Do you really keep a diary?

ALGERNON Do you really keep a diary? I’d give anything to look at it. May I?

CECILY Oh no. [Puts her hand over it.] You see, it is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication. When it appears in volume form I hope you will order a copy. —Oscar WildeDo you really keep a diary? (The Importance of Being Earnest)

When Cecily and Gwendolyn whip out their diaries in order to determine which of the two of them is really engaged to Earnest, I can’t help imagining them typing “proposal” into a weblog search engine.

Also worth noting about The Importance of Being Earnest

[T]he theme of child abuse is picked up and parodied in Earnest. This theme was considered especially heartbreaking by the Victorians, and Wilde himself uses it at times to wring our hearts a bit, but in Earnest, even the abused child is manipulated to create an atmosphere of hilarity as Wilde has a good laugh at his earlier works.

Nassaar, Christopher. “Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.” Explicator, Vol. 60 Issue 2 (2002). 78-80.

I appreciated Naassar’s comparison between this play and Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, which I teach for my Media Aesthetics course. Yet I think it’s a bit dismissive to conclude, as Nassaar does, “all is laughable nonsense, even Wilde himself.” As actors say, good comedy is hard to do. Wilde has created not just a work of nonsense, but a linguistically complex, layered set of puns and witticisms that spoof social class comedies in general and the well-made-play in particular.

In Drama as Literature, we have just read A Doll’s House, and students predictably spent more time considering Nora’s character and Torvald’s motives than they spent examining the importance of Krogstad’s letters or the backstory that makes Nora a forger and liar even before the story begins.

Earnest brings the “incriminating papers” prop to another level, where in fact the hero as a baby is mistakenly exchanged with the manuscript of a three-volume novel. Algernon and Jack play-act the role of Earnest, while Gwendolyn and Cecily write in their journals (though Cecily’s work is more exaggerated and fictional than Gwendolyn, given the fact that Gwendolyn has been courted by a man calling himself Earnest, and Cecily has never met any such man).