The Importance of Being Earnest is a play that I have loved since I first read it years ago. I most recently reread it through a read-a-long at Unputdownables and, I am happy to report, it is every bit as witty and charming as it was then. But, thanks to the discussion, I got a lot more out of it this time around.
The satire that Wilde presents is funny yet cutting. While I of course noticed the obvious social satire upon my first reading, this time I picked up on many other points that Wilde is making (this is exactly why I love Wallace’s read-a-longs; intelligent, articulate participants shed light on new ideas each week). He points out the arbitrariness of religion, the changing whims of women in society, and the interactions between generations. But all the while, he maintains the lighthearted tone of the play, keeping the humor going and using what would normally be tense situations as comedic episodes (case in point: when Cecily and Gwendolyn think they are engaged to the same man).
Another realization hit me while reading this play: All of the commentary that Wilde is making about society, religion, and relationships is put forth entirely through dialogue. Now, I know what you are thinking. No shit, Sherlock, it’s a play. Right? Yes, it’s a play, I understand that. But it’s also a play with no narrator, no third person explaining the actions of the characters or their back story. In fact, the stage notes are even fairly limited. The great impact that Wilde has is created almost entirely through dialogue.
I’ve read countless plays and novels, and, although I have also known that these are very different mediums, the extent to which they differ never really hit me until this particular reading. Wilde’s ability to create engaging, sharp conversation is amazing. The dialogue and the ideas that he presents fit together like a puzzle, building until the whole picture, to continue the simile, is revealed at the end of the play.
For anyone who hasn’t read The Importance of Being Earnest, I highly recommend it. This play is hilarious, it’s accessible, and it’s a great choice for readers who enjoy a variety of genres.