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December 19, 2011

A Woman of No Importance


A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde, 1893

I love everything that I have read, written by Oscar Wilde. And although this play is by far not one of his best, particularly when we compare it to other of his wonderful plays such as The Importance of Being Ernest, in the end, it is most gratifying.

Wilde is a giant in the English literature. Actually, it is my understanding that he was a rather tall and a strongly built fellow, i.e. a physical giant, as well. And such power carries on to his writings. But curiously enough, he can also imbue his or her characters with such elegant and delicate finesse, as to cover a full spectrum of emotions. I am pretty sure that George Bernard Shaw, which by the way I am also quite fond of, was heavily influenced by his fellow Irish author. It is perhaps because they were Irish, but both authors display a delightful irreverence towards the British society of their respective times; thus, making them quite audacious, insanely witty and thought provoking, to say the least.

The four act play, a comedy of manners of sorts, takes place around autumn within the span of an evening and a day. If this was a movie, we would be seeing extremely close camera angles; in their face, so to speak. They are gathered in the terrace at Lady’s Hunstanton Chase. They are mostly talking about banalities; trivial inconsequential stuff that one would think the “uppers” would engage in, in order to amuse themselves.

All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his.

The highlight of the evening is the news that twenty year old unremarkable Gerald Arbuthnot had landed a job offer to be the personal secretary of Lord Illingworth, a true rascal and philander, by all accounts. Unbeknownst to both of them, they are in fact, father and son. Before becoming a Lord, when he was quite young he had an affair with the then innocent Mrs. Arbuthnot which resulted in her becoming pregnant and he, [Illingworth], recanted on his assurances that he would marry, as he had promised, perhaps as means of seducing her. At the time Lord Illingworth was George Hartford, a plain bloke with little chance towards Lordship.

Mrs. Arbuthnot was not aware that he now went by the name of Lord Illingworth and when by sheer happenstance they meet that same evening, all things turn into turmoil. Illingworth, who had never married, is now fascinated with the prospects of a son and tries to make amends with Rachel, i.e. Mrs. Arbuthnot. But being the rascal that he is, he makes a rather nasty pass at Mrs. Hester Worsley, a high tempered and exceedingly wealthy young American puritan, an orphan young and good looking woman which is also visiting from the United States and who happens to be in love with George Arbuthnot; Rachel’s son.

The most interesting part takes place in Act IV, the last act, at Mrs. Arbuthnot’s House at Wrockley. There are some emotional scenes to the effect of whether Lord Illingworth and Mrs. Arbuthnot’s will marry in order to make things right. But of course, you will have to read the play in order to find out.

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