I discovered Oscar Wilde when we were performing his theatre play “The Importance of Being Earnest” at our school. I was only working backstage but I was right in the middle of everything. Instead of having to concentrate on the script, I was able to observe the actors with their stunning costumes, their struggles of remembering the words and conveying their character. This particular play by Oscar Wilde, a romantic comedy, introduced me to Wilde’s wit and humour. The play is based around the complications that result from two main characters taking on the name “Ernest”. Jack Worthing is known as “Jack” in the countryside but has invented a brother named “Ernest” who gets into all sorts of trouble and needs his elder brother to come to the city to help him out. Jack uses this imaginary brother to escape to the city whenever he feels like it without having to justify himself in front of his ward, young and pretty Cecily Cardew. Unfortunately, Cecily has developed romantic feelings for this mysterious imaginary brother, so that Jack decides that he must be “killed”. Furthermore, Jack is in love with the fair Gwendolen Fairfax who knows him by the name “Ernest”, who returns his feelings, but when he proposes to her, she also says that she could never love or marry someone who wasn’t called Ernest. Algernon, a friend of Jack, who falls in love with Cecily, later assumes the name of Earnest and pretends to be Jack’s brother, making it impossible for Jack to “kill” this imaginary brother.
One of the main themes of this play is marriage, however, despite making fun of the British upper class it doesn’t intend to criticise.
This play along with its trivial themes reflect Wilde’s association to the Aesthetic movement.
The Aesthetic movement believed that art should not seek to convey an educational or moral message. Instead, art should aim at creating sensual pleasure. The Aesthetic movement revolves around the slogan: “Art for Art’s sake”.
Interesting facts about Oscar Wilde:
- His love for literature was shared by his parents. His father William Wilde was a successful surgeon who had written several books about archaeology and folklore. His mother Jane Francesca Elgee gained fame for writing revolutionary poems under the pseudonym “Speranza”.
- Wilde was a brilliant student who studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and later at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he received the prestigious Newdigate Prize for his poem “Ravenna”.
- Wilde was married to Constance Lloyd with whom he had two sons. Later, however, he began an affair with a young aristocrat and was imprisoned for homosexuality. Homosexulity was a crime back in these days. Having lost his reputation and experiencing the separation from his wife and children, this tragic event was eventually his downfall.
- He was an Irish author – at heart. Although having studied at Oxford and the fact that some of his works like “The Importance of Being Earnest” are archetypically considered to be “English plays”, most of his work is marked by an underlying Irishness. When his play Salomé was banned he also accused the English for being narrow-minded and said: “I am not English; I’m Irish which is quite another thing.”
- Other famous works: His novel “The picture of Dorian Gray” (1890) and “De Profundis”, a long letter which he wrote in prison and which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials.