Summary: A farce in the style of PG Wodehouse (or vice versa) poking fun at the triviality of Victorian society.
I know that Wilde has the reputation of being funny, but the only other work of his that I have read was the Portrait of Dorian Gray. And while I appreciated the book, I did not think it was great and it certainly is not a comedy.
The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy. It is also a play and it has been a while since I have read a play with stage directions and character dialogue. And I am not sure I have ever listened to an audiobook of a play, which is what I did here.
Two friends both are leading double lives, in part because they can. Algernon is meeting with his friend who is known as Earnest. Earnest wants to propose to Algernon’s cousin, but Algernon discovers that Earnest’s cigarette case has the inscription “From little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.” So Earnest admits that he is actually named Jack (or John) but uses the name Earnest when he comes to London to get away from his country house.
Algernon admits a similar deception when he wants to get away from London, he pretends to visit a sick friend named Bunbury.
When Jack (as Earnest) proposes to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolyn she accepts, but it seems she primarily loves him because his name is Earnest.
Algernon decides to go find out about Jack’s other life and heads to his country house and introduces himself to Jack’s young ward Cecily as Earnest. Algernon (as Earnest) falls in love and proposes to Cecily only to discover that in her mind they are already engaged. Jack has told her all about his brother Earnest in London and how bad of a man he is. She has invented a romance between them and already accepted his proposal, broken up with him and gotten back together.
So both men are now engaged to women that want them both to be Earnest, so separately both men decided to be Christened Earnest.
The farce continues and there are several more twists to the story. But the whole play really revolves around how lightly and trivially the important things are treated.
After reading the Portrait of Dorian Gray, I was not really interested in reading much else by Oscar Wilde. But after reading The Importance of Being Earnest, I can see his genius.
I almost decided to go watch the 2002 movie, until I started looking at the reviews. I still may, but the consensus of the reviews is that the movie missed the brilliance of the original play.
The Importance of Being Earnest Purchase Links: Kindle Edition ($0.99), Audible.com Audiobook ($2.99 if the kindle book is purchased first) Because this is in the public domain there are a variety of editions available. I am linking to the one I read.