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Book Review: The Importance Of Being Earnest By Oscar Wilde


Title: The Importance of Being Earnest
Author: Oscar Wilde
Genre: Play, Comedy, Farce
First published: 14th February 1895
Summary: Oscar Wilde’s madcap farce about mistaken identities, secret engagements, and lovers entanglements still delights readers more than a century after its 1895 publication and premiere performance. The rapid-fire wit and eccentric characters of The Importance of Being Earnest have made it a mainstay of the high school curriculum for decades.

Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax are both in love with the same mythical suitor. Jack Worthing has wooed Gewndolen as Ernest while Algernon has also posed as Ernest to win the heart of Jack’s ward, Cecily. When all four arrive at Jack’s country home on the same weekend the “rivals” to fight for Ernest s undivided attention and the “Ernests” to claim their beloveds pandemonium breaks loose. Only a senile nursemaid and an old, discarded hand-bag can save the day!

Book Review

 I was under the impression that The Importance of Being Earnest was a serious piece of work for some reason but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This play, written by Oscar Wilde, is incredibly funny farcical comedy that was written in the late 19th century.

It follows the story of two men, John and Algernon who both have separate identities for when they are in town and when they are in the country. When John is in town, he goes by the name Ernest and claims to be in love with a young lady named Gwendolen, whom he wishes to marry. The problem is that the name Ernest is of great importance to Gwendolen, but of course, it isn’t his real name.

Algernon usually resides in town but upon hearing that his friend John has a young ward by the name of Cecily in the country, he takes on the persona of John’s fake brother ‘Ernest’, and goes to visit John’s house in the country. As you can imagine, numerous funny incidences occur as there is more than one man named ‘Ernest’ and people are not who they say they are.

This play is rather short and I managed to read the entire play in about an hour. There are very few stage directions in The Importance of Being Earnest, but this play is all about what people are saying, rather than what they are doing. Everything the characters say is either nonsense or completely backwards which is very funny for the reader.

I must admit that even I got a little confused with all the identity switches but this short and sharp play keeps you entertained the entire way through and laugh-out-loud funny. Reading this play was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I would imagine that seeing this played out on stage would be even better. I haven’t read any of Wilde’s other plays but I can’t imagine them getting much better, or funnier, than this.

Of course, whilst it is incredibly funny, if you read between the lines this is a satire of society and social commentary  with Wilde making remarks on love affairs and marriage in the 19th century as well as the vanity of the upper classes. Of course everything the characters say is quite ridiculous and you absolutely cannot take them seriously and yet I suppose the idea of these characters being real people is not funny at all.

All in all, Wilde is a master and The Importance of Being Earnest is a must read/watch for all. Having read the play, I am now desperate to see it performed on stage which will no doubt be down right hilarious. This play is very short and easy to read so there are absolutely no excuses. Although written over a century ago, this witty play is a timeless classic that even modern readers will appreciate.

Buy The Importance of Being Earnest:
Amazon | Book Depository

Want a more profound analysis of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest? I’d recommend the following study guides:

Cliff Notes: The Importance of Being Earnest
York Notes: The Importance of Being Earnest

Check out my other book reviews here!

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Laura is a culture and travel blogger based in London. She studied French at Oxford University and now studies Law in London. She’s an avid reader and traveller and loves to combine the two with literary travel. Find her tips and reviews on the best reads, eats and destinations on whatshotblog.com.

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  1. Laura
    1st April 2016 / 4:32 AM

    I was under the same impression regarding this book too. Great to hear that its actually really funny, sounds like something I’d like to read myself. xxx

  2. Hungry_Healthy_Happy
    1st April 2016 / 11:43 AM

    I thought this was a really serious book too, but it’s good to hear that it’s funny. I will have to take a look at it.

  3. 1st April 2016 / 12:46 PM

    This is my favourite book of all time! Every single line of it is so funny! I love Wilde’s wit 🙂

  4. Jacqui Brough
    1st April 2016 / 2:55 PM

    I have never read this before and I have always wanted to! I thought that it would be too serious for me! But I guess it’s not! Funny and romantic is definitely up my street!

  5. 1st April 2016 / 3:45 PM

    I absolutely love this book, I read it back in school and then re-read it a few years back. Such a great read x

  6. 1st April 2016 / 5:53 PM

    I remember reading this in the last year of school although cant actually remember it if that makes sense

  7. Melanie Edjourian
    1st April 2016 / 5:56 PM

    I haven’t read this, I did mean to but totally forgot. Thanks for the great post and reminder.

  8. 1st April 2016 / 7:42 PM

    I have heard of this before, but I haven’t read it – must totally try and get my hands on it to read. x

  9. Harriet @ Toby&Roo
    1st April 2016 / 8:17 PM

    This is one of the few classic literature big hitters I haven’t read – I have read most of them (struggled with some, enjoyed others) but I MUST get in to this one! Hx

  10. Ickle Pickle
    1st April 2016 / 8:30 PM

    I have never read this – I have heard of it though. My eldest probably has – she is studying English Literature in Uni. Kaz x

  11. Beth
    1st April 2016 / 8:32 PM

    I have never heard of this book before. I really do need to get back into reading

  12. Angela Milnes
    1st April 2016 / 9:48 PM

    I studied this book at Universty. Oscar wilde was a great literate!

  13. 2nd April 2016 / 9:01 AM

    I love this book, I read it at school and then again a few years back. It was such a brilliant read xx

  14. 2nd April 2016 / 1:00 PM

    i would buy it for the title and the book cover! this is my type of book to read

  15. Sam Bresnahan
    2nd April 2016 / 1:27 PM

    I read this book many years ago for Uni when I was doing my English degree. Quite an interesting book and totally forgot about it, will have to grab a copy again

  16. 2nd April 2016 / 1:42 PM

    Great review. I haven’t read this book since school but it’s inspired me to pick it up again

  17. 3rd April 2016 / 1:17 PM

    Not read any of Oscar Wilde’s books but this sounds funny and a must read

  18. Charli-Blogs
    3rd April 2016 / 7:18 PM

    I always think books written in this era are going to be serious and not interesting to me… but after your review and finding out this was a comedy – I may need to change my thinking!

  19. 7th April 2016 / 2:32 PM

    Ok you did such an amazing job with this review, I’m actually considering to read this, too! And I’m definitely not a book person haha.

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