DUBLIN ON THE WORLD STAGE – FAMOUS LITERARY WORKS – #3 THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

For such a small dot on the map, we have produced more than our fair share of remarkable writers. You won’t believe the list of masterpieces to come from Dublin born novelists, playwrights and poets. If you love literature and cinema then you really must put Dublin on your wish list……

The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde – poet, playwright, novelist, essayist, short-story writer, master of wit and king of the one-liner – was born in Dublin on 16 October 1854. His father, Sir William Wilde, was a successful eye and ear surgeon and his mother a poet, Irish Nationalist and literary hostess.

Oscar was educated at home until nine years old, becoming fluent in French and German. He then attended Portora Royal School in Enniskillen before studying the Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. ( The Wilde Family belonged to the Church of Ireland – the Catholic Church banned its members from studying in Trinity. This ban was only finally lifted in 1970!!). He excelled here, winning the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek. He went on to win a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford in 1874.

During his time in Oxford he developed what was to be a lifelong interest in Catholicism, taking instruction and even obtaining an audience with Pope Pius lX in 1877. He graduated in 1878 and returned to Ireland for a short period before leaving for London to pursue a literary career.

His father had died in 1876, leaving him a small inheritance. This he supplemented by editing a woman’s magazine for a few years, writing for various publications and doing lecture tours.

A first book of poetry was published in 1881 and Wilde went on to produce many famous works – The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892), A Woman of No Importance (1893), Salomé ( 1893), An Ideal Husband (1895) and The Importance of Being Ernest (1895). He also published Fairy Tales and Essays.

Wilde married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and they had two sons. In 1891 he began an affair with Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed ‘Bosie’. Bosie’s father, the Marquis of Queensberry (best known for promoting the Queensberry Rules for amateur boxing), openly threatened Wilde – accusing him of homosexuality and warning him to keep away from his son. Wilde, encouraged by Bosie, sued Queensberry for libel. During the trial, Queensberry’s attorney made it clear that he would call young men with whom Wilde had had sexual encounters – a criminal offence. Wilde dropped his prosecution but the damage was done…. he was arrested, tried for sodomy and gross indecency and sentenced to two years imprisonment. Constance and the boys changed their name and moved to Switzerland – the couple never divorced

Wilde and Douglas

When Wilde left prison in 1897, he was bankrupt and his reputation and health were irreparably damaged. He spent the rest of his life in Europe, writing little of significance bar The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898). He died of meningitis in Paris on November 30, 1900. He was just 46 years old. Before he died, he finally converted to Roman Catholicism. He is buried in Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

The Importance of Being Earnest.

John Worthing lives in the country with his ward Cecily Cardew and her governess Miss Prism. He has invented a fictitious brother, Ernest- a wastrel who allows him an excuse to leave his country home on occasion and escape to London. He has won the love of Gwendolen, the cousin of his friend Algernon. Gwendolen believes him to be named Ernest – and she will only marry someone with that name. Gwendolen’s mother – Lady Bracknell – is rather put out to discover that Ernest / John has no parents – he is a foundling who was left in a handbag at Victoria Station.

“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” 

Algernon travels to John’s country home where he pretends to be the nonexistent brother Ernest and falls madly in love with the beautiful Cecily.

In the end, it is discovered that Miss Prism is the absent-minded nurse who twenty years ago misplaced the baby of Lady Bracknell’s brother in Victoria Station. This baby was actually called Ernest! So John, whose name is indeed Ernest, is Algernon’s elder brother, and the play ends happily for the two couples.

Wilde may have remarked that the first thing he forgot at Oxford was his Irish accent but he wrote with an outsider’s view of the English. In this play, he uses satire to mock what he saw as the trivial society of the Victorian era and pokes fun at aristocratic views on education, politics, class and marriage.   

The opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest was a major social event. This was his fourth major stage comedy in just three years – An Ideal Husband had only opened a month before and was playing to packed houses. The play was an immediate success but, within weeks, the Marquess of Queensbury would set in train the series of events that lead to Wilde’s downfall and disgrace. The play was withdrawn from performance – it was revived in 1902 but Wilde’s name was not to be included in the programme until 1909.

Quotable Oscar Wilde Quotes!

Always forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them so much.

I can resist everything but temptation.

What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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

True friends stab you in the front.

Women are meant to be loved, not to be understood.

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.

Be yourself; everyone else is taken.

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

One of us has to go (On his death bed looking at some dreadful wallpaper!)

Visiting Dublin?

You will find this life size statue (6ft 3inches) on the corner of Merrion Square, opposite his home. Wilde is aged about forty – when the world was his oyster…..

Notice his face – the left side is happy while the right is sad. Sculptor Danny Osborne wanted to illustrate the duel nature of his subject – comic and tragic / joyous and sombre.

Oscar adored beautiful stones so he’d be very happy with his statue!. He reclines on a 35 ton quartz boulder from the nearby Wicklow Mountains. His famous smoking jacket is carved in jade from the Yukon while pink thulite from Norway was used for the collar and cuffs . Hands and head are of White Guatemalan jade, trousers are blue pearl granite and shoes and socks are black Indian granite.  

The three-part sculpture makes reference to Wilde’s life. Across from him is the bronze torso of Dionysus – God of youth, wine, poetry and theatre – who was an inspiration to Oscar. His wife Constance kneels on the other pillar – 6 months pregnant and gazing back at her husband. Oscar’s first homosexual encounter supposedly occurred when she was at this stage of pregnancy with her second child. Oscar is not looking at her but beyond her towards his childhood home.

The Oscar Wilde House

Oscar’s childhood home is a beautiful Georgian building occupying the corner of Merrion Square. The Wilde family moved here shortly after Oscar was born. Guided tours run from April to September at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday – Friday. Visitors are taken through various rooms including the Wildes’ dining room, sitting room, and Sir William’s surgery. 

In 1954 a plaque was placed on the wall of 21 Westland Row to commemorate the birth of Oscar Wilde.

Before you go:

Have a look at other famous works from Dublin….

DUBLIN ON THE WORLD STAGE – FAMOUS LITERARY WORKS – #1 DRACULA

DUBLIN ON THE WORLD STAGE – FAMOUS LITERARY WORKS – #2 GULLIVER’S TRAVELS

25 thoughts on “DUBLIN ON THE WORLD STAGE – FAMOUS LITERARY WORKS – #3 THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

  1. I saw The Importance of Being Earnest at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, fit well. Wilde is probably better known for his witty quotes than for his literary work. There is also this very unconventional statue in Merrion Square.

    1. Even though ‘Earnest’ was on the curriculum when I was at school, and I know it well, I still love a stage production – there’s always something new….. If you’re not familiar with the rest of his work I’d recommend his novel – The Picture of Dorian Grey – XXXMarie

    1. Maybe it’s that very lifestyle and society that fed his genius. The spell in prison certainly broke him… But if there’s never been a court case – or illness, I’m sure Oscar would have hated old age… XXXMarie

  2. I was very interested in why the Catholic Church did not allow Irish Catholics to attend Trinity College Dublin. It turns out that you could apply for a dispensation to study there. It seem to take a lot of persuading to get ypur letter. It seems that the Church was worried that going to Trinity would might be morally corrupting for students (isn’t that the whole point of university, to broaden the mind, I say to myself)! https://www.independent.ie/life/family/learning/faith-of-our-fathers-my-fight-to-study-at-trinity-30050030.html

    1. Yes – broadening of the mind – as long as it was within a Catholic ethos!!…appears indefensible nowadays but Trinity was seen as a moral danger to the Catholic faith. You’re right – you could apply/appeal for a letter of dispensation – without it you were committing mortal sin. A Catholic in Trinity would be expected to avoid any societies and clubs that might influence or damage his faith, he’d be expected to attend regular religious services and preferably fraternize with other Catholics. The Church had a very powerful hold in Irish life…

      1. Well that helps put so many other things in context (mother and baby homes), things have changed a lot in the past couple of generations.

      2. There’s been a huge change really in a relatively short time – in my own lifetime I’ve seen the shift from an all powerful institution to almost total collapse….extraordinary when you think about it….

  3. Great article Marie, definitely another reason to go to Dublin, a city that continues to elude me. I once played Jack Worthing in a school production of The Importance of Being Earnest. Secretly though, I wish I’d been cast as Lady Bracknell. She seemed to have all the best lines. Really like those sculptures.

  4. What an excellent read this is – full of great info! I loved learning about the statue – its symbolism, the different stones used. I hadn’t realised you could visit Wilde’s home in Dublin – if we come again that will definitely be on my list!

    But you’ve omitted my favourite Wilde quote, ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’. There’s a sculpture of him in London, behind St Martin in the Fields, which has this on and I always stop when passing to remind me to look at the stars 🙂

    1. Ah – Lady Windemere’s Fan…
      There are just so many to choose from …
      Another of my favs.. ‘To live in this world is a rare thing; most people just exist’

  5. One of my favourite Oscar Wilde works!
    and one of the rare times I really enjoyed the movie-tization of it as much as the book – the 2002 movie with Colin Firth & Rupert Everett.

    1. Haven’t actually seen it! Like yourself I’m not a huge fan of movie drama adaptations but I’ll hunt this one down – always happy to see Rupert Everett!

      1. Dreadful if they cut power …Hope you’ve stocked up on batteries!! Bet there isn’t one left in the shops….

  6. I love Oscar Wild and his inspiring quotes and words of wisdom. Visiting Dublin and taking the Oscar Wilde tour or a self-guided tour of modern Dublin to indulge in a tribute to one of Ireland’s greatest literary heroes is a great way to spend a day. It is worth it to pay a visit to Oscar Wilde house, too (something that I’ve been planning to do one day) because the building is a beautiful example of Georgian architecture with many remarkable cornices and architraves throughout. Thanks for sharing and transporting me back to the beautiful Merrion Square; seeing your photographs makes me miss Dublin very much! Aiva xxx

    1. Now you know that a short visit back to the city will have you longing for your beautiful Sligo!!! XXXMarie

    1. I’ve just rooted out a bumper compilation of his works – you know the sort – 950 pages of dreadful paper and print and cost about €5!! So I’m all set to reread some of his work… I love those one-liners!

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