Bunburying—a term that indicates a double life as an excuse for absence. (Source: Wikipedia)
Have you ever felt the need to escape some certain situations and create a fictitious character as your excuse? John (or “Jack”) Worthing, a landowner in Hertfordshire of twenty nine years of age, presents himself as Ernest Worthing in front of his love interest, Gwendolen Fairfax, her mother Lady Bracknell, and also to Gwendolen’s cousin who’s also Jack’s best friend, Algernon Moncrieff. On other occasions, in front of his ward Cecily Cardew and Miss Prism her guardian; Jack uses the character Ernest as his rebellious and irresponsible younger brother who always gets into trouble and requires Jack’s assistance all the time. Ernest was merely Jack’s tool to run away for a while from his responsibilities. Through one trivial accident, Jack was pushed to confess to Algernon that Ernest is just a product of his imagination. At the same time, Algy confesses to Jack that he also invented a character named Bunbury, who is said to be his invalid friend who has extraordinarily bad health. Algy called this activity of double life as “Bunburying” and that he and Jack were “Bunburyists”.
Jack’s problem continues when Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell came to visit Algy’s flat. Algy has agreed to give time to Jack to speak to Gwendolen by distracting Lady Bracknell’s attention. Jack then used the time to propose to Gwendolen, but then he got taken aback by Gwendolen’s speech that “her ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest.” The proposal was interrupted by Lady Bracknell, who then enquired Jack for the matters of his property and family background.
On the next act, Algernon decided to steal the identity of Ernest and came to the Manor House in Hertforshire and met Jack’s young and beautiful ward, Cecily. At the same time as Algy’s “debut” as Ernest, Jack decided to “kill” his fictitious brother and showed up at the Manor House dressed in mourning clothes. You can imagine the confusion that would soon take place. Cecily and Gwendolen got entangled in confusion too when they met and realized that they both have fallen in love with a man with the name of Ernest. Of course they fell in love with two different men; Gwendolen fell in love with Jack and Cecily with Algernon. The play concludes with the revealing of Jack’s true identity, surprisingly by Lady Bracknell.
Two words that can perfectly describe this play: Funny and Absurd.
What’s funny? The interaction between Jack and Algy, especially when they fought over muffins. Algy’s craving for cucumber sandwiches.
What’s absurd? Gwendolen’s (and also Cecily’s) personal obsession about the name Ernest, Lady Bracknell’s points of view and her interview (or rather interrogation) to Jack regarding his proposal to Gwendolen, Cecily with her imaginative mind and her diary, and also Gwendolen and Cecily’s suspiciously fast growing friendship. One last thing that is absurd is how Jack and Algernon take the act of christening so casually. Interesting how the absurdities in this play are at the same time funny.
I really enjoyed reading this play, because it’s witty and easy to read (unlike Shakespeare plays which need double reading the modern version on NFS). In fact, I only have to look for some unfamiliar words on the dictionary, and voila! I finished reading it in about 3 hours. This play mocks duplicity and hypocrisy as well as Victorian traditions, social customs, and marriage. To modern readers, we may as well admit that we also practice “Bunburying” in some ways—we need not create fictional characters, but we simply tell lies or excuses to keep away from our duties. So it is now our decision whether to continue living as a “Bunburyist” or we can realize the vital importance of being earnest. 😉
The Importance of Being Earnest (as part of The Plays of Oscar Wilde, page 361-418), by Oscar Wilde
58 pages, published April 2000 by Wordsworth Classics/Wordsworth Editions Ltd (first published August 1894)
My rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
This review is also counted for Books Into Movies Monthly Meme hosted by HobbyBuku’s Classic.
After reading the play I watched the movie adaptation of it, which was released in 2002 and directed by Oliver Parker with Colin Firth as Jack Worthing, Rupert Everett as Algernon Moncrieff, Frances O’Connor as Gwendolen, Reese Witherspoon as Cecily and Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell. Despite of some alterations on the set and timeline, it was quite faithful to the original play. I particularly liked how Judi Dench carried the role of Lady Bracknell perfectly. Well, she has always been amazing. Here are some differences between the play and the adaptation: (1) Jack Worthing is thirty five in the adaptation, he should be only twenty nine. (2) In the adaptation, Jack is Algy’s younger brother while in the original play he is actually Algy’s older brother. (3) One interesting thing that Gwendolen tattooed the name Ernest on her body. (4) And the ending is slightly different. Just slighty– if you have watched the movie, then you will get what I mean… Overall, both the play and the adaptation are essentially enjoyable and entertaining. See the trailer below.