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Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest - A Trivial Comedy for serious People, in

Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest - A Trivial Comedy for serious People, in Three Acts. [Price One Shilling and Sixpence Net]. [Together with Stuart Mason's Bibliography on Oscar Wilde - Original Edition] First Edition / Original Acting Edition (Textbook). London/New York, Samuel French, [no date] c. 1900. 12,5 x 18,5 cm. [6], 52, [2] pages (with notice of Acting rights on pastedown and 2 pages of advertised works, published by French, in the back). Original printed wrappers (Softcover). Spinestrip damaged with more than two thirds missing. Bookblock a little shaky. But front and rear wrappers in very good condition besides a smaller, closed tear to front wrapper. Minor signs of foxing only. Few marginal notes in the text and some underlining in ink. COPAC locates only 6 copies worldwide (and all of them falsely mention 1893 as issue date, which results from the mentioning of the date on the titlepage as "Copyright , October 1893". On the Character - page below the title it correctly reads: "Played for the first time at the St.James's Theatre, on Thursday, February 14th, 1895". Remarkably rare and desirable collector's item of Wilde's masterpiece. Stuart Mason - Bibliography of Oscar Wilde - No. 384 (page 431). Later impression of the First Edition of the so-called "Acting Edition", containing an unrevised text ! This one sown, not wired. Barely any of these Textbooks survived. [The Dramatic Works of Oscar Wilde].

The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a play by Oscar Wilde. First performed on 14 February 1895 at the St James's Theatre in London, it is a farcical comedy in which the protagonists maintain fictitious personæ in order to escape burdensome social obligations. Working within the social conventions of late Victorian London, the play's major themes are the triviality with which it treats institutions as serious as marriage, and the resulting satire of Victorian ways. Contemporary reviews all praised the play's humour, though some were cautious about its explicit lack of social messages, while others foresaw the modern consensus that it was the culmination of Wilde's artistic career so far. Its high farce and witty dialogue have helped make The Importance of Being Earnest Wilde's most enduringly popular play.

The successful opening night marked the climax of Wilde's career but also heralded his downfall. The Marquess of Queensberry, whose son Lord Alfred Douglas was Wilde's lover, planned to present the writer with a bouquet of rotten vegetables and disrupt the show. Wilde was tipped off and Queensberry was refused admission. Soon afterwards their feud came to a climax in court, where Wilde's homosexual double life was revealed to the Victorian public and he was eventually sentenced to imprisonment. His notoriety caused the play, despite its early success, to be closed after 86 performances. After his release, he published the play from exile in Paris, but he wrote no further comic or dramatic work.

After the success of Wilde's plays Lady Windermere's Fan and A Woman of No Importance, Wilde's producers urged him to write further plays. In July 1894 he mooted his idea for The Importance of Being Earnest to George Alexander, the actor-manager of the St James's Theatre. Wilde summered with his family at Worthing, where he wrote the play quickly in August. His fame now at its peak, he used the working title Lady Lancing to avoid pre-emptive speculation of its content. Many names and ideas in the play were borrowed from people or places the author had known; Lady Queensberry, Lord Alfred Douglas's mother, for example, lived at Bracknell. There is widespread agreement among Wilde scholars that the most important influence on the play was W. S. Gilbert's 1877 farce Engaged; Wilde borrowed from Gilbert not only several incidents but, in Russell Jackson's phrase "the gravity of tone demanded by Gilbert of his actors".

Wilde continually revised the text over the next months: no line was left untouched, and "in a play so economical with its language and effects, [the revisions] had serious consequences". Sos Eltis describes Wilde's revisions as a refined art at work: the earliest, longest handwritten drafts of the play labour over farcical incidents, broad puns, nonsense dialogue and conventional comic turns. In revising as he did, "Wilde transformed standard nonsense into the more systemic and disconcerting illogicality which characterises Earnest's dialogue". Richard Ellmann argues that Wilde had reached his artistic maturity and wrote this work more surely and rapidly than before.

Wilde hesitated about submitting the script to Alexander, worrying that it might be unsuitable for the St James's Theatre, whose typical repertoire was relatively serious, and explaining that it had been written in response to a request for a play "with no real serious interest". When Henry James's Guy Domville failed, Alexander turned to Wilde and agreed to put on his play. Alexander began his usual meticulous preparations, interrogating the author on each line and planning stage movements with a toy theatre. In the course of these rehearsals Alexander asked Wilde to shorten the play from four acts to three. Wilde agreed and combined elements of the second and third acts. The largest cut was the removal of the character of Mr. Gribsby, a solicitor who comes from London to arrest the profligate "Ernest" (i.e., Jack) for his unpaid dining bills. Algernon, who is posing as "Ernest", will be led away to Holloway Jail unless he settles his accounts immediately. Jack finally agrees to pay for Ernest, everyone thinking that it is Algernon's bill when in fact it is his own. The four-act version was first played on the radio in a BBC production and is still sometimes performed. Peter Raby argues that the three-act structure is more effective, and that the shorter original text is more theatrically resonant than the expanded published edition.
The play was first produced at the St James's Theatre on Valentine's Day 1895. It was freezing cold but Wilde arrived dressed in "florid sobriety", wearing a green carnation. The audience, according to one report, "included many members of the great and good, former cabinet ministers and privy councillors, as well as actors, writers, academics, and enthusiasts". Allan Aynesworth, who played Algernon Moncrieff, recalled to Hesketh Pearson that "In my fifty-three years of acting, I never remember a greater triumph than [that] first night". Aynesworth was himself "debonair and stylish", and Alexander, who played Jack Worthing, "demure".
The Marquess of Queensberry, the father of Wilde's lover Lord Alfred Douglas (who was on holiday in Algiers at the time), had planned to disrupt the play by throwing a bouquet of rotten vegetables at the playwright when he took his bow at the end of the show. Wilde and Alexander learned of the plan, and the latter cancelled Queensberry's ticket and arranged for policemen to bar his entrance. Nevertheless, he continued harassing Wilde, who eventually launched a private prosecution against the peer for criminal libel, triggering a series of trials ending in Wilde's imprisonment for gross indecency. Alexander tried, unsuccessfully, to save the production by removing Wilde's name from the billing, but the play had to close after only 86 performances.

The play's original Broadway production opened at the Empire Theatre on 22 April 1895, but closed after sixteen performances. Its cast included William Faversham as Algy, Henry Miller as Jack, Viola Allen as Gwendolen, and Ida Vernon as Lady Bracknell. The Australian premiere was in Melbourne on 10 August 1895, presented by Dion Boucicault, Jr. and Robert Brough, and the play was an immediate success. Wilde's downfall in England did not affect the popularity of his plays in Australia.

Wilde's two final comedies, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest, were still on stage in London at the time of his prosecution, and they were soon closed as the details of his case became public. After two years in prison with hard labour, Wilde went into exile in Paris, sick and depressed, his reputation destroyed in England. In 1898, when no-one else would, Leonard Smithers agreed with Wilde to publish the two final plays. Wilde proved to be a diligent reviser, sending detailed instructions on stage directions, character listings and the presentation of the book, and insisting that a playbill from the first performance be reproduced inside. Ellmann argues that the proofs show a man "very much in command of himself and of the play". Wilde's name did not appear on the cover, it was "By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan". His return to work was brief though, as he refused to write anything else, "I can write, but have lost the joy of writing". (Wikipedia)

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Oscar Wilde - The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde - The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde - The Importance of Being Earnest

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