Oscar Wilde was a glorious comet across the literary night sky of Victorian England. His parents were Anglo-Irish, but his mother wrote fiercely pro – Irish poetry (“The Famine Year”) He was highly-educated and moved easily, wittily and flamboyantly through London society. He was a champion of the “Aesthetic Movement“, a reaction to the Utilitarianism of the Industrial Age, and best summarized in the motto “Art for Art’s Sake.” Beauty is its own reason for being, and needs not be tied to moral or socio-political themes.
After “Lady Windermere’s Fan” and “A Woman of No Importance”, Wilde hit his comedic stride with “The Importance of Being Earnest”. Unfortunately his triumph coincided with a scandal that took London by storm – the accusation by Lord Douglas, the Marquess of Queensbury, of Wilde’s alleged seduction of Douglas’ twenty one year old son.
The opening night audience of “Earnest” in 1895 was a “who’s who” of the upper class and literati, yet, unfortunately, it marked the zenith of his illustrious rise. Although Lord Douglas, who threatened to assault the playwright with rotten vegetables, was turned away, the scandal grew over the following weeks. Society was embarrassed. Wilde’s best play would close after 86 performances; he would be dragged through a humiliating trial for his homosexuality, sent to prison (“The Ballad of Reading Gaol“), and die penniless in Paris within five years, at the age of 46. He is buried at Pere Lachaise.
There are many ways to explore Earnest. Beneath the razor wit, a “piece a clef” about secret relationships and double lives. An attack on the excesses of gentility. A full out expose of prevailing thought on fashion, marriage and aristocracy.
- “Fashion is gentility running away from vulgarity and afraid of being overtaken by it. It is a sign that the two are not very far apart.”– William Hazlitt
- “Ideas travel upward; manners downward.” — Bulwer-Lytton
- “Snobbery” has been defined as a defensive expression of social insecurity. Not to be confused with a “snob victim”, such as Monsieur Jourdain in Moliere’s “The Middle Class Aristocrat” or Hyacinth Bucket (“pronounced Bouquet”) in “Keeping Up Appearances” – victims of never – to -be- realized social respectability.
The idea, however, of allowing a marriage between the blood lines of Gwendolyn Fairfax and someone born in a handbag would trigger cardiac arrest in Lady Bracknell’s society.
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is the work of an Irish rebel, a verbal swashbuckler battling Church, Society, Fashion, Elitism and Morality with the best de Bergerac panache. Join us. Reservations strongly suggested. – LD