Monday, August 6, 2012

This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last

Oscar Wilde, you are all the snark and all the cynicism. I wish we could hang out and I'd listen to you make bitchy comments about, just, everyone. But instead, I will have to enjoy your work. And enjoy I did.

I've only read one Wilde book before this, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Lord Henry Wotton was my favorite character. My friend argued that Lord Henry was actually an incarnation of the devil. Maybe. But he's just so much fun. Anyway, I point him out because The Importance of Being Earnest is like an entire cast of Lord Henrys. At least what I remember of Lord Henry. What I'm saying is I LOVED this play.

The full title is The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. John Worthington (Jack) lives out in the country but tells his ward and servants and everyone else he lives with that he often has to come into the city to visit his troubled younger brother Ernest. His friends in the city all know him as Ernest. His friend Algernon Moncrieff finds out about his little ruse and is delighted to hear his buddy is a "Bunburyist" as well! Algernon gets out of hanging out with his Aunt and cousin by pretending to visit a sick friend of his named Bunbury. Jack refuses to tell Algernon where his country home is or about his life there in the slightest. Given Algernon's personality, it sort of makes sense to keep his country life private. But Algernon may soon be family, since Jack wants to marry his cousin Gwendolen. Except Gwendolen only wants to marry an Ernest (which she thinks Jack is) and hates the idea of marrying someone with any other name. Seriously? Any name other than Ernest? Dealbreaker!

One day Algernon finds out where Jack's country home is and goes there introducing himself to everyone as Jack's troubled brother Ernest, who has mended his ways. Of course he's welcomed in the home. He is family after all. He is especially welcomed by Jack's ward Cecily. Cecily and "Ernest" (Algernon) fall in love instantly and they get engaged. Cecily also has the condition that her husband be named Ernest and couldn't imagine marrying someone with a different name. Especially Algernon. Gwendolen comes out to the country to visit "Ernest" (Jack) and then there is much confusion about who is engaged to Ernest and hilarity ensues. There's also a whole sub-plot about Jack being adopted after being abandoned in a suitcase at the train station.

The basic plot is very Shakespearean-esque, what with all the mistaken identity stuff. Except it's far less complicated and far-fetched than the plot of, say A Comedy of Errors (see there are these 2 sets of identical twins that were separated when they were young and both sets find themselves in the same town...) It works better because it is simpler. It's also much shorter. My Kindle edition says it's 58 pages. This is a quick read and indeed I finished it part way into one of the legs back from Seattle to NY. And during my reading I kept elbowing Boyfriend+ saying "Now read this line! Oh you have to read this part." I'm a joy to travel with, is what I'm saying. Here are some of the quotes I highlighted. Though I sorta highlighted the entire thing

Algernon: If it wasn't for Bunbury's extraordinary bad health, for instance, I wouldn't be able to dine with you at Willis's to-night...
Jack: I haven't asked you to dine with me anywhere to-night.
Algernon: I know. You are absurdly careless about sending out invitations.

Lady Bracknell (Algernon's Aunt): Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd.

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

I could go on and on with quotes because I love them all, but I'll stop now. The one criticism I have is every character sounds the same. Every character has the same tone, same sense of humor, same snark, same cynicism. Which I LOVE but it doesn't exactly make for the most compelling set of personalities. However it's short enough, and the lines are so good that I didn't mind so much.

And this is another challenge book down! This was my Smooth Criminals selection for "Book written by a writer who did time". This may be sort of a cop-out for this choice, given Wilde did time after the play was already on the stage but the category wasn't too specific and this still works.

Title quote from page 55, location 873

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Kindle edition. Originally published 1895