This is not a complete book review, in as much as I haven’t actually completed reading the whole book, which is a volume of all of Oscar Wilde’s plays with notes and an introduction by Anne Varty. In an earlier post, I confessed to not having read any of Wilde’s work due to my rather uneducated prejudiced opinion of him as a sexist writer. So in starting to read the book, I am not only sampling the literary work of a yet unread celebrated writer and counter-culture icon, but I am consciously embarking on an investigative mission to settle that question for myself: was Oscar Wilde sexist? (and more importantly, to find out once and for all: was it really Oscar Wilde who said they had minds like Swiss cheese?). And in that respect, I know that my perspective may be a bit skewed by the violet feminist glasses I am wearing to examine his work.
Now, on to the book:
As I mentioned, it contains all of Wilde’s plays in chronological order, which I guess is always the best way to approach any work by an artist unknown with whom one wants to familiarize oneself. However, in this instance, I skipped the introduction and earlier plays, and dove right into The Importance of Being Earnest. And this is simply because I was especially curious about this play, it being always referenced as the epitome of that Wilde-ian wit and humor. And I must say, I was amazed by Wilde’s craftsmanship. So much so that I set aside the violet glasses through which I had set out to scrutinize the contents, just to focus on savoring the literary style; his linguistic prowess is only matched by the acumen of his wit.
To me, English being my third language (counting my mother tongue), the carefully structured comebacks and epigrams, albeit too labored to make the intense dialogue all too realistic or natural (unless one is in perfect command of the language and possession of light-speed wit), are simply highly enjoyable. The overall pace and humor is of impeccable timing, the play just feels tight – as a contemporary example of what I mean, I can only compare the work in that aspect to Fawlty Towers (and I am not sure if this makes me think higher of John Cleese or of Oscar Wilde).
As to the sexism question, it remains as yet unanswered. I will definitely be rereading The Importance of Being Earnest as I go through the book, it will surely add to my perception of it to read it in the context of Wilde’s other work. But for now I would say that my first impression is that Wilde stood at equal distance from all his characters; that is: he ridiculed each of them equally hard, and in a delightful way.
I originally wanted this entry to be of my review of Vera – which I had just finished and from which I am reading on in chronological order. But I find this post, actually started as an introduction to said review, has gotten long enough already; so, I will be following it up later on with a brief review of Vera.