The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
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Table of Contents
1. The Importance of Being Earnest: Introduction
2. Oscar Wilde Biography
7. Historical Context
8. Critical Overview
9. Essays and Criticism
10. Compare and Contrast
11. Topics for Further Study
12. Media Adaptations
13. What Do I Read Next?
14. Bibliography and Further Reading
Oscar Wilde's most successful play, The Importance of Being Earnest, became an instant hit when it opened in London, England, in February, 1895, running for eighty−six performances. The play has remained popular with audiences ever since, vying with Wilde's 1890 novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray as his most recognized work. The play proves vexing to critics, though, for it resists categorization, seeming to some merely a flimsy plot which serves as an excuse for Wilde's witty epigrams (terse, often paradoxical, sayings or catch−phrases). To others it is a penetratingly humorous and insightful social comedy. When Earnest opened, Wilde was already familiar to readers for Dorian Gray, as well as for collections of fairy tales, stories, and literary criticism. Theatre−goers knew him for his earlier dramatic works, including three previous successes, Lady Windermere's Fan (1892), A Women of No Importance (1893), and An Ideal The Importance of Being Earnest
Husband (1895), as well as for his more controversial play, Salome (1896), which was banned in Britain for its racy (by nineteenth century standards) sexual content.
The Importance of Being Earnest has been favorably compared with William Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night and Restoration plays like Richard Brinsley Sheridan's School for Scandal and Oliver Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer. While it is generally acknowledged that Wilde's play owes a debt to these works, critics have contended that the playwright captures something unique about his era, reworking the late Victorian melodramas and stage romances to present a farcical, highly satiric work—though audiences generally appraise the play as simply great fun.
Tragically, as The Importance of Being Earnest, his fourth and most successful play, received acclaim in London, Wilde himself became embroiled in the legal actions against his homosexuality that would end his career and lead to imprisonment, bankruptcy, divorce, and exile. » Back to Table of Contents
Oscar (Fingal O'Flahertie Wills) Wilde was born on October 15 (though some sources cite October 16), 1854 (some sources cite 1856), in Dublin, Ireland, where he would spend his youth. His father was a celebrated eye and ear surgeon who was knighted by Queen Victoria for founding a hospital and writing an influential medical textbook. Wilde's mother, Jane Francesca Elgee Wilde, came to be called "Speranza," writing poems, stories, essays, and folklore meant to give hope to advocates of rights for women and Ireland. Wilde won prizes in the classics at Portora Royal School in Ulster, and his continued success in classic studies at Dublin's Trinity College won him a scholarship to attend Magdalen College, Oxford, where he earned a B.A. In 1878, the undergraduate Wilde won the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna." While at Oxford, the ideas of Walter Pater and John Ruskin...
Bibliography: Beckson, Karl. "Oscar Wilde." In Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, Volume 4: Victorian
Bentley, Eric. The Playwright As Thinker. Reynal & Hitchcock, 1946.
Reinert, Otto. "Satiric Strategy in 'The Importance of Being Earnest. '" In College English, Vol. 18, no. 1,
October, 1956, pp
Roditi, Edourd. Oscar Wilde. New Directions, 1986.
Briggs, Asa. The Age of Improvement. Longman, 1988. A readable, comprehensive history of the
mid−Victorian years in England
Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. 1988. This is the standard literary biography of Wilde, providing a wealth of
detail about his personal life as well as insight into the composition of his works.
Ellmann, Richard, ed. Oscar Wilde: A Collection of Critical Essays. Prentice−Hall, 1969. Most helpful for
exploring the thinking about Wilde by his contemporaries such as W
Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Capital, 1848−1875. McKay, 1975. Although this history concentrates on the
middle of the nineteenth century, Hobsbawm usefully situates the roots of social trends that would influence
Holland, Vyvyan B. Oscar Wilde: A Pictorial Biography. Viking, 1961. Holland is Wilde 's son. While this
book contains a brief biography, the highlights are the fine photographs of Wilde and many of the people in
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