Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Woman of No Importance - Oscar Wilde

I really like Oscar Wilde. I have enjoyed all the plays and stories I have read from him. Unfortunately, I didn’t like A Woman of No Importance as much as I liked his other work.

It is not that I disliked the play, it had fun dialogue and witty banter but I thought it was just not as good as I expected and the only expression that comes to mind to describe how I felt when I finished reading it, is “meeehhh”.

I know, I should not use “meeehh” to describe anything in a review, but that is exactly what I said out loud in the last page.

The plot has everything one could expect from an Oscar Wilde play. It has dark comedy; it mocks the upper class of Victorian England and has great dialogue.  

[Spoiler Alert!] Lord Illingworth discovers that his young secretary is in fact the son he abandoned. He sees his formed lover, Mrs. Arbuthnot, for the first time after twenty years and she obviously resents him. They both realize that their past is catching up to them and it is inevitable for their son, Gerald, to discover the truth. 

The play highlights the position of women at the time, specially related to pre-marital relations and having children outside the marriage. One could say it is a feminist work. It certainly shows how a woman’s life was ruined when she became pregnant before getting married, while a man could continue as if nothing had happened. I could definitely perceive what Wilde thought of these conservative conventions and prejudices and how unfair women were treated.

I think this is a  story that has been told many times before, in Wilde's plays as well. Despite of that, I can’t help feeling that something is missing. There are all these characters: Mrs. Allonby, Mrs. Lady Hunstanton, Lady Pontefract, the Archdeacon, Lady Stutfield, Mr. Kelvil, etc. They all represent different sides of the Victorian upper class society, which Wilde mocks so very much, but aside from that I can’t actually see any other purpose for them in the story. Maybe there’s something I’m not getting, my own context being so far away from England, even more from Victorian England, that I might be missing some “inside joke”.

There is a lot of talking before the climax of the play arrives and even then I found it rather dull and forced. I hated when Gerald tried to convince his mother to marry Lord Illingworth. The drama created after Gerald discovered the truth seems forced and unnatural. Honor is an important thing but how much of an idiot you have to be to try to convince your own mother to marry the man that treated her and her child like trash. Or maybe that is what Wilde was trying to portray, the absurdity of the social conventions people had to live with.

On the other hand, there are some remarkable moments that I did enjoy, for example:

“Men always want to be a woman’s first love. That is their clumsy vanity. We women have a more subtle instinct about things. What we like is to be a man’s last romance”.

“One has never heard his name before in the whole course of one’s life, which speaks volumes for a man, nowadays”.

That is obviously brilliant writing. A Woman of No Importance is not a bad play, according to my humble opinion, it is a good play. But after what I have already read from Oscar Wilde, good is definitely not what I expected. I might sound like my former ballet teacher, but I was not expecting good, I was expecting great.

And now here I am feeling like an idiot for criticizing the work of one of the greatest playwrights ever.

I recommend this play to those who love Wilde and have read his other work before. To those who haven’t read anything from him, I suggest starting with The Importance of Being Earnest, An Ideal Husband or The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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