This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Saturday Rave: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

All right, I admit it: I have some low tastes.

At the theatre a good farce will fill me with quite as much joy as the most improving work of stern modernism complete with baffling suicide, lampshade-wearing women, and a video-loop of a dog scratching itself outside a decaying garage.

In fact, if I'm being honest, it will bring me much more joy.

But all is not lost, for just occasionally low tastes and high art converge in a sherberty fountain of deliciousness. 

The Importance of Being Earnest is so well-known that it's full of quotations, but luckily even the non-quotation parts are worth quoting. Here's a passage completely at random:

GWENDOLEN: (severely): Had you never had a brother of any kind?
JACK (pleasantly) Never. Not even of any kind.
GWENDOLEN: I am afraid it is quite clear, Cecily, that neither of us is engaged to be married to any one.

Two lines later Jack says: Pretty mess you have got me into, which is very nearly a quotation of someone else.

The only thing wrong with The Importance of Being Earnest is that it's very hard to act. The timing has to be perfect, and the actors have to be charming, attractive and intelligent. So it's not easy to cast.

But when it is, it's glorious.

Michael Denison and Micheal Redgrave as Jack and Algernon.

Especially the bits between the quotes.

Word To Use Today: earnest. This word comes from the Old English eornost. It's related to the Old High German ernust, seriousness, the Old Norse ern, energetic, and the Gothic arniba. secure.


  1. Well written as usual Sally.
    But do tell, where is that sherberty fountain you spoke of.
    I'm hungry right now.
    As usual!

    1. Thanks so much, Jingles. I suppose if you took 3 tablespoons citric acid, 1 tablespoon baking soda, and 7 tablespoons icing sugar and ground them together to a fine powder, then all you'd need then is a fountain.

  2. I love The Importance of Being Earnest. It's a rare thing when virtually every line is a masterstroke.

    1. Vanishingly rare, Ed. If anyone's got any suggestions as to any others I'd be glad to feature them on a rave.

    2. One that pops into mind is Frasier - as a TV series I think it really is something special, combining high- and low-brow humour with slapstick and endless art references. And, critically, every line counts. I covered Frasier when writing about the word badinage.

      Seriously, what other TV comedy could get away with the line "Prepare to be stomped like a late harvest Gewürztraminer"?

    3. Frasier. Thanks, Ed. I've never actually seen it, but I'll put it on the list and see what I can do.