Book Review: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (5/5)

17 Jul

I’d seen the play, but never read the screen play of this work. A few years ago, someone recommended this to me as an 1800s read for the When Are You Reading? Challenge. I’d already found something for the time period, but I added it to my TBR anyway. I needed a nice short audiobook recently and chose this one. At two hours, it was a great length. And the full cast narration was a delight.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Summary from Goodreads:

Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gewndolen 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!

Strangely, my strongest recollection of this story was the cucumber sandwiches in the first act. I just remember the actor eating all of them and thinking it was hilarious. This whole play was really funny and it made me forget how terrible running can be for a little while. Listening also made me want to see the show again.

The characters are such awful exaggerations of society that it’s very easy to laugh at them. Only Jack seems to be somewhat collected and even he has times of being a bit ridiculous. I don’t think Wilde could have made fun of society with relatable or down-to-earth characters so it was a wonderful choice.

Algernon was my favorite character in the play. He was absolutely ridiculous and made me laugh in every scene he was in. At first, I thought he was terribly clever and out maneuvering Jack but I soon realized how vain he was, along with everyone else of course, and that his remarks were not witty but oblivious and narsacistic. I still loved him.

I didn’t relate to any of the characters, but I think you should all question me if I had. Not being able to relate to a character isn’t an issue for me in a comedy like this one. It’s hard to laugh at someone who reminds you of yourself.

I loved all the backhanded comments about things being in fashion. Thinks that ‘one must’ or ‘one must never’ do were great and made for many of the best lines in the play. Wilde had a great way of pointing out how ridiculous some of the customs of his society were and I loved hearing about it in this format.

As terrible as it sounds, I was disappointed that things worked out for everyone in the end. It wouldn’t have been very funny if things had gone poorly, but I think it would have been appropriate for them to flub a few things up in the end. These weren’t the smartest people, after all. But things working out the way they did was funny and I guess that’s what you’re going for as a comedy writer.

The full cast production was wonderful. This is a play with few enough characters that each voice was distinct enough I could tell them apart without having to be told who was speaking. It was fun to listen to it like a conversation. The narrator for stage direction barely spoke expect to announce arrivals and departures. I think this is the best way to listen to a play. I prefer it to the single-narrator version of The Tempest I listened to last year.

I liked Wilde’s way of talking about how ridiculous he found some of the practices of his society. He especially seemed harsh on marriage and family ties. It makes me want to read more into his life and see why he might have felt this way. I do remember reading he was arrested for homosexuality though he was married and maybe felt trapped in a marriage he had a poor opinion of. I’m just speculating but I can see how that might lead someone to have slighted feelings against societal pressures.

Writer’s Takeaway: What I really loved about this book was the witty one-liners. There’s a great list on Goodreads and a favorite was from Aunt Augusta: Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that. I enjoyed the quick chuckle and I think lines like this, frequency dependant on the genre, are always welcomed and can help lighten a heavy mood, even in a dark book.

I really enjoyed this read and recommend the full cast audiobook highly. Five out of Five stars.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’: Bright, but Shallow | Washcult


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