Hesketh Pearson on The Importance of Being Earnest

In an earlier chapter it was remarked that the perfect fusion of the immature emotional side of Wilde's nature with the over-mature intellectual side produced a masterpiece. The Importance of being Earnest is that masterpiece. It could only have been written by one in whom boyishness and braininess were combined to an extraordinary degree. With his three serio-comedies Wilde may be compared with Sheridan, though The School for Scandal remains by far our best comedy of manners. But with Earnest he stands alone. It comes in no category. To call it a farcical comedy is obvious but fatuous. It is like no farce and no comedy and no farcical comedy on earth. It follows no rules and makes its own laws as it goes along. One cannot even call it perfect of its kind, because there is no kind. It is sui generis, perfect of itself, and the quintessence of Oscar. It ridicules everything that human beings take seriously: birth, baptism, love, marriage, death, burial, illegitimacy and respectability; yet so lightheartedly and so absurdly that only a humourless clergyman could take offence at it. Wilde called it ``A Trivial Comedy for Serious People'' and said: ``The first act is ingenious, the second beautiful, the third abominably clever.'' All of it is ingenious, all of it is abominably clever, and the whole of it is beautiful because perfection is beauty. Many people, with Shaw, have complained that it is not something else, not serious enough, not like life, not a dozen other things. But Wilde did not wish to move people, except to laughter. He set out to provide a dish that would be pleasing to the palate and joyfully digested; and the unique trifle he served up for us has become a classic.


Hesketh Pearson: Oscar Wilde, His Life and Wit end of chapter 14.


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