Book Review // A Woman of No Importance

A Woman of No Importance^- Oscar Wilde

When I was 16 and studying for my English Literature A Level, this was one of the first texts we studied. At the time, I was hopelessly in love with this lip-pierced, ear-tunneled, emo-fringed, Scottish-accented, rock band member in my class who didn't even know I existed. (Actually, that's a lie. Once after an exam, he sat next to me in the library and asked how I'd found it. I garbled some nonsense then fell silent and kicked myself forever more... or at least for the next few months). Anyway, our teacher would assign us roles to read out and one day he asked me to play the part of Gurneet's (the aforementioned rock god totty) lover and it was the highlight of my course. For this reason, I've always felt a bit of an affinity with this play so when I saw the exact same edition in the local charity shop, I snapped it right up! 

First written in 1893, Wilde's A Woman of No Importance is a play concerned with the lives of English high society and the lengths they go to in order to cover up scandal. Lady Hunstanton holds a get-together at her home for various friends including young Gerald Arbutnot, who has been offered the role of secretary for powerful Lord Illingworth. Gerald and Lord Illingworth have become extremely close in a short amount of time and the younger of the two is excited to have such a great career opportunity, until his reclusive mother arrives and shocks him with a family secret. 

It goes without saying that Wilde's writing is powerful, witty and relevant to this day. Interestingly, many of the lines in this play are taken directly from The Picture of Dorian Gray which is particularly telling when you consider the close relationship between Gerald and Lord Illingworth. There are certainly hints at homosexuality, in much the same way Dorian Gray is ensnared by the older, powerful Lord Wotton. 

Although A Woman of No Importance provides a telling (although no doubt exaggerated) peek into Victorian society, the climax of the play is extremely predictable. I'm not sure if this is because of modern exposure to similarly-structured texts or if it's down to the plot, but I certainly was not surprised by the revelations. However, there was a definite feeling of tension building as the secret was close to being revealed.

Returning quickly to Wilde's renowned wit and humour, here are some of my favourite quotes from the play: 

One can survive anything these days, except death, and live down anything except a good reputation.

The Ideal Man should talk to us as if we were goddesses, and treat us as if we were children. (I like this line because I'm pretty sure Rich would say this is exactly how I expect him to be!)

When one is in love one begins by deceiving oneself. And one ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance. (This is a line borrowed almost verbatim from The Picture of Dorian Gray)

I do so love Wilde's way with words but I did find the plot of this play to be quite weak. The problem with how easy it was to predict took away much of the impact and it's difficult for me to remember the details in the first, slower-paced act. These affect the rating and take it down to six out of ten.
I much preferred The Picture of Dorian Gray, which has many of the same lines and plot devices but in a stronger context.

...Oh, by the way, if Gurneet's reading this, I'm sorry for being such a creep!

ETA: I think I saw Gurneet at Reading station the day after I wrote this. Not even joking!

1 comment :

  1. I remember playing Hester in that classroom reading. It was witty enough but I agree, a bit weaker than some of the others he wrote


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