Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: The Works of Oscar Wilde

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, May 18, 2001

“It is quite true, Dorian,” said Lord Henry, gravely. “It is in all the morning papers. I wrote down to you to ask you not to see anyone till I came. There will have to be an inquest, of course, and you must not be mixed up in it. Things like that make a man fashionable in Paris. But in London people are so prejudiced. Here, one should never make one’s début with a scandal. One should reserve that to give an interest to one’s old age.”

Oscar Wilde is one of the most fascinating and interesting writers Ireland has produced--and his writings are almost as fascinating.

AuthorOscar Wilde
Length1,216 pages
Book Rating6

The “Portable” Oscar Wilde is perfect for carrying Oscar around in your travels. It includes “Dorian Gray”, “The Importance of Being Earnest”, poetry and 714 pages of Oscar Wilde’s writings. The “Complete” Oscar Wilde has twice the page count of the “Portable” Oscar Wilde but cannot be carried on trains. Note that the last I checked, the paperback version of the “Complete Oscar Wilde” was twenty dollars, and the hardcover a hundred dollars. You probably don’t want the hardcover.

Both books have enough Oscar Wilde to keep you occupied for a long, long time. The first Oscar Wilde work that I ever read was “The Importance of Being Earnest”, and it was the first play that I really enjoyed simply reading. When I went to London (the only time I’ve been overseas), I made it a point to see “Earnest” performed at the Old Vic, or the Young Vic, I can’t remember which now. It was a short walk across the London Bridge and away from the rest of the theatres on Drury Lane. It was an experience I’ll always remember even if I can’t remember which Vic I was in when I had it.

A number of Wilde’s works have been made into movies (and there’s been a movie about his life as well), most recently “An Ideal Husband” with a brilliant cast including Rupert Everett. And it appears that “Dorian Gray” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” will be coming out in 2001 and 2002, respectively. His works are regaining the widespread popularity that they held before his trial.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” is probably the classic Wilde play. Algernon Moncrief and John “Jack” Worthing are close friends; Algernon is wasting his life away (and is thus the hero of the play) while Jack is pining away for Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen. Gwendolen’s mother, Algernon’s Aunt Augusta, refuses the marriage, because Jack has no past: he has no idea who his parents are. But he does spend a lot of time in the country, and it due to a misplaced cigarette case it occurs to Algernon that perhaps he should visit his friend in the country, as abhorrent as leaving the city might seem. What follows is a case of doubly-mistaken identity that results in that most terrible of all horrors, marriage.

If you’ve read “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” you’ve heard reference to this play, although you may not know it: after reading “The Importance of Being Earnest,” go back to “So Long, and Thanks For All the Fish” and re-read Fenchurch’s explanation of her name.

Jack: You had much better dine with your Aunt Augusta.

Algernon: I haven’t the smallest intention of doing anything of the kind. To begin with, I dined there on Monday, and once a week is quite enough to dine with one’s own relations. In the second place, whenever I do dine there I am always treated as a member of the family, and sent down with either no woman at all, or two. In the third place, I know perfectly well whom she will place me next to, tonight. She will place me next Mary Farquhar, who always flirts with her own husband across the dinner-table. That is not very pleasant. Indeed, it is not even decent... and that sort of thing is enormously on the increase. The amount of woman in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one’s clean linen in public.

Wilde is known as well for his quotes as he is for his writing as a whole, and “Earnest” is probably the largest gold-mind of Wilde quotes, with its making fun of the upper class, the lower class, the middle class, marriage, bachelors, old people, young people, priests, teachers, and writers. You can find a quote in “Earnest” skewering just about anyone you can imagine.

His most philosophical work is also his longest novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” a tale of self-destruction and an over-reaching love of beauty. Idealistic Basil Hallward and cynical Lord Henry meet and educate the young, naive, incredibly handsome Dorian Gray.

The worship of the senses has often, and with much justice, been decried, men feeling a natural instinct of terror about passions and sensations that seem stronger than themselves, and that they are conscious of sharing with the less highly organized forms of existence. But it appeared to Dorian Gray that the true nature of the senses had never been understood, and that they had remained savage and animal merely because the world had sought to starve them into submission or to kill them by pain, instead of aiming at making them elements of a new spirituality, of which a fine instinct for beauty was to be the dominant characteristic. As he looked back upon man moving through History, he was haunted by a feeling of loss. So much had been surrendered! and to such little purpose!

I have placed links to purchase “Dorian Gray” and “The Importance of Being Earnest” separately, but I strongly recommend spending a few extra dollars to pick up the complete collection.

The Works of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

Recommendation: Purchase

If you enjoyed The Works of Oscar Wilde…

For more about Oscar Wilde, you might also be interested in Oscar Wilde (Selected Works).

For more about Victorian literature, you might also be interested in New Grub Street and The Funds in Victorian Literature.