Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Importance of Being Oscar


I have this copy of The Sketch from 1895 because it contains one of my few original Baron Corvo discoveries, a photograph, detailed on this blog some four years ago. It is only tonight that I have noticed also within its pages, this 'review' of two of Oscar Wilde's plays. To my mind the reviewer so misunderstands the plays that the whole things becomes quite comical. However, there is also some real poignancy to this since just two days before this was published, the Marquis of Queensbury left his calling card for Wilde at his club and set in train the fateful series of events we all know so well.


The Importance of Being Oscar

It cannot be made a reproach against the English people (writes a correspondent) that they are unduly influenced by the Press. In theatrical matters especially they show a resolute determination to judge for themselves. Vainly, in various instances, have the critics endeavoured to silence, by their whispers, wild shouts of applause, or to scold the Public into going to see a play it does not fancy. But the Public is a very curious thing; it is sometimes perverse, and even obstinate, and it has evidently made up its mind to like the plays of Mr. Oscar Wilde.

The play at present being given at The Haymarket is a great success, notwithstanding the fact that its point and object have not been entirely understood: I mean the overthrowing of the contemporary fad about the disproportionate value of woman in modern life. "A man's life," says Lord Goring, in "An Ideal Husband", "is more important than a woman's; it has a wider scope, larger issues, higher ambitions. A woman's life revolves in curves of emotion: it is on the straight lines of intellect that a man's life progresses, . . . . If you can keep a man's love, and love him in return, you have done all that we ask of woman." Thus Mr. Wilde places the newest woman in a very charming atmosphere of softness, of gentleness, of forgiveness. And are these not her very raison d'etre? He has shown that, as a man can love, knowing every fault and folly of a woman - loving her, it may be, for these faults and follies the better - so might she also love without idealising him, without trying so vainly to deprive him of his natural sins. After the first shock of knowing her husband doomed to disgrace and exposure, we see Lady Chiltern by his side in sympathising fellowship, ready to mourn with his sorrow, but not to reproach him with his fault. "The Importance of Being Earnest," again, is deliciously, airily irresponsible: an extraordinary sustained effort of wit and humour. In brilliant dialogue Mr. Wilde is without rival; and how versatile an artist he is! Not only a poet, an essayist, a novelist, "an amateur of beautiful things and a dilettante of things delightful," but one of the most brilliant playwrights of modern times. Why carp at "improbability" in what is confessedly the merest delicate bubble of fancy? Why not acknowledge, honestly, a debt of gratitude to one who adds to unmistakably to the gaiety of the nation?

When called before the curtain, with almost uproarious applause, at the St James's on Thursday night, Mr. Wilde must assuredly have felt, with a subtle enjoyment, all the Importance of Being Oscar.

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