The Importance of Being Earnest.
I just realized that Oscar Wilde looks a bit like Severus Snape.
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So far this week, we have started on our newest book The Importance of Being Earnest. Or Ernest… I should say. As I’ve read a section of the book, I realized that I actually enjoy tremendously the character of Ernest, as well as the pun that he represents in the title of the book itself. Other than just reading the book with the class, we’ve also begun watching the movie. I have to say, the movie was made so long ago, which meant the technology used is not as modern as it is now, so are the actors. Although I have to admit, it’s a refreshing movie to watch – what with it being so different to the movies that we have nowadays.
In the book, we are introduced to the character of Jack Worthing, the main man of the story. His life in Herfordshire I think is one that many might interpret to be his “reality”, while his alter ego Ernest, lives in his fantasy world which is London. Jack had previously introduced the character of Ernest, his reckless and disappointment of a brother that constantly requires his saving. Jack continues to use Ernest as an easy solution to all of his problems, as well as his frequent disappearing to do as he like. To further explain, Jack goes to London during his “disappearing” times. I personally think that I understand a little bit of Jack’s state of mind. I mean, if I were given a chance to be able to live two lives at the same time – be a completely different person, whoever I want to be, I think I would jump at the chance. The fantasy of being able to live two separate lives that is not intertwined with each other I think is a form of curiosity that every human being would like to some day explore. That is, if they are given the chance to like Jack is. However, after reevaluating the possibility of living two separate lives as well as the outcome that might come of it, I would actually come to question the motives behind this. As if living one life along with the people in it is not hard enough, why would someone want to live another one? Does Jack commit crime in his spare time? Does he roam the streets of London as Mr. Jeckyll and lives as Dr. Hyde back in Hertfordshire? Whatever his true motives are, I intend to find out by the very end of the book & am preparing to be severely.. Amused. Lol.
It is also stated in the book that Jack is very much in love with another character, Gwendolyn Fairfax, who is the cousin of his best friend, Algernon. Jack, who to Gwendolyn as well as Algernon is known as Ernest, was very forward and had said to Algernon of her intentions to marry Gwendolyn. However, Algernon was suspicious of Ernest’s double personality and further questioned him. Ernest had confessed to the double personality he had created and how he was planning to kill it because a certain lady with the name of Cecily had fallen in love with his alter ego. The entrance of Gwendolyn and her mother, Lady Bracknell was then welcomed by Ernest, who proposed to Gwendolyn and asked her to marry him. Gwendolyn had returned his affection, which was quite surprising. However she had doted on the name Ernest, saying that she wouldn’t want to marry anyone who was named otherwise. Gwendolyn’s mother, who had started to ask Ernest of his family background was appalled and immediately disapproved of the wedding they are planning to go through with. This particular scene was actually the ending to Act I, to which we have discussed so far in class. However, as we watched the movie in class, we have gotten way further.
The next act was of Gwendolyn and Cecily finding out that Jack was actually Ernest, and likewise. They discovered the deceit, and they were angry to Jack/Ernest for it. However, as Jack and Algernon returns and explains that Algernon was indeed interested in Cecily and Jack was to be christened as Ernest, they were forgiven. What I don’t understand from this part of the particular story is the fact that the women are able to forgive so easily. How was that possible? Didn’t the deceit of being a completely different person a big enough reason to leave the man and not look back? Or were people back then more naive?
I’m so far enjoying the book, and I really look forward to the ending of the movie as well as the book that will be continued next week!
Many things in the play has managed to do several things at once. The most obvious sign being in the title itself. The title, The Importance of Being Earnest, is a double-edged comment. It refers to earnestness, which means since and intense conviction, and, the more literal reference to the name Earnest.
I personally very much appreciate the use of satire in any work of literature, and I was pleased to find an abundance of them throughout the play. If the author wished to represent anything through this work, one of the most obvious elements would be the ridiculousness of it all. The conversations between the characters were farcical and childish. The light-hearted tone never once interrupted even when speaking of otherwise weighty matters, such as marriage proposals and even Miss Prism’s silly act which resulted in the disappearance of a baby who belong to her owner.
The author also used irony, which is imminent towards the ending of the story. Ernest – who had also been known as Jack, depending on which geographical side of the city he happens to find himself in – in the end discovered his lies coincided with the truth. But from this fortunate incident, he said, “it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth,” as though speaking the truth was not the socially acceptable thing to do.
I am well aware that plays are more suitable to be seen, even so, I would say that I have enjoyed the book as much as the movie. It had been a very enjoyable read, and I don’t see why anyone else wouldn’t feel the same way towards a work so wonderfully packed with farce and pompous yet beguiling characters. Regardless of the method in which one enjoys a work of literature, the play has kept the audience in by Wilde’s verbal humor shown through the ridiculously pretentious comments by the characters and climatic bursts of revelations.
This week in English class, we have started on our first play, The Importance of Being Earnest. When I first read it, I found it rather boring, to be honest. I just thought that the characters were too arrogant and that they tried too hard to be funny. However, once watching the motion picture, I found it to be much more amusing and I really enjoyed the story. I think that the media used to present a piece really impacts the way the viewers interpret it. When I read about Algernon’s character, I thought that he was just a man with way too much money and too much time that tries much too hard to be funny. But when I saw how the actor, Michael Denison, portrayed him, I saw Algernon in a different light. I saw him as a very cunning and sneaky person, using the discomfort of others for his amusement. The part where Lady Bracknell interrupts Jack’s proposal to Gwendolyn, I found very amusing because it seemed as though Algernon intended to open the doors at exactly that moment. The constant smirk on his face all the more suggested that he was up to something. Also, when he “wooed” Cecily, I didn’t think he was sincere because he kept that smirk on his face. I also found Lady Bracknell’s character to be much more amusing on screen than on paper. Her overly exaggerated “posh” English accent made the mockery of the higher class even more evident and much more humorous. I also noticed that Gwendolyn spoke a little bit like her mother when she was serious, in sustained, low phrases with exaggerated mouth movements. That was quite amusing to me. The lines “all women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” came to my mind when I first noticed the resemblance. Overall, I found this story to be much more amusing that I first thought, and I enjoyed myself quite thoroughly.
Initially, I found The Importance of being Earnest a bit dull. It struck me as very superficial – with Algernon fluffing on about cucumber sandwiches, and Jack describing Algy eating the sandwiches as ‘reckless extravagance’. It contrasted horridly with the title, from which I expected the play to be an ode to morality – a bit like Chesterton and his philosophy. Perhaps I was stereotyping when it came to English writers, but it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that the play was about earnestness in general.
The introduction of Bunburying reminded me of Beyonce, with her Sasha Fierce alter ego. As the play proceeds, Bunburying gets Algy and Jack into hilarious scrapes. I started to see the humor in Wilde when Algy posed as Ernest to visit Cecily in the country. Both Cecily and Gwendolen find the name ‘Ernest’ to be one that is ‘divine’ and ‘produces vibrations of its own’. This does highlight the superficiality of the two, casting them as silly girls with white knight in shining armor dreams. This superficiality seems gross when you think of how difficult the Victorian working class had to live. Unions did not exist yet, and the concept of ‘equal rights for all’ did not either.
During Wilde’s time, when this play came out, the Victorian upper class would have considered it relatable and amusing, and not as the satire Wilde wrote about them. I say satire, because Wilde was not exactly an accepted, normal part of Victorian society. His homosexuality caused him to be discriminated against, and would have made him feel some sort of kinship with the lower, working class. The progression of the play allows me to appreciate Wilde’s humor, not as a representation of himself as I initially thought, but as a slight mockery of the crème of Victorian society.
One of my favorite quotes, which I find quite true in my life (unfortunately), is this – ‘My dear boy, I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t gotten the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.’ I was disappointed the movie did not include this, but I thought it was exquisite nonetheless.
Algy, Jack, and Lady Bracknell were superb characters. I enjoyed the always present smirk on Algy’s face, and the affronted expression Jack always seems to wear when around Algy. Lady Bracknell sounded high, quite frankly, and was hilarious whether she meant to be or not. Whenever she became shrill, her jowls would quiver, like stubborn jelly that refuses to stay still. Not exactly the most learned observation, but one I made nonetheless. The movie did a wonderful job of bringing dry words on paper alive on the screen. Although I enjoyed the movie more than the written play, I doubt I would have been able to appreciate the movie as much as I did without reading the play first.
What I love about Oscar Wilde is his sense of dry humor and witty remarks throughout the play. He was able to successfully employ satirical devices like irony and farce to ridicule the society and the behavior of the people in it. Wilde mocks the Victorian structure in England, and each character is used to satirize the society on issues like marriage and morality and their obsession with them.
Wilde usually satirizes the Victorian society that he lived in with the idea of marriage. I think that marriage is seen in Victorian society as a business arrangement, as shown when Lady Bracknell questions Jack to determine if he is a suitable partner for Gwendolen. Especially she had provided a list of bachelors that have been prearranged. In addition illustrating the attitude on marriage, Algernon’s speech criticizes the way that married couples behaved towards each other. The quick banter between Algernon and Jack expresses marriage as a travesty, while Algernon also mocks the entirety of marriage through cynicism concerning the nature of romance in marriage. Jack compares Algernon’s views, as he attempts to romanticize his proposal as much as possible, despite how the nearby characters respond.
“Algernon: My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way Gwendolen flirts with you.
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.”
Adding to his witty dialogue, Algernon comments on the pretense of the Victorian society, which lives by the rules and regulations as well as the logic of morality the people, pretend to follow. The name “Ernest” is thought of to be connected to kindness, sincerity and intense conviction, however instead both Jack and Algernon lie by using the name to get what they want. By the use of this name to describe themselves, they turn into hypocrites, which parallels to people in society back then and to this day, while majority of people will do whatever they must to obtain their desires.
I also like the way names play a pivotal role in Wilde’s play. The naming of the characters is deliberate and well thought-out. Their name alludes to the pigeonhole for each of their characters. A name is a typecast and in Victorian times, when this play was written, a name would have determined whether you were to become a prince or a pauper. It is ironic that a child is at the mercy of its parents for its name just like the characters in this play were predetermined by Wilde.
I am especially fond of the comic creation of Lady Bracknell as I feel that it is a marvelous outlet for the actions of the plot and to obtain a glimpse into the ideals of the Victorian Era. Lady Bracknell is the quintessential matronly elite who stresses good breeding above all else. Some of Wilde’s funniest lines are played out through her character. Also, it is Lady Bracknell that introduces Wilde’s views on marriage and how it falls short of the romantic ideal. When Lady Bracknell is interviewing Jack to be a candidate for marrying her daughter, Gwendolyn, her physical and linguistic actions illustrate that she is disturbed by Jack’s disreputable background. This shows how greatly Jacks lack of a material background distresses her. Lady Bracknell is a stereotype for the importance in Victorian culture of a good upbringing and family name.
Over the week we have started a new drama called, “The Importance of Being Earnest”. The drama is manifested with irony and traditional British humor, which often seems a little dry to a group of Indonesian students. The Importance of Being Earnest revolves around a man who has two personalities, or two names, one of which he uses in the city, Jack, and one he uses in the countryside, Ernest. The irony seen in this is that Ernest really is not earnest at all. The girls of London, and those from the country fall in love with Ernest because of his intriguing name. It seems as though there is an interesting allurement in the name in itself. For instance, in Jack’s case, it won Gwendolyn’s heart, and in Algy’s case, it won over Cecily’s heart. The overall plot tells of deceitful men, frivolous women and subservient servants. It is particularly interesting how this play was aimed to critic and comment on the Victorian society, but it really criticizes society as a whole. Social distinction is ever-present in any form of society, the rich that label the poor ‘lethargic’ and ‘pedestrian’, while the poor’s thoughts are never really taken seriously at all. In this story, the rich are full of triviality and care about nothing more than where to have the perfect dinner, how to maintain your social stature, or the even more absurd – how many times to get married. The play does a great job in criticizing the conventions of marriage and how there is a lack of sincerity, commitment and love in it in modern times. I am afraid it points out the most abhorring of human nature – greed – greed for honor, respect and affluence. It seems that Wilde cleverly points out how the conventions of marriage simply supplement or secure wealth that a child has been born with.
The humor in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is impeccable, albeit difficult to catch at times. That is why I much appreciate the movie screening we had in class, as it made it much easier to pick up on the humor in the text, and understand the play better as a whole. The visual elements of the movie – the decorations, the architecture, the attire – set up the scenes very well, allowing the audience to see that this play is centered on the stereotypical Victorian community – though yes, a very exaggerated one. How do we know that it’s a farcical play, aimed at criticizing the early Victorian upper class? Just look at Lady Bracknell. She embodies so many undesirable traits – shallowness, insensitivity, loftiness, an illogical adherence to marriage customs and expectations – that it comes across as highly unlikely and comedic.
Of the stereotypical traits that the members of this society have been given, ‘egoistic bourgeoisie’, ‘hypocritical’, ‘repressed’, and ‘proper’ have been among the more critical and notable ones. These traits definitely comprise of those that shine through the most of the characters in this play. Let’s take the first trait for example. Class discrimination is somewhat apparent, especially in the first scenes of the play. The way Algernon talks to Lane and generalizes about the working class demonstrates how he looks down upon them, and holds himself much higher than the less reputable and wealthy members of the society. I can’t help but to to take some time here to commend the movie for how well it highlighted these traits, most notably through the actors’ attire, tone of speaking, and gestures.
The superficiality that is attributed to the members of this society is highlighted quite well by the importance the women in the play put on things like names and family reputation. Cecily and Gwendolyn gives such weight to names in their search for a lifelong partner that it is simply ridiculous. Lady Bracknell’s investigation of Jack’s eligibility includes finding out the name of the street on which he lives… to judge him based on how the street’s reputation reflects on him, among other things.
Finally, the title itself is a tribute to the irony that dominates this text. The word “earnest” as an adjective is defined as: “undertaken or made in a spirit of deep sincerity and conviction, or with deep feeling”, whereas the two men who have taken on “Earnest” as their fake name are everything but. As of the beginning of Act 2, they come across as shallow, cunning, and pompous individuals.
P.S. Oscar Wilde still bears much more resemblance to Mr. Andrew than he does to Severus Snape. ☺
The theme of Aestheticism and Decadence was a prominent philosophy that permeated Victorian society at the time. Aestheticism and Decadence supported art for art’s sake. Art was meant to be created in order to be simply enjoyed, not to be bound or judged upon by morality. Art therefore was only judged by its enjoyment factor, sophistication, beauty and refinement.
In the play, Gwendolen and Ernest’s romance can be seen as one that highlights the philosophy of Decadence. Gwendolen is utterly in love with Ernest, mostly because of his name, Ernest. She mentions that the name Ernest causes her to believe that Ernest is a man with a sincere personality and heart. Even when Ernest himself questions whether his name was John, Gwendolen promptly rejects such a man with a name, and accuses of any John to be a burden to any woman who marries him. This situation also highlights the irony that is in the couple’s relationship, because Ernest is actually not really earnest at all. But in Gwendolen’s eyes, only style matter, which is in the representation of Ernest’s name.
Aestheticism and Decadence also influenced gender roles in Victorian society. Oscar Wilde reversed gender roles in his plays, and thus the effeminate man and the manly woman became interesting figures during this artistic movement. In one scene, Gwendolen is in a conversation with Cecily about her father. Gwendolen mentions that her father is not really famous, but rather, pertains to household work. Gwendolen goes on to mention that if her father were to neglect his chores, he would find himself to become effeminate, and thus unattractive. The man of the house role of usual Victorian fathers has been reversed, and he has thus become the house wife of the family.
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