in itself a masterpiece: it is neither happy nor unhappy, everybody is sincere and at the same time hiding something behind his or her guilty conscience. Few unforgettable lines cannot but be quoted:

LORD DARLINGTON: Do you know I am afraid that good people do a great deal of harm in this world. Certainly the greatest harm they do is that they make badness of such extraordinary importance. It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious. I take the side of the charming, and you, Lady Windermere, can't help belonging to them.

LORD DARLINGTON: Between men and women there is no friendship possible. There is passion, enmity, worship, love, but no friendship.

DUMBY: What a mystery you are!
LADY PLYMDALE: [Looking at him] I wish you were!
DUMBY: I am - to myself. I am the only person in the world I
should like to know thoroughly; but I don't see any chance of it just at present.

[Probably the most powerful speech in the play: rhetoric put to the best purpose.]
MRS. ERLYNNE. [Starts, with a gesture of pain. Then restrains herself, and comes over to where LADY WINDERMERE is sitting. As she speaks, she stretches out her hands towards her, but does not dare to touch her.] Believe what you choose about me. I am not worth a moment's sorrow. But don't spoil your beautiful young life on my account! You don't know what may be in store for you, unless you leave this house at once. You don't know what it is to fall into the pit, to be despised, mocked, abandoned, sneered at - to be an outcast! to find the door shut against one, to have to creep in by hideous byways, afraid every moment lest the mask should be tripped from one's face, and all the while to hear the laughter, the horrible laughter of the world, a thing more tragic than all the tears the world has ever shed. You don't know what it is. One pays for one's sin, and then one pays again, and all one's life one pays. You must never know that. - As for me, if suffering be an expiation, then at this moment I have expiated all my faults, whatever they have been; for to-night you have made a heart in one who had it not, made it and broken it. - But let that pass. I may have wrecked my own life, but I will not let you wreck yours. You - why, you are a mere girl, you would be lost. You haven't got the kind of brains that enables a woman to get back. You have neither the wit nor the courage. You couldn't stand dishonour! No! Go back, Lady Windermere, to the husband who loves you, whom you love.

[The third act is by far the one most packed with epigrams. Needless to say, behind the nonchalant flippancy there is great deal of genuine wisdom.]

DUMBY: Awfully commercial, women nowadays. Our grandmothers threw their caps over the mills, of course, but, by Jove, their granddaughters only throw their caps over mills that can raise the wind for them.

CECIL GRAHAM: Oh! Wicked women bother one. Good women bore one. That is the only difference between them.

CECIL GRAHAM: [Puts his hands on his shoulders.] Now, Tuppy, you've lost your figure and you've lost your character. Don't lose your temper; you have only got one.
LORD AUGUSTUS. My dear boy, if I wasn't the most good-natured man in London -
CECIL GRAHAM. We'd treat you with more respect, wouldn't we, Tuppy? [Strolls away.]

LORD WINDERMERE: Well, that is no business of yours, is it, Cecil?
CECIL GRAHAM: None! That is why it interests me. My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people's.

CECIL GRAHAM: [Coming towards him L.C.] My dear Arthur, I never talk scandal. I only talk gossip.
LORD WINDERMERE: What is the difference between scandal and gossip?
CECIL GRAHAM: Oh! gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality. Now, I never moralise. A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralises is invariably plain. There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a woman as a Nonconformist conscience. And most women know it, I'm glad to say.

DUMBY: [With a sigh.] Good heavens! how marriage ruins a man! It's as demoralising as cigarettes, and far more expensive.

DUMBY: We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars? Upon my word, you are very romantic to-night, Darlington.

CECIL GRAHAM: [...] Well, there's nothing in the world like the devotion of a married woman. It's a thing no married man knows anything about.

DUMBY: She doesn't really love you then?
LORD DARLINGTON: No, she does not!
DUMBY: I congratulate you, my dear fellow. In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst; the last is a real tragedy! But I am interested to hear she does not love you. How long could you love a woman who didn't love you, Cecil?
CECIL GRAHAM: A woman who didn't love me? Oh, all my life!
DUMBY: So could I. But it's so difficult to meet one.
LORD DARLINGTON: How can you be so conceited, Dumby?
DUMBY: I didn't say it as a matter of conceit. I said it as a
matter of regret. I have been wildly, madly adored. I am sorry I have. It has been an immense nuisance. I should like to be allowed a little time to myself now and then.

LORD DARLINGTON: What cynics you fellows are!
CECIL GRAHAM: What is a cynic? [Sitting on the back of the sofa.]
LORD DARLINGTON: A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
CECIL GRAHAM: And a sentimentalist, my dear Darlington, is a man who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn't know the market price of any single thing.
LORD DARLINGTON: You always amuse me, Cecil. You talk as if you were a man of experience.
CECIL GRAHAM. I am. [Moves up to front off fireplace.]
LORD DARLINGTON: You are far too young!
CECIL GRAHAM: That is a great error. Experience is a question of instinct about life. I have got it. Tuppy hasn't. Experience is the name Tuppy gives to his mistakes. That is all. [LORD AUGUSTUS looks round indignantly.]
DUMBY: Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes

[And the fourth act - the fourth act must be read complete! Here are some gems from it anyway.]

MRS. ERLYNNE. Yes; I am going to live abroad again. The English climate doesn't suit me. My - heart is affected here, and that I don't like. I prefer living in the south. London is too full of fogs and - and serious people, Lord Windermere. Whether the fogs produce the serious people or whether the serious people produce the fogs, I don't know, but the whole thing rather gets on my nerves, and so I'm leaving this afternoon by the Club Train.

LORD WINDERMERE: [Coming up to MRS. ERLYNNE and speaking in a low voice.] It is monstrous your intruding yourself here after your conduct last night.
MRS. ERLYNNE: [With an amused smile.] My dear Windermere, manners before morals!

MRS. ERLYNNE: Why should I interfere with her illusions? I find it hard enough to keep my own. I lost one illusion last night. I thought I had no heart. I find I have, and a heart doesn't suit me, Windermere. Somehow it doesn't go with modern dress. It makes one look old. [Takes up hand-mirror from table and looks into it.] And it spoils one's career at critical moments.
[...]
I suppose, Windermere, you would like me to retire into a convent, or become a hospital nurse, or something
of that kind, as people do in silly modern novels. That is stupid of you, Arthur; in real life we don't do such things - not as long as we have any good looks left, at any rate. No - what consoles one nowadays is not repentance, but pleasure. Repentance is quite out of date. And besides, if a woman really repents, she has to go to a bad dressmaker, otherwise no one believes in her. And nothing in the world would induce me to do that.

LORD WINDERMERE: I am sorry now I did not tell my wife the whole thing at once.
MRS. ERLYNNE: I regret my bad actions. You regret your good ones - that is the difference between us.

A Woman of No Importance has a fabulously disappointing conclusion, appallingly melodramatic and sentimental. Sometimes I do hanker for a more seriously cynical attitude in Wilde's plays; it would have made them so much more real and relevant. But no matter how much I may baulk at Oscar's attitude, I can't find any fault with his integrity even here. His characters act thoroughly in character, bizarre whims and all, and he gives - as usual - a great deal of thought-provoking stuff on both sides of a conundrum. On the one side of the baricade are Mrs. Arbuthnot, her son Gerald and above all the american girl Hester Worsley; they are obviously the virtuous characters with high moral principles, and though they may look somewhat one-dimensional, or even ridiculous, they are as alive as it is possible for any character in drama to be. On the other side are the somewhat cynical, but full of common sense, Mrs. Allonby and above all Lord Illingworth, one of those pleasure-seeking creatures whose only aim in life is to get as much fun of it as possible. The clash is tremendously effective and beautifully executed. One of the greatests assets of the play are the remarkably vivid minor characters. The brutally foolish Lady Stutfield, the kindly class-conscious Lady Hunstanton and the mercileslly irreverent Lady Caroline are quite a treat to enjoy; Oscar has done a wonderful job with all of them. Despite the nauseating affectation and rhetoric of the finale, the play is stimulating enough to guarantee unforgettable experience. It will bear a future re-read with great pleasure. Being the odious cynic I am, I naturally find most appealing the words of Lord Illingworth and Mrs. Allonby:

LORD ILLINGWORTH: So much marriage is certainly not becoming. Twenty years of romance make a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years of marriage make her something like a public building.
MRS. ALLONBY: Twenty years of romance! Is there such a thing?
LORD ILLINGWORTH: Not in our day. Women have become too brilliant. Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman.

MRS. ALLONBY: She is a Puritan besides -
LORD ILLINGWORTH: Ah, that is inexcusable. I don't mind plain women being Puritans. It is the only excuse they have for being plain. But she is decidedly pretty.

LORD ILLINGWORTH: Do you know, I don't believe in the existence of Puritan women? I don't think there is a woman in the world who would not be a little flattered if one made love to her. It is that which makes women so irresistibly adorable.

MRS. ALLONBY: Lord Illingworth, there is one thing I shall always like you for.
LORD ILLINGWORTH: Only one thing? And I have so many bad qualities.
MRS. ALLONBY: Ah, don't be too conceited about them. You may lose them as you grow old.
LORD ILLINGWORTH: I never intend to grow old. The soul is born old but grows young. That is the comedy of life.
MRS. ALLONBY: And the body is born young and grows old. That is life's tragedy.
LORD ILLINGWORTH: Its comedy also, sometimes. But what is the mysterious reason why you will always like me?
MRS. ALLONBY: It is that you have never made love to me.
LORD ILLINGWORTH: I have never done anything else.
MRS. ALLONBY: Really? I have not noticed it.
LORD ILLINGWORTH: How fortunate! It might have been a tragedy for both of us.

MRS. ALLONBY: Men always want to be a woman's first love. That is their clumsy vanity. We women have a more subtle instinct about things. What we like is to be a man's last romance.

LADY CAROLINE: Oh, women have become so highly educated, Jane, that nothing should surprise us nowadays, except happy marriages. They apparently are getting remarkably rare.
MRS. ALLONBY: Oh, they're quite out of date.
LADY STUTFIELD: Except amongst the middle classes, I have been told.
MRS. ALLONBY: How like the middle classes!
LADY STUTFIELD: Yes - is it not? - very, very like them.
LADY CAROLINE: If what you tell us about the middle classes is true, Lady Stutfield, it redounds greatly to their credit. It is much to be regretted that in our rank of life the wife should be so persistently frivolous, under the impression apparently that it is the proper thing to be. It is to that I attribute the unhappiness of so many marriages we all know of in society.
MRS. ALLONBY: Do you know, Lady Caroline, I don't think the frivolity of the wife has ever anything to do with it. More marriages are ruined nowadays by the common sense of the husband than by anything else. How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly rational being?
LADY HUNSTANTON: My dear!

MRS. ALLONBY: The Ideal Husband? There couldn't be such a thing. The institution is wrong.

MRS. CAROLINE. The Ideal Man! Oh, the Ideal Man should talk to us as if we were goddesses, and treat us as if we were children. He should refuse all our serious requests, and gratify every one of our whims. He should encourage us to have caprices, and forbid us to have missions. He should always say much more than he means, and always mean much more than he says.

LADY HUNSTANTON: How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a single word you say.

[This is the only play of Wilde in which he has made some British-American fun, so to say. Dramatically very effective indeed, rhetoric and all.]

HESTER. [...] I couldn't believe that any women could
really hold such views of life as I have heard to-night from some of your guests. [An awkward pause.]
LADY HUNSTANTON: I hear you have such pleasant society in America. Quite like our own in places, my son wrote to me.
HESTER: There are cliques in America as elsewhere, Lady Hunstanton. But true American society consists simply of all the good women and good men we have in our country.
LADY HUNSTANTON: What a sensible system, and I dare say quite pleasant too. I am afraid in England we have too many artificial social barriers. We don't see as much as we should of the middle and lower classes.
HESTER: In America we have no lower classes.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Really? What a very strange arrangement!
[...]
LADY CAROLINE: There are a great many things you haven't got in America, I am told, Miss Worsley. They say you have no ruins, and no curiosities.
[...]
HESTER: The English aristocracy supply us with our curiosities, Lady Caroline. They are sent over to us every summer, regularly, in the steamers, and propose to us the day after they land. As for ruins, we are trying to build up something that will last longer than brick or stone. [Gets up to take her fan from table.]
LADY HUNSTANTON: What is that, dear? Ah, yes, an iron Exhibition, is it not, at that place that has the curious name?
HESTER: [Standing by table.] We are trying to build up life, Lady Hunstanton, on a better, truer, purer basis than life rests on here. This sounds strange to you all, no doubt. How could it sound other than strange? You rich people in England, you don't know how you are living. How could you know? You shut out from your society the gentle and the good. You laugh at the simple and the pure. Living, as you all do, on others and by them, you sneer at self-sacrifice, and if you throw bread to the poor, it is merely to keep them quiet for a season. With all your pomp and wealth and art you don't know how to live - you don't even know that. You love the beauty that you can see and touch and handle, the beauty that you can destroy, and do destroy, but of the unseen beauty of life, of the unseen beauty of a higher life, you know nothing. You have lost life's secret. Oh, your English society seems to me shallow, selfish, foolish. It has blinded its eyes, and stopped its ears. It lies like a leper in purple. It sits like a dead thing smeared with gold. It is all wrong, all wrong.
[...]
HESTER: Lord Henry Weston! I remember him, Lady Hunstanton. A man with a hideous smile and a hideous past. He is asked everywhere. No dinner-party is complete without him. What of those whose ruin is due to him? They are outcasts. They are nameless. If you met them in the street you would turn your head away. I don't complain of their punishment. Let all women who have sinned be punished.
[...]
It is right that they should be punished, but don't let them be the only ones to suffer. If a man and woman have sinned, let them both go forth into the desert to love or loathe each other there. Let them both be branded. Set a mark, if you wish, on each, but don't punish the one and let the other go free. Don't have one law for men and another for women. You are unjust to women in England. And till you count what is a shame in a woman to be an infamy in a man, you will always be unjust, and Right, that pillar of fire, and Wrong, that pillar of cloud, will be made dim to your eyes, or be not seen at all, or if seen, not regarded.
LADY CAROLINE. Might I, dear Miss Worsley, as you are standing up, ask you for my cotton that is just behind you? Thank you.

[Here the notes in the Penguin Classics edition make an excellent point that Hester's tirade is not to be taken too seriously as clearly indicated by Lady Caroline's deliberately flippant remark. This is what I call dramatic genius; something rather typical for Oscar indeed.]

MRS. ARBUTHNOT: When a man is old enough to do wrong he should be old enough to do right also.
LORD ILLINGWORTH: My dear Rachel, intellectual generalities are always interesting, but generalities in morals mean absolutely nothing.

LORD ILLINGWORTH: Oh, duty is what one expects from others, it is not what one does oneself. Of course, I was influenced by my mother. Every man is when he is young.

LORD ILLINGWORTH: That is exactly what he should do. That is exactly what you should help him to do. What a typical woman you are! You talk sentimentally, and you are thoroughly selfish the whole time.

LORD ILLINGWORTH: Don't be afraid, Gerald. Remember that you've got on your side the most wonderful thing in the world - youth! There is nothing like youth. The middle-aged are mortgaged to Life. The old are in life's lumber-room. But youth is the Lord of Life. Youth has a kingdom waiting for it. Every one is born a king, and most people die in exile, like most kings. To win back my youth, Gerald, there is nothing I wouldn't do - except take exercise, get up early, or be a useful member of the community.

LORD ILLINGWORTH: You should never try to understand them. Women are pictures. Men are problems. If you want to know what a woman really means - which, by the way, is always a dangerous thing to do - look at her, don't listen to her.

GERALD: But women are awfully clever, aren't they?
LORD ILLINGWORTH: One should always tell them so. But, to the philosopher, my dear Gerald, women represent the triumph of matter over mind - just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.
GERALD: How then can women have so much power as you say they have?
LORD ILLINGWORTH: The history of women is the history of the worst form of tyranny the world has ever known. The tyranny of the weak over the strong. It is the only tyranny that lasts.
GERALD: But haven't women got a refining influence?
LORD ILLINGWORTH: Nothing refines but the intellect.

LORD ILLINGWORTH: Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.

LORD ILLINGWORTH: When one is in love one begins by deceiving oneself. And one ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance. But a really grande passion is comparatively rare nowadays. It is the privilege of people who have nothing to do.

An Ideal Husband constitutes an interesting exception among Wilde's plays, for it has unusually detailed stage directions ranging from the manner of speaking to complete descriptions of the appearance and the character of the characters. As it might be expected these are stupendous fun to read; imagine a woman looking like ''a work of art, on the whole, but showing the influence of too many schools''. Downright brilliant! The only slightly annoying detail in these descriptions is that Wilde cannot resist the temptation to like any of his characters to those of one painter or another; it looks like cheap show-off of ''culture''. Nevertheless, the play is a very powerful one, perhaps the darkest and most intense of all. It is a little unusual because it is a variation of ''a man with a past'' theme, rather than the more traditional variant where it is woman who has to hide some ignominious secret from her wild youth. At any rate the play raises a number of profoundly important questions. Is blameless life blemished by a single dishonesty? Should one be judged so harshly because of one's wild youth? Should one love to the point of idealisation? Should one be blind for the faults of the loved ones? What is the nature of true love? Does it make any sense in this world? Is it powerful enough to overcome pity or moral horror? There are many more such questions in this play - and quite a few answers too.

I take issue with the reviewer before me who has labelled the play as ''sexist''. It is nothing of the kind. Lord Goring does have one or two rather sexist lines but neither his character nor the play on the whole has anything to do with sexism. Indeed, since the last word and the noblest act are saved for one of the main heroines, the play is more like a feminist one actually, or a sexist one reversed if you like. Certainly there are in these four acts a great deal more important things than that. The following selected lines conclusively prove that:

MRS. CHEVELEY: [Leaning back in her chair.] Do you know, Gertrude, I don't mind your talking morality a bit. Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

MRS. CHEVELEY: [In her most nonchalant manner.] My dear Sir Robert, you are a man of the world, and you have your price, I suppose. Everybody has nowadays. The drawback is that most people are so dreadfully expensive. I know I am. I hope you will be more reasonable in your terms.

MRS. CHEVELEY: My dear Sir Robert, what then? You are ruined, that is all! Remember to what a point your Puritanism in England has brought you. In old days nobody pretended to be a bit better than his neighbours. In fact, to be a bit better than one's neighbour was considered excessively vulgar and middle-class. Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality, every one has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues - and what is the result? You all go over like ninepins - one after the other. Not a year passes in England without somebody disappearing. Scandals used to lend charm, or at least interest, to a man - now they crush him.

LADY CHILTERN: [...] And now - oh, when I think that I made of a man like you my ideal! the ideal of my life!
SIR ROBERT CHILTERN: There was your mistake. There was your error. The error all women commit. Why can't you women love us, faults and all? Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals? We have all feet of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, love them all the more, it may be, for that reason. It is not the perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love. It is when we are wounded by our own hands, or by the hands of others, that love should come to cure us - else what use is love at all? All sins, except a sin against itself, Love should forgive. All lives, save loveless lives, true Love should pardon. A man's love is like that. It is wider, larger, more human than a woman's. Women think that they are making ideals of men. What they are making of us are false idols merely. You made your false idol of me, and I had not the courage to come down, show you my wounds, tell you my weaknesses. I was afraid that I might lose your love, as I have lost it now. And so, last night you ruined my life for me - yes, ruined it! What this woman asked of me was nothing compared to what she offered to me. She offered security, peace, stability. The sin of my youth, that I had thought was buried, rose up in front of me, hideous, horrible, with its hands at my throat. I could have killed it for ever, sent it back into its tomb, destroyed its record, burned the one witness against me. You prevented me. No one but you, you know it. And now what is there before me but public disgrace, ruin, terrible shame, the mockery of the world, a lonely dishonoured life, a lonely dishonoured death, it may be, some day? Let women make no more ideals of men! let them not put them on alters and bow before them, or they may ruin other lives as completely as you - you whom I have so wildly loved - have ruined mine!

The Importance of Being Earnest is generally considered Wilde's best play. I really don't know why. It is significantly inferior to the three previous ones in a number of aspects. To begin with, it is no comedy but pure farce, which is already a severe limitation. It is by far the most flippant, artificial and improbable of them all, and far less convincing, too. Nor does it match any of the other three masterpieces in terms of wit and wisdom. The range of characters and the depth of characterisation cannot hold a candle to any other member of the quartet, either. The dialogue is vastly amusing, of course, but the pointless banter often continues for a little too long and it gets tedious; and fun for fun's sake hardly makes any more sense than art for art's sake. The play has a pleasant twist in the end which, however, looks unpleasantly contrived and unnatural, not to say inane and ridiculous. It is hardly a coincidence that it is the only one in three acts for it is certainly the least substantial of all. I daresay it is a riveting spectacle on the stage but a truly great play surely must be great on paper as well. In short, The Importance of Being Earnest, even if it may pass for a comedy, does lack precisely what makes a great comedy: seriousness. It is a very good play but it is very far from a great one. Alone, it might earn five stars for the deliberately light, though wonderful, entertainment which in fact it is; but compared to the three social comedies, pointless yet inevitable as such comparisons are, it deserves no more than three stars. I understand it is supposed to be the zenith of Oscar's masterpieces for the stage. So far as I am concerned, it is definitely the nadir.

That said, The Importance of Being Earnest is a riot to read, if one can somehow detach it from Oscar's great plays of course. It has a lot of swift action and, as might be expected, the embarrassing situations of double-identity mischief are brilliantly handled. I suppose the play looks way better on the stage than on paper, which is, perhaps, how it should be for plays are written to be staged, not read. But I remain convinced, perhaps irrationally, that a truly great play must be great on paper, too. Though in that particular case this is certainly not the case, Oscar's sharp wit shines through and makes it a worthwhile read; alas, it is only occasionally allied to anything like wisdom. Even in his slightest efforts, Wilde's superb characterisation still reigns supreme. The young ladies are somewhat colourless, but Lady Bracknell is all but unforgettable. The contrast between the two young man - the bohemian Algie and the priggish Jack - is conveyed as only Oscar Wilde could. By way of tradition I conclude with selection of favourite lines:

[By far the best description of what the piano playing of a real artist should be.]
ALGERNON: [...] I don’t play accurately - any one can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte.

[Probably the most famous line in the play: senseless but very funny.]
LADY BRACKNELL: To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

ALGERNON: All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.

JACK: I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.
[I wish we had fewer fools today!]

JACK: I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.
ALGERNON: I thought you had come up for pleasure? . . . I call that business.
JACK: How utterly unromantic you are!
ALGERNON: I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. 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.
JACK: I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially invented for people whose memories are so curiously constituted.

When all is said and done, taken as a whole body of work, Wilde's plays only convince me once more in his extraordinary genius, literary and not only. Despite two major flaws, one of them appallingly unexpected, this is volume to be treasured. ( )
3 ääni Waldstein | Feb 28, 2011 |
Wilde is the master of comic irony in verbal and dramatic forms. Non-stop wonderful, ironic wit permeates these plays. For example, in Earnest, a character remarks about a recent widow, "her hair has gone quite gold from grief." Very highly recommended. ( )
1 ääni NativeRoses | Aug 31, 2008 |
näyttää 3/3
ei arvosteluja | lisää arvostelu
Sinun täytyy kirjautua sisään voidaksesi muokata Yhteistä tietoa
Katso lisäohjeita Common Knowledge -sivuilta (englanniksi).
Kanoninen teoksen nimi
Alkuteoksen nimi
Teoksen muut nimet
Alkuperäinen julkaisuvuosi
Henkilöt/hahmot
Tärkeät paikat
Tärkeät tapahtumat
Kirjaan liittyvät elokuvat
Palkinnot ja kunnianosoitukset
Epigrafi (motto tai mietelause kirjan alussa)
Omistuskirjoitus
Ensimmäiset sanat
Sitaatit
Viimeiset sanat
Erotteluhuomautus
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
This is the Penguin Classics edition; do not combine with other works of the same name, as they contain different combinations of plays.

ISBN 0140436065 includes : Lady Windermere's Fan - Salome - A Woman of No Importance - An Ideal Husband - A Florentine Tragedy - The Importance of Being Earnest
Julkaisutoimittajat
Kirjan kehujat
Alkuteoksen kieli
Canonical DDC/MDS

Viittaukset tähän teokseen muissa lähteissä.

Englanninkielinen Wikipedia

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Enriched Classics offer readers accessible editions of great works of literature enhanced by helpful notes and commentary. Each book includes educational tools alongside the text, enabling students and readers alike to gain a deeper and more developed understanding of the writer and their work. Wilde's classic comedy of manners, The Importance of Being Earnest, a satire of Victorian social hypocrisy and considered Wilde's greatest dramatic achievement, and his other popular plays--Lady Windermere's Fan, An Ideal Husband, and Salome--challenged contemporary notions of sex and sensibility, class and cultural identity. Enriched Classics enhance your engagement by introducing and explaining the historical and cultural significance of the work, the author's personal history, and what impact this book had on subsequent scholarship. Each book includes discussion questions that help clarify and reinforce major themes and reading recommendations for further research. Read with confidence.

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