[Book Review] The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays

The_Importance_of_being_Earnest_coverTitle: The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: Classics, Satire
Published: 1985 by Signet Classics
Source: Purchased


Here’s a description from Goodreads:

A universal favorite, The Importance of Being Earnest displays Oscar Wilde’s theatrical genius at its brilliant best. Subtitled “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People”, this hilarious attack on Victorian manners and morals turns a pompous world on its head, lets duplicity lead to happiness, and makes riposte the highest form of art. Also included in this special collection are Wilde’s first comedy success, Lady Windermere’s Fan, and his richly sensual melodrama, Salome.


I started reading this months and months ago — breezed through Earnest, got stuck on the first few pages of Salome, finally managed to plow through that, and finished reading Lady Windermere’s Fan recently.

I realized that I’m no good at reading plays. It takes me ages to finish reading them. Depends on the story, I guess. I seem to have more affinity for comedies. Salome just bored me. I got stuck. I didn’t like the story very much. Probably because I’m familiar with her biblical tale since I was a wee lass and thought Salome was a meanie for demanding John the Baptist’s head on a silver platter (Jokanaan in the play).

Lady Windermere’s Fan was amusing enough, though it sorta annoyed me a bit at first because of all the fuss about Lord Windermere’s I-want-to-tell-you-why-I-spend-so-much-time-with-this-older-other-woman-but-alas-I-prolly-shouldn’t, then Lady Windermere jumping to conclusions and making hasty decisions. The story starts with the assumption of an affair, which led to more assumptions. If only the Windermeres had been truthful with each other from the get go… But then there wouldn’t be any story, now would there?

Not surprisingly, I enjoyed The Importance of Being Earnest most.  Though I must admit that I only knew about the play because I saw (and enjoyed) the movie with Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon. The play was an entertaining story of mistaken identity/lying about one’s name. There were several funny lines and witty banters, especially the ones between Algernon and Jack.

Jack: How you can sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out. You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

Algernon: Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.

Jack: I say it’s perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.

Also, the part where they were arguing about “Bunburying” was quite amusing.

Algernon: […] What you really are is a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were a Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I know.

Jack: What on earth do you mean?

Algernon: You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If it wasn’t for Bunbury’s extraordinary bad health, for instance, I wouldn’t be able to dine with you at Willis’s to-night, for I have been really engaged to Aunt Augusta for more than a week.

[…] Besides, now that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist, I naturally want to talk to you about Bunburying. I want to tell you the rules.

Jack: I’m not a Bunburyist at all. If Gwendolen accepts me, I am going to kill my brother [the invented Ernest], indeed I think I’ll kill him in any case. Cecily is a little too much interested in him. It is rather a bore. So I am going to get rid of Ernest. And I strongly advise you to do the same with Mr. . . . with your invalid friend who has the absurd name.


“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” — The Importance of Being Earnest

“The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death.” — Salome

“I can resist anything except temptation.” — Lady Windermere’s Fan (this and the quotes that follow)

“Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.” 

“Misfortunes one can endure–they come from outside, they are accidents. But to suffer for one’s own faults–ah!–there is the sting of life.”

“Ideals are dangerous things. Realities are better. They wound, but they’re better.”

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”


If you enjoy reading plays, you might enjoy this book. The stories are entertaining, particularly Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde had quite a way with words. I like the snappy dialogue and witty banters. Unfortunately, I fell asleep more than once while reading Salome, but that’s just me (it turns out I tend to get easily bored when reading serious plays).

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