The Importance of Being Earnest :: Week One

Welcome to the The Importance of Being Earnest read-a-long! We’re reading this book through August. You can see the reading schedule and guidelines on the Starting Post Page.

Week One: Read Act One


How do I start? I put a sticky note or two (or three) on almost every page, so apparently that method of keeping track of what I like isn’t going to work for this book. Can I just say that so far — I LOVE Oscar Wilde? I’ve seen two of his plays acted out, but never read anything by him. I already knew he made funny stories, but I wasn’t sure how much was the actors’ performances and how much was the writing. Now I’m tempted to say that it would take a pretty terrible actor to make Wilde’s work unamusing.

Favorite character: Algernon (aka Algy). Brilliant. So funny, just the kind of biting wit I really enjoy. I think I’d actually really like to hang out with him in person. Can you imagine sitting next to him at a dinner party? All you’d have to do is listen and you’d be amused the whole time!

Second Favorite Character: Lady Bracknell. Again, because of her humor – though hers doesn’t seem to be on purpose. “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” The satire that Wilde brings through her character is easily swallowed.

There are too many favorite lines to quote, so I won’t do all… but maybe just a couple, if you all can stand it:

Lane: I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.

Lady Bracknell: I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.

Algernon: All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.

Jack: My dear fellow, the truth isn’t quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl.

Now here’s one I have a question about. I watched the beginning of The Picture of Dorian Gray but since I have never read it, I don’t know if the following line was actually also in that book or if they took it from this play and added it to that movie (weird?), because it was definitely in an early scene. (Only they changed “woman” to “wife”.) Does anybody know – or have a copy of Dorian Gray that they can look at?

Algernon: The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to some one else if she is plain.

Who’s Reading Along:

** Please don’t forget to come to this blog each Friday and share your thoughts in the comments section of the weekly The Importance of Being Earnest discussion (see below for more information).**

JacquelineM (@jackiemania)
Ian Cann (@thebeercolonel)
Meg @ A Bookish Affair
Patty@a tale of three cities
NorCal Reader
Ashley J.
SpyrosChrysikopoulos (@chryssiko)

Friendly Reminders:

  • If you are participating and I don’t have you on this list, please let me know in the comments section. I did not include people who said ‘maybe’ so if you have changed your mind and are definitely reading along with us, let me know so I can add you. Also, if you are not going to be able to join us anymore please let me know and I will take you off the list. 
  • Comments from the previous week’s reading will be closing Thursday afternoon (before the next discussion takes place on Friday). If you would like to be part of the discussion, please remember to comment before then. 
  • Each week, on Friday, share your thoughts about the previous week’s reading. If you are stuck on what to comment about, you can respond to my post or others’ comments. Regardless, you MUST check in each week (two weeks without a response and you will be taken off of the list — see below for details on why). You may have only one “off week” (which may not be the last week of reading for obvious reasons) and still be kept on the list, but you must let me know in the comment section by saying something like, “I’m catching up,” or “I’m still reading.” ***for all week’s discussions please refrain from posting ahead, even if you have read ahead, as to not spoil the book for others***
  • If you are a blogger you may post a link to your blog if you are posting about each of the each week’s reading. If I, or other readers, have extra time we will gladly try to visit your blog; however, you must make sure to share your thoughts here on this blogand be part of the main conversation or your comment will not be counted.
  • If you go for two weeks without commenting in my weekly update comments section, I will assume you are no longer participating and will take you off of the list (*NEW GUIDELINE*, in order to get back onthe list, you need to a.) Have missed no more than two weeks of discussion, b.) Let me know you would like to be on the list again, and c.) consistently be part of the discussion for the next two weeks after requesting to be put back on the list.). This is in no way to be discouraging, but helps to keep the read-a-long organized (and helps me remember who’s completed what read-a-long…there (ahem) might be something fun for different levels of participants at the end of the year! Thanks!

46 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Earnest :: Week One

  1. It was fun to find myself in Victorian England once again. Not too long ago, I left Bleak House and now find myself seeing a much lighter and wittier view of the era in The Importance of Being Earnest. Wow! What a difference in tone and style. And yet I find that both authors point out the shallowness of the upper class. For example, Lady Bracknell’s check-off list of qualifications for her daughter’s spouse shows she’s more interested in the status of who she marries rather than the character of the future groom.

    I’ve read this play before, but I really had to make notes about the characters to keep the story straight. Jack is Ernest, who is his younger brother, and Jack loves Gwendolen, who wants to marry a man named Ernest, but Jack is called Jack in the country and Ernest in the city. Huh! To add to the confusion, I find myself wondering why two men who appear to be friends don’t seem to want to spend time together. I know some of it on Jack’s part is to keep Algy away from Cecily, but…come on. This is a weird friendship.

    I find the play clever and enjoyable. Some of the lines are really funny. I especially enjoy the play on words: (Gwendolen)”…and my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in the name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.” Of course, this person who inspires absolute confidence is a liar who doesn’t understand the importance of being earnest!

    At times, Lady Bracknell reminds me of the Dowager Countess of Downton. After Jack announces that he lost both parents, I could picture the Countess repeating the words of Lady Bracknell: “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” (I see you enjoyed this quote and many of the others that I did, Wallace.)

    After all these years, I can remember enjoying the discussion of this play in my college classroom. My professor was also an actor, so I’m sure he “performed” some of the lectures. I’m looking forward to reading the second act and recalling those younger days in class. Disclaimer: I may be retired now, but I’m still not grown up.

    • Good call on comparing Lady Bracknell to Dowager Countess – very true! You are a lot of good points. Incredible that this is the same England that was being portrayed in Bleak House – SUCH a different voice!

    • Haha I had the same thought about Lady Bracknell! In the play going on in my head while reading, she is played by Maggie Smith/the Dowager Countess.

    • Love that you mention this is in the same time frame as Bleak House! I can’t imagine Esther and Algy comparing notes on their day. She would probably find him amusing, though 🙂

    • Good point about Lady Bracknell and the Dowager Countess of Downton. Actually they are like many Dowager/Rich Widow Aunts in many books. The Age of Innocence and Vanity Fair also come to mind.

  2. Love it thus far, nearly every line is laugh out funny – Algernon is definitely the star wit of the piece, but I rather enjoy Lane as a sort of proto-Jeeves, the exchange at the start about Algernon’s piano playing “I didn’t think polite to listen Sir” is lovely and his views on marriage definitely seem to echo in Wodehouse’s work.

    The whole Lady Bracknell/Jack interrogation scene is pure magic, though having heard it performed in the style of Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi once on the radio, it’s impossible to take too seriously.

    I also enjoyed the whole business of the cucumber sandwiches, which I’m sure makes a wider point somehow about the superficial nature of show in late Victorian society but really was just very funny.

    • I also enjoy Lane – the dry humor adds a nice contrast to Algy’s ridiculousness.

      Am very curious about the radio scene that you described… will wonders never cease? Something tells me that Wilde would have gotten a kick out of that.

  3. I really enjoyed this first act. In many ways it reminded me of Jeeves and Wooster, where the upper class is made fun of, but in a harmless way. I truly enjoyed the imaginary friend/relative one uses to escape from social obligations – must think something alike… And how about the significance of a name? A Jack is doomed for all eternity (I can confirm that there are still places where important-sounding names are given to increase the chances in society…) I was also intrigued about the purpose of an engagement – a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant? I found this to be a novel idea indeed… Looking forward to the rest of the story, especially how this engagement turns out for Worthing, my favourite, naive character so far…

    • Interesting about the names – that they still hold significance. I tend to think they do particularly in literature… always wonder why certain characters were given their names.

  4. What fun! Wilde’s writing makes me feel as if I’m drinking champagne!

    My favorite lines so far:

    Algernon. The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!

    Love how Wilde is commenting on Victorian society with such a light (but nevertheless, quite cutting) touch. So far I’m seeing one of the major themes as duplicity (Ernest city /Jack country , Earnest/Ernest, Algernon and his Bunburying, the whole business with the cucumber sandwiches, etc etc etc). Anyone else notice some larger themes so far?

    Wallace, Algernon is my favorite character, too. I’d be terrified to hang out with him, though! He’s too quick witted! I’d be like a deer in the headlights!

  5. Having never read anything from Oscar Wilde, I didn’t know what to expect and I am fairly certain that I wouldn’t have decided to read this play on my own. I’m glad to have started it though because it is quite hilarious. I agree with others that Algernon is definitely the star of this play when it comes to a sharp wit, but I’m really curious how Jack is going to deal with the drama concerning Gwendolen and her mother Lady Bracknell (who really seems to have a unrealistic set of criteria for Gwendolen’s marriage prospects).

    Although the entire first act was nicely written, I particularly enjoyed the exchange between Jack and Lady Bracknell. She seems to be much more concerned with social status rather than the character of the person her daughter wishes to marry and I’m left wondering who would ever be good enough for Gwendolen given her criteria – certainly not anyone Gwendolen would choose for herself. The idea that an engagement should be a surprise whether pleasant or unpleasant was an interesting, but sort of warped idea.

    Many of the lines in this play can also be seen as words of wisdom. When suggesting that Gwendolen and Cecily would be calling each other sisters, Algernon had the wisdom to point out “women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first.”

  6. I am surprised at how funny this book actually is! I’ve never read anything by Oscar Wilde before, and do not know anything about this story at all. I sometimes have to force myself to read classics because I always expect them to be hard to read, but I love this so far! Of course, Algernon is a hit. He’s hilarious!

    I also highlighted (I’m reading this one on my Kindle) Algernon’s quote about making love to a woman if she is pretty. It reminds me of something a drunken fraternity boy would say!

    I thought Algernon’s notion of relatives was interesting, too, especially since Jack/Ernest doesn’t have any relatives of his own. “Relatives are simply a tedious pack of people who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, not the smallest instinct about when to die” – Algernon. It’s also humorous to note that Algernon is a relative to others, so I wonder what he’d think if that was thought about!

    And how true, when Jack is describing how Cecily and Gwendolen will become great friends, maybe even call each other sisters, that Algernon comments, “Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first.”

    So far, I enjoy the story, and I am excited about joining this Read a Long!

    • Rebecca, You really hit the nail on the head when you called Jack and Algy drunken frat boys. Great description!

  7. Hi Wallace and all,
    I am enjoying everyone’s responses to this week’s reading! I “cheated” and listened to an audio version of the play and am now reading it through the Kindle app. It was fun to listen to… I’m not sure how it was done, if it was truly acted out or simply read aloud, but there was an audience with much laughter!

    It’s fun to read it now, as I had NO idea what Algernon was truly saying when he was talking about Bunbury – I heard Bungering. Pretty funny either way! What a concept, to have a “Bunbury” or an “Earnest” to use as an escape or scapegoat.

    It is fun to highlight the witty language Wilde uses through these characters. What a great read. I also purchased (a long time ago) a novelized version of this play.. I’ll have to dig that out, too!

    Did anyone ever see the movie with Rupert Everett? Isn’t there a movie with Rupert Everett? I haven’t seen it but think it’s what inspired me to pick up the novel all those years ago (like in the 90s?) 🙂

    Thanks for hosting, Wallace!

      • I don’t think it got much attention here in the states, but it is fantastic! Rupert is just the perfect actor to perform Wilde’s works, I think. Colin Firth was excellent in the comedic roll also. I highly recommend it. It and Ideal Husband are the best movie adaptations I’ve seen.

  8. I love his plays. They are hilarious and full of wit. I think Lady Bracknell is purposely humorous, just in a different way then Algy. Hers is more blunt, direct way. I’ve read this before, 10 years ago. This time its trying to catch the alternative meanings he used (google victorian slang earnest).

    The Dorian Gray writers stole that line from this play. I don’t remember it in the novel, and double checked the PG version.

    • I figured it would be you who had the answer. 😉 You always have an uncanny ability to know if a line was in a book or not. I’m pretty sure you’re a magician (or just a genius).

    • I agree, but I don’t think it’s because Jack has sinister motives, I think it’s because he seems a bit more rooted in reality. If Algy were to be caught Bunburying people would take it more as a clever joke (despite his quite hilarious ideas about clever people) than deceit, whereas if Ernest/Jack were caught they would expect him to know better.

  9. I was pleasantly surprised at the high paced dialogue of the first act. I love the quick, dry wit of Algy…I would like to attend a dinner party with him! It will be interesting to see how Jack/Ernest and Gwendolyn’s engagement evolves.

  10. Hi, I will be participating in this read-along. I have the book on my e-reader and will post once I have read the first act!

  11. I agree with Roberta. I have to wonder why Algernon and Jack are friends, because they don’t seem to have that much in common. I love the dry wit, although I could see why it might feel like a play full of one-liners after awhile. Lady Bracknell’s line about misplacing parents was hysterical though.

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  13. This will mark my first time reading anything by Oscar Wilde. He’s another one that has always really intimidated me. I was very surprised at how accessible this play seems for the modern reader, always a pleasant surprise.

    So far, I’m liking the writing a lot. There are so many funny one liners. Wallace, I love the one that you listed about marriage. I also really like the one about women turning into their mothers (I wonder if that was the first time what has now become an old adage was used…hm…).

    Admittedly, I’m a little bit confused about Jack/Ernest’s name. Did he start going by Ernest because Gwendolen likes the name? I don’t know if that’s really explained yet…

    • I think Jack was using different names in the country and city already, but then kept it up because Gwendolen liked the name. I don’t have the book nearby, so I can’t check, but will look when I get home. I think it is explained more as we go along as well (if the movie is close to the book).

  14. This is my first time reading Oscar Wilde, and I’m loving it so far! I’m kicking myself a little for having let The Picture of Dorian Grey sit, untouched, on my bookshelf for a year; I could have enjoyed his wit so much sooner!

    I am really enjoying the writing and am just about wearing out my hand underlining brilliant quotes! I had heard Wilde’s writing is funny, but I wasn’t expecting to be reading with a goofy grin on my face about 50% of the time.

    I’m so looking forward to seeing how Jack’s relationship/engagement with Gwendolen will progress; I forsee all kinds of confusion and deception in the future, and I can’t wait for the hilarity. And how funny is Algernon, with his cucumber sandwiches! I’m not sure how much I would like him in person, but he is certainly fun to read about.

    I have a lot of favorite quotes from this week’s reading, some of which have already been mentioned. I’ll just post this one:

    Lady Bracknell: “Health is the primary duty of life. I am always telling that to your poor uncle, but he never seems to take much notice … as far as any improvement in his ailment goes.” As if he could simply will himself to not be sick!

  15. Just about everything has already been said (as always, I’m a bit late to the party), but my favorite part was about fools and clever people, where Algy basically used word play to call Jack a fool and he went along with it, not noticing. Normally these silly characters get on my nerves quickly, but I really like Algy. As noted above, I don’t think he is taken as seriously as, say, Jack, but I do get the feeling he is smarter than he seems. This is my second reading of the play and, as always, I’m so amazed at how much more I’m getting out of it with a second run through.

  16. This is certainly a well written play and very, very witty. In fact each line virtually drips with wit and wordplay and virtually all of it eminently quotable.

    I really enjoyed the first act and I have enjoyed every moment of reading it as it never fails to make you smile.

  17. Wow, I am sorry I am so behind! I really enjoyed this play so far – I’ve never read it, so it was pleasantly surprising to be in Victorian England and not in Bleak House haha. I loved Algy and his wit, and was enamored with Lane and his tolerance. Super fast read, I’ll be around more next week, for sure 🙂

  18. I really loved this first act. The jokes sound very similar to the ones in Jeeves books. I also find very interesting the use of Ernest / Earnest which gives an ironic aspect to the character in question. As far as I can tell this is not translatable to other languages, at least not in Greek, which is my native language. Looking forward to the second act.

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