- Author – Oscar Wilde
- Date – 1895
- Genre – Comedy
The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a satire in which the protagonist takes up a false identity and makes a mockery of social customs and norms. The play conforms to all the moral values that the Victorian society stood for, however circumnavigating the rules, the way it treats social expectations is worth a mention.
The story is about two friends, introduced to us as Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing. John is on a visit to Algernon, to propose his cousin Gwendolen Fairfax. Algernon happens to notice an inscription on John’s cigarette case and demands an explanation. The reader is subjected to the revelation that both John and Algernon, live double lives. John does it to protect his study, Cecily Cardew and puts on an austere face when he is around her. Whereas in London, he is his usual carefree self. Algernon too has created a false identity in the form of an invalid friend, Bunbury. He uses it as an excuse to escape any unsolicited social obligation.
The resulting chaos and confusion is what makes for an amazing laugh a riot. John proposes to Gwendolen, who is more in love with John’s name (Ernest) than the man himself. Her mother, Lady Bracknell is opposed to the union as she learns that John is an orphan. Gwendolen, professes her undying love for Ernest and he leaves her with his address in the country. However, Algernon whose interests are kindled on hearing about John’s wealthy pupil, has other plans.
Algernon reaches the country address pretending to be “Ernest “, Jack’s brother in London and meets Cecily. The attraction is mutual. John wants to end the double life and reaches Cecily and proclaims his brother to be dead, but Algernon’s presence as Ernest blows away his plans. Meanwhile, Gwendolen reaches the country as well, and claims to be married to Ernest. Cecily declares she is the love interest of Ernest.
Lady Bracknell follows her daughter to the country house. She is shocked on learning about the engagement of Cecily and Algernon and only when she is informed about Cecily’s trust fund that she is convinced about her suitability for him. However, the engagement is not legal without the consent of her guardian, Jack (John). John refuses consent unless Lady Bracknell agrees to his union with Gwendolen, which she staunchly refuses. The impasse is broken when the old nurse, Miss Prism arrives and it is established that John is the son of Lady Bracknell’s late sister.
The book is full of twists and ensuing confusion over false identities. The climax can only be managed by a master story teller and all pieces of the puzzle come together beautifully. It can change even the most obstinate scowl.