Over the weekend I had the entertaining experience of listening to an audio dramatization of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. This comedic play was first performed in 1895, and it is a hilarious satirical commentary on Victorian social customs, especially regarding love and marriage. I chose this as my 19th Century Classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge, and it also fills the Satire spot in The Literary Life 20 for 2020 challenge. (They will be going through this book on the podcast very soon, so I wanted to get it read before then.)
The version I listened to was done by LA Theater Works, and it was a delightful performance. There is hardly a really serious line in the whole play, but the actors delivered their lines as if all was deadly serious, which made it even more hilarious. I could totally see how Wilde’s work in this play paved the way for P. G. Wodehouse, especially in the opening scene with the banter between Algernon and his butler/valet. It definitely reminded me of Bertie Wooster talking with Jeeves. Then, of course, there is the Shakespearean element of mistaken identities causing problems between lovers, which is always entertaining.
Some people would perhaps find the situation unbelievably over-the-top silly, but I think that is what makes Wilde’s commentary work so well. He makes some serious jabs at social conventions, but it is done in such a ridiculous manner that you can’t help but laugh. Of course, if I were in Wilde’s original Victorian era audience, maybe I wouldn’t have thought it quite so funny as I do as a modern!