A deliciously witty play about dual identities, Victorian mores and an unforgettable handbagThe Guardian
I have been to a theatre production of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (Watford, 1982) and have seen several of the films/tv adaptations. My first recollection though is of watching the 1952 film directed by Anthony Asquith with a wonderful cast*. I didn’t, by the way, see it in 1952 but sometime later in the 1970s but who can forget the first time they heard Lady Bracknell, played by Edith Evans (who later became a Dame), utter in astonishment those iconic words –
“A Handbag!”Lady Bracknell, The Importance of Being Earnest
I was hooked!
Yet, I had never read, never owned nor even borrowed a copy/book of the play. This hadn’t really registered with me until I was browsing the catalogue of books at Renard Press and saw that they had produced an edition in 2020. The thought of having a permanent, physical copy just made me smile. I had to buy a copy!
I hadn’t thought of reading The Importance of Being Earnest for Reading Ireland Month but feeling a little under the weather and not really being able to read the Murdoch book I had begun I came upon it as I mulled over my TBR shelf, smiled and said to myself ‘that’s just what I need’.
There’s plenty that has been written on The Importance of Being Earnest and I think that if I were to ‘properly’ review it, give a serious critique, I would simply be giving another version of what is already there to read. So, I just wanted to share how happy I was to read it and how much I enjoyed reading it. It made smile, laugh at the absurdity of the situation, the absurdity of the characters with their Bunburying and desires to only marry someone with the name of Ernest, who leave babies in handbag at railway stations, who especially have cucumber sandwiches made for their aunt and then eat them all before she arrives, who want to be baptised in order to become Ernest and all the other ridiculous things that make this play so funny and yet so – earnest! I think Oscar Wilde would be happy to know this because after all he wrote such a wonderful, scathing piece on the world and mores of the Victorian British upper class in such a way as to make it in all seriousness a ‘trivial comedy’.
The Importance Of Being Earnest (1952): Cast*
Edith Evans (Lady Bracknell)| Margaret Rutherford (Miss Prism) | Michael Redgrave (Jack Worthing)| Joan Greenwood (Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax)| Michael Denison (Algernon Moncrieff)| Dorothy Tutin (Cecile Cardew)| Mile Malleson (Rev. Canon Chasuble) | Richard Wattis (Seton) | Walter Hudd (Lane)
The list above is just a sample of recorded versions from film, TV and radio.
There have, of course, been innumerable stagings in theatres across the world such as the 1982 play (performed at the Lyttelton, National Theatre, London (opened 16 September 1982), during a regional tour (27 September – 27 November 1982) and then again at the Lyttelton (closed 24 March 1983) that I saw in Watford.
Sources: IMDB | Comedy.co.uk | The Guardian (Photos) | WordHistories – On Bunburying
The Renard Press Edition
This is a gorgeous looking edition (see photos above) it contains not only the play but also ‘Notes on the text’, ‘Notes’ and ‘Extra Material’ (- A Brief Introduction to Oscar Wilde & More Information about Oscar Wilde).
I found this very interesting especially the last item (More Information about Oscar Wilde) which is a fascinating read especially for those who are not too familiar with the author, his life and work.
Renard Press: a brand-new independent publisher, launched in June 2020. More information about the press and what we’re trying to do. Read more →
Published: Renard Press (11 December 2020) |Paperback with gold-foiled cover | 128pp | ISBN: 9781913724054
Buy: Renard Press | Your local bookshop | Your local library
I know there is a lot of material on Oscar Wilde so I have just given a few links that I hope will be of interest with regard to this particular play.
Out of Gags? Try Oscar Wilde (Mark Lawson, The Independent, 14 Feb 1995)
British Library – an introduction to The Importance of Being Earnest
The V & A – The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest – a play in four acts – Wilde, Oscar, “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1985). Theatre Productions. 93. http://collected.jcu.edu/plays/93
In 2016 Irish actor/writers Helen Norton and Jonathan White wrote the comic play To Hell in a Handbag which retells the story of Importance from the point of view of the characters Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism, giving them their own back story and showing what happens to them when they are not on stage in Wilde’s play.
Author: OSCAR FINGAL O’FLAHERTIE WILLS WILDE (1854–1900)
Wilde was an author, poet and one of the best-known playwrights in the English canon. His private life is widely discussed, since his sexuality and relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas led him to his being convicted for ‘gross indecency’. He was sentenced to two years’ hard labour, and while in prison he wrote De Profundis, a letter to Douglas describing the trials of his incarceration, which was eventually published in expurgated form. He is best remembered today for his short-story collections for children, The Happy Prince and A House of Pomegranates, his poetry, especially The Ballad of Reading Gaol, his novel Dorian Gray and his plays – particularly Salome and his drawing-room and society comedies Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of Being Earnest.
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Love this play! We performed it as part of our student drama society (I was Miss Prism).
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Yes, it’s a fantastic play. How wonderful and what a role to play! You clearly have fond memories, it must have been hard work but fun too. It would have a treat to have seen it.
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What a gorgeous edition!
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It is, Cathy. I do like to support Renard an indie and my ‘local’ publisher.
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