Class Act

The Importance of Being Earnest

 Click here to buy:   The Importance of Being Earnest (Dover Thrift Editions)

Written By: Oscar Wilde

Reviewed by Ismael Manzano


            As some of you might know, I, Ismael Manzano, have recently returned to—began—college in an effort to better myself.  As some of you may also know, my wife, Justine, began a tradition of converting her work assignments into reviews which she named “Class Acts.”  In keeping with her tradition and, in the hopes of keeping up with the demands of my job, I’m following in her footsteps with my very first Class Act of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” by Oscar Wilde.

            Originally a play, and first performed in London in the late 1800’s,  “The Importance of Being Earnest,” was first published by Leonard Smithers & Co. in 1899 and later republished, unabridged, by Dover in 1990.  It is this version of the play upon which this review is based. 

            The play follows the life of John/Jack/Earnest Worthing, a mild-mannered and moderately well off socialite with a sharp wit, and Algernon Moncrieff, Mr. Worthing’s friend of a sort and—in my opinion—clone.  The story begins when Mr. Worthing, known as Earnest in London, visits Mr. Moncrieff’s home, and is confronted with a question that forces him to reveal that he, in fact, has two identities.  In London, Mr. Worthing is known as Earnest, but in the country, where he has a small estate and a ward by the name of Cecily to care for, he is known by his given name of Jack.  The ruse, Earnest explains to his friend, is to offer him the excuse to travel into London whenever he choose, in the form of a reckless brother by another name.  He uses the name in town in case anyone asks about an Earnest Worthing, but in the country he is Jack, boring and respectable. 

            Oddly enough—and this is why I say Algernon is a clone of Ernest—Mr. Moncrieff, has a similar ruse in the form of an invalid friend named Bunbury, whom he uses as an excuse to get away from boring family affairs.  Mr. Worthing confesses to being in love with and on his way to proposing to Algy’s niece, Gwendolen.  Algy expressly forbids it, but Earnest does so anyway.

            In an act of playful revenge, Algy goes to Jack’s country manor, posing as his as of yet unseen brother Earnest, and is immediately stricken with love at the sight of Jack’s beautiful ward, Cecily.  Jack discovers the ruse just as he was about to tell his family that his poor brother had died overseas and forbids Algy from courting Cecily.  A hilarious set of incidences occurs from there, in which both men, engaged to women who both believe them to be named Earnest—and will accept no substitute names for their suitors—scramble to be baptized and rechristened under that name. 

            “The Importance of Being Earnest,” is a downright funny, satirical peek into the world as it might have been in the late 1800’s.  But whatever century it was written, the play remains witty, comical, and a just plain enjoyable all around read.  I’ll be sure to pick up a copy of whichever movie version of it I find first, it intrigued me that much.  I think you will too.  Pick yourself up a copy of the play and enjoy. 

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