Home > Literature > Book Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

Book Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest is a witty and beautifully constructed piece of literature, written by the late Oscar Wilde and first published in 1895. Although the play may be written over a century ago, the piece is timeless and gives and insight into the life and society of the era.

The play itself is a piece of realism and revolves around the main characters of Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff who have both created very useful, and very fictional characters so as to escape any social obligations they do not want to participate in. Jack’s fictitious character is a brother of his who lives in the city and needs to be visited every so often, whereas Algernon’s creation is a friend known as Bunbury, an invalid who needs plenty care and attention. However, during the play, both men seem to fall in love with women they have both just met, both of which desire their new lovers to be called Ernest otherwise their relationship will cease to be, meaning that both Jack and Algernon now claim to being called Ernest. To further complicate things, Algernon’s new lover is none other than Cecily, a young lady whom Jack is guardian to. After many complications with names and lovers, a short visit to Jack’s house, where everyone finally meets and the climax of the book begins, all is revealed, only to cause further complications.

The play works strongly on the contrasts of Jack’s and Algernon’s lives an uses plenty of dramatic irony, along with sarcasm, farce and social irony to create more humour than you could have asked for. Even without seeing a live performance of the piece, just reading the play and understanding the intricacies of the piece is enough to bring the play to life within the imagination of the reader.

Certain problems in the piece are created by the society of the era and is set in an upper-middle-class Britain, highlighting key problems with a hierarchical system of the time. Like most literature in that period, The Importance of Being Earnest was written to be a piece of realist theatre. However, what sets it out as being different from the works of other brilliant authors such as Ibsen and Chekhov is its humour, which stands out among the piles of tragedies like a sewing machine in a hay stack.

Finally, what is perhaps most interesting is the life of Oscar Wilde himself; born into an intellectual Dublin family, Wilde grew up in the surroundings of a surgeon and a literary hostess. During his late teenage years, Wilde studied classics, first at Trinity College in Dublin and then later Oxford. During this time, Wilde started to get noticed by many for his literary fluency before moving to New York in 1881 where he recorded the epigram “I have nothing to declare but my genius.” Shortly after writing his last piece “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Wilde was sentenced to two years imprisonment and hard labour on the grounds of homosexual activity. After being let out with his health deteriorated, Wilde exiled to France, living a penniless life under the name Sebastian Melmoth before later dying in 1900.

Buy ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde

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