The Importance of Being Earnest and Four Other Plays (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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The Importance of Being Earnest and Four Other Plays, by Oscar Wilde, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
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The Importance of Being Earnest and Four Other Plays (Barnes & Noble Classics Series)

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Overview

The Importance of Being Earnest and Four Other Plays, by Oscar Wilde, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:
  • New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars
  • Biographies of the authors
  • Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events
  • Footnotes and endnotes
  • Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work
  • Comments by other famous authors
  • Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations
  • Bibliographies for further reading
  • Indices & Glossaries, when appropriate
All editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works.


Oscar Wilde’s legendary wit dazzles in The Importance of Being Earnest, one of the greatest and most popular works of drama to emerge from Victorian England. A light-hearted satire of the absurdity of all forms and conventions, this comic masterpiece features an unforgettable cast of characters who, as critic Max Beerbohm observed, “speak a kind of beautiful nonsense—the language of high comedy, twisted into fantasy.”

This collection also includes Oscar Wilde’s most famous comedies, Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance, and An Ideal Husband, as well as his poetic tragedy Salomé—all written between 1891 and 1895, Wilde’s most creative period. George Bernard Shaw said of Oscar Wilde that he is “our most thorough playwright. He plays with everything: with wit, with philosophy, with drama, with actors and audience, with the whole theater.”

Kenneth Krauss received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He teaches drama at the College of Saint Rose, where he also directs and produces. His most recent book is The Drama of Fallen France, on French theater under the German Occupation.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781593080594
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble
  • Publication date: 12/1/2003
  • Series: Barnes & Noble Classics Series
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 82,306
  • Product dimensions: 4.13 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth Krauss received his Ph.D. from Columbia University. He teaches drama at the College of Saint Rose, where he also directs and produces. His most recent book is The Drama of Fallen France, on French theater under the German Occupation.

Biography

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born on October 16, 1854, to an intellectually prominent Dublin family. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a renowned physician who was knighted for his work as medical adviser to the 1841 and 1851 Irish censuses; his mother, Lady Jane Francesca Elgee, was a poet and journalist. Wilde showed himself to be an exceptional student. While at the Royal School in Enniskillen, he took First Prize in Classics. He continued his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, on scholarship, where he won high honors, including the Demyship Scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford.

At Oxford, Wilde engaged in self-discovery, through both intellectual and personal pursuits. He fell under the influence of the aesthetic philosophy of Walter Pater, a tutor and author who inspired Wilde to create art for the sake of art alone. It was during these years that Wilde developed a reputation as an eccentric and a foppish dresser who always had a flower in his lapel. Wilde won his first recognition as a writer when the university awarded him the Newdigate Prize for his poem "Ravenna."

Wilde went from Oxford to London, where he published his first volume of verse, Poems, in 1881. From 1882 to 1884, he toured the United States, Ireland, and England, giving a series of lectures on Aestheticism. In America, between speaking engagements, he met some of the great literary minds of the day, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Walt Whitman. His first play, Vera, was staged in New York but did poorly. After his marriage to Constance Lloyd in 1884 and the birth of his two sons, Wilde began to make his way into London's theatrical, literary, and homosexual scenes. He published Intentions, a collection of dialogues on aesthetic philosophy, in 1891, the year he met Lord Alfred Douglas, who became his lover and his ultimate downfall. Wilde soon produced several successful plays, including Lady Windermere's Fan (1892) and A Woman of No Importance (1893). Wilde's popularity was short-lived, however. In 1894, during the concurrent runs of his plays An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, he became the subject of a homosexual scandal that led him to withdraw all theater engagements and declare bankruptcy. Urged by many to flee the country rather than face a trial in which he would surely be found guilty, Wilde chose instead to remain in England. Arrested in 1895 and found guilty of "homosexual offenses," Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labor and began serving time in Wandsworth prison. He was later transferred to the detention center in Reading Gaol, where he composed De Profundis, a dramatic monologue written as a letter to Lord Alfred Douglas that was published in 1905. Upon his release, Wilde retreated to the Continent, where he lived out the rest of his life under a pseudonym. He published his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol, in 1898 while living in exile.

During his lifetime, Wilde was most often the center of controversy. The Picture of Dorian Gray, which was serialized in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine in 1890 and published in book form the next year, is considered to be Wilde's most personal work. Scrutinized by critics who questioned its morality, the novel portrays the author's internal battles and arrives at the disturbing possibility that "ugliness is the only reality." Oscar Wilde died penniless, of cerebral meningitis, in Paris on November 30, 1900. He is buried in Paris's Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Good To Know

To make ends meet, Wilde edited the popular ladies' periodical Woman's Day from 1887 to 1889.

When in exile on the Continent, Wilde was forced to live under the alias Sebastian Melmoth.

It is rumored that Wilde's last written words were found in his journal, left behind in the Left Bank flophouse where he died: "My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has got to go."

Wilde is buried in the Paris cemetery of Père Lachaise; there, he keeps company with other famous artists, including Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 16, 1854
    2. Place of Birth:
      Dublin, Ireland
    1. Date of Death:
      November 30, 1900
    2. Place of Death:
      Paris, France

Read an Excerpt

From Kenneth Krauss's Introduction to The Importance of Being Earnest and Four Other Plays

On a very immediate level, Earnest explores the nature of the connection between a symbol and what it represents. Both Gwendolen and Cecily assert that they cannot marry men whose names are not Ernest. Their superficiality, however, may obscure the wordplay inherent in the name itself: The word "earnest" and the name "Ernest" sound exactly alike. Is it men who have not been arbitrarily assigned the name "Ernest" by their parents whom the girls reject, or is it perhaps men who are not in "earnest"? In the play itself, it would appear both girls are looking for Ernest, and yet what the name has come to represent for them is the honest and open—that is, the "earnest"—acknowledgment that their suitors are just what they say they are: attractive, stylish, and wicked men of the world.

Missing is the outcast female from the earlier dramas: In Earnest none of the female characters, neither Gwendolen nor Cecily, nor Lady Bracknell, and certainly not Miss Prism, have gone far beyond the boundaries that Victorian society had set up for ladies and young women. Curiously, however, their well-bred innocence includes an awareness of that underworld into which fallen women fall. Cecily's diary, written to describe her imaginary courtship with the nonexistent but immoral Ernest, suggests an attraction to what her elders characterize as sinful. Miss Prism fears lascivious content in Cecily's economics text.

Still, if their lack of worldly experience appears slight, the women in Earnest have mastered the art of surfaces. Gwendolen's passion for Jack is based largely, perhaps completely, on his assumed name (and so, as we later learn, is Cecily's attraction to Algernon). Lady Bracknell, who may be regarded as a more terrifying version of the Duchess of Berwick or Lady Caroline Pontefract, becomes the epitome of upper-class snobbism: Her commands and judgments are based purely on how she anticipates she (or those around her) will be perceived by others. Her egocentricity is so enormous that her presence in a room makes young lovers quake. And yet her amazing and hilarious contradictions suggest there is little beyond the formidable facade. Lady Bracknell is merely a collection of other people's social prejudices.

The men in Earnest have devised tactics to protect themselves from the Lady Bracknells of the world. Masquerading as someone else, they manage to enter the demimonde of ill repute (or at least of pleasure). They manage to invent excuses (say, an uncontrollable brother or an invalid friend) that allow them to exit propriety and enter the gray area between good and bad, where they may enjoy themselves. The fopperies of Darlington and Illingworth, along with their mutual fascination with evil, are present in both Ernests. Yet Jack and Algernon are positive examples of young men-about-town who look upon upright Victorian morality with justified cynicism; like Goring, both seem capable of becoming husbands who, if not ideal, have been made better by their encounters in the shadier world.

If the complicated yet improbable plot appears to carry minimal meaning, spectators must look elsewhere for substance. That little if anything seems to go deeper than the surface is in itself significant. In Earnest people act as if they have no concern with what lies beyond the way things look to others. The ironies that give the play much of its humor, then, resonate with the notion that these characters are inhabitants of a universe in which bizarre contradictions make perfect sense. Their obsession with how things appear, and their need to disguise their real and private lives, have shaped them.

Here as in all else, the comedy assists the audience in gliding through the more searing social commentary. In the end, however, as the plot resolves through the revelation of Jack's true identity and Algernon's, the happy ending appears as unbelievable as the rest of the play: Is Gwendolen going to marry her first cousin? Will Cecily really settle for a man not named Ernest? Perhaps Wilde is implying here that none of the elements of the previous conflict mattered anyway, and that all has been, is, and will be nonsense. Or perhaps Wilde is asking us to accept that the action adds up to a comedic plot—or not even a comedic plot but a parody of a comedic plot. The play itself, then, may seem an accurate picture not of what life is really like but of what life is supposed to be like—and of how very silly that is. If what happens on the stage is supposed to mirror what happens in the world, the image thrown back by Earnest is distorted. Nevertheless, in an environment where appearances are everything, Wilde uses the stage to reflect just how ridiculous this preoccupation with externals is.

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Customer Reviews

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( 44 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 44 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2007

    Great fun!

    Recently many of the plays by Oscar Wilde have enjoyed a move to the silver screen. And done so with great praise. 'Importance of Being Earnest' is no different. While I love the move, especially Judy Dench, READING Oscar Wilde is what I like best. It's like a cool drink on a hot summer day, so poetic and fresh is his voice, his style. And even by today's standards he's funny. I enjoy his work on two levels: First, thinking about what it must have been like for those in the early part of the last century to watch these great plays, and second, seeing how they still hold up after all these years. 'Earnest' is filled with puns, plays on words, and a mind-bending plot. It's farce, fact, fiction, and fun. I highly recommend all Wilde's works, along with a book I recently picked up on Barnes and Noble titled 'katzenjammer' by J.T. McCrae which was also funny and well-written. Also, while still good, try Wilde's 'Picture of Dorian Gray' for another enjoyable read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2012

    Cool

    Like this one, so witty and crazy!

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  • Posted June 6, 2011

    Excellent book of plays!!!

    Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite authors! I just love how he introduces and supports two totally different points of views on life with every subject the characters talk about! Like The Picture of Dorian Gray, every page is quotable!!! However, I think that adding Salome to the end of the book was a bit anticlimactic. It took away from the general grandeur of the book. I just didn't like the play. But overall, great book to get.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Entertaining

    This is a great edition. The plays in this collection are very entertaining. The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere's Fan are my favorites in this book. The print is easy to read and the value is exceptional. I have read it so many times already, and I look forward to reading it again...and again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    earnest to read it :)

    i havent read this yet, however, i have seen the movie version with collin firth, rupert everett, reese witherspoon, etc., and it inspired me to read it!! the characters are so funny, its just perfection acted, if you dont have a chance to see it as a play, watch the movie! worth every penny.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2010

    Oscar Wilde is a Legend

    I bought this book of plays with the intention of gaining more exposure to Oscar Wilde (and he never disappoints.) I've only read "The Importance of Being Earnest" thus far, but every time I read some of some Oscar Wilde's material I grasp a heightened knowledge of just how unique he was in his writing style. If you're looking for comedy (nice, fine caricatures of the high Victorian society) than this is a marvelous book to read even if you're just reading it to relax -- but now I really want to see this play in action. Wilde is a legend!

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  • Posted February 13, 2010

    Oscar Wilde was a mad genius

    These plays are so, so funny. They reflect life in an era that is just SO different from today.

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  • Posted June 7, 2009

    Thank you Barns & noble!

    Great store and great prices for valuable books! keep your value up and also help educators and students.

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  • Posted June 2, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Excellent!

    As a previous reviewer has noted, Oscar Wilde leaves the reader laughing out loud on account of his incredible wit--he is, hands down, the funniest writer I've ever read. However, in spite of the deceptively lighthearted mood of his work, Wilde dares to ask penetrating questions about human nature and inserts subtly beautiful messages into his dramas. Excellent character development, dialogue, plot, and literary value--highly recommended!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2005

    I Love It!

    This is definitely something to read if you like satires. This book deserves a place on everyone's bookshelf!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2005

    Excellent!

    This was the first Oscar Wilde book I have read, and it was spectacular. Wilde finds a way to twist humor and mishap, and he does a wonderful job! Bravo, Mr. Wilde; this is definately a 'must-read' book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2004

    excellent

    Oscar wilde satirizes the aristocratic class of England in such a time when the British Empire was in total control.It is excellent because it gives one a complete picture of the age in which it was written.

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