The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde

importance of being earnest

Once again I managed to combine reading a play with watching the play performed on stage afterwards (the last one was Death of a Salesman a few months ago). This time it’s the delightful play by my favorite author Oscar Wilde. It is funny, in a very 19th century English way. I enjoyed the way it pokes fun at the class system of the time, courting and marriage.

I listened to the Overdue Podcast (my latest favorite podcast!) about the play just yesterday, and the guys seem to think of the play as being too lighthearted and mainly word play, which I found very interesting, though disagree with. Perhaps you need to be a certain type of person to appreciate Wilde’s style — tackling serious things in life with a healthy dose of humour, as made clear by his very own quote: “We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.”

I’m nodding. Yes, yes, YES.

Oscar Wilde is known for his witty quotes that I often found scattered all over the internet, and I was happy to find many familiar lines in this play and got to know them in the context they’re originally from. Some of them in the order of their appearances (and the characters that say them):

“The very essence of romance in uncertainty.” – Algernon

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” – Algernon

“Health is the primary duty of life.” – Lady Bracknell

“A man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing.” – Lady Bracknell

“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” – Algernon

“I don’t like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.” – Cecily

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.” – Gwendolen

“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.” – Gwendolen

The 2015 Play at Vaudeville Theatre, London

The Importance of Being Earnest has 5 major characters: 2 couples and an imposing Aunt figure, as you can see in the poster of the 2015 London play below.

My great surprise was the aunt – Lady Bracknell – was played by a man! (David Suchet) Even more surprised to find that it has happened before in 2011 production with Geoffrey Rush! I would love to see Geoffrey Rush playing Lady Bracknell. Just thinking about already put a smile to my face :)

earnestlondon

The rest of the casts quite fit with how I imagined them to be. Algernon was played by Philip Cumbus, Jack is played by Michael Benz. Gwendolen is played by Emily Barber, and last but not least, probably my favorite actress of the night, was Imogen Doel, playing Cecily (far right in the poster).

The thing with English period play like this is that sometimes it could be challenging to fully catch the speech with thick, sort of old-ish accent — with its high up and down tone (I find modern accent easier), depending on the actor/actress and how far back or high up you sit. Keep in mind too that plays in West End don’t usually use microphones, as the theaters are pretty small. Even if the theatre is quite well built the actors do need to make considerable effort to be audible and comprehensible (you can’t mumble!). So my favorite actress/actor is often the person whose speech is the clearest, and in this case it’s young Cecily :). Every time she entered, the stage felt a bit brighter too. Love.

I feel that the script could be enjoyed by itself — I did. I thought it was funny even without being spoken out loud. But if you have a chance to go see it performed, definitely do.

Mee’s rating (on script): 5/5

 

Chess – Stefan Zweig

Chess - ZweigChess

Chess or Chess Story is a novella by Stefan Zweig, a German-speaking Austrian author. It’s been published by a few of my favorite publishers, as pictured above, i.e. NYRB Classics, Pushkin Press, though I read the more humble edition published by Penguin:

Chess

The book is tiny. With 80 pages long, I wondered how it managed to be published on its own, and not with a collection of some sort. It’s borderline long short-story.

Stefan Zweig was someone that I’d been meaning to read for a while. He’s the kind of author that I may have missed had I not read blogs — so loved he is by the book blogging community. Though The Grand Budapest Hotel has probably helped to raise his profile more. I already have a few of his books ready, but as we’re nearing the end of 2016, with still quite a few book commitments at hand, I decided to choose his shortest book: Chess.

And what a compelling read it was. What story telling! The book is set in a large passenger steamer going from New York to Buenos Aires. Words go around that there’s a world chess champion on board. Thus the scene is set quickly. The setting is laid, the gun is out on the table.

We’re then told the fascinating background story of this champion, who you may think at this point is the main character of the story. But hold on, he’s not. There’s more to come.

I absolutely enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read more of Stefan Zweig’s work. Should I read Beware of Pity next, or The Post-Office Girl? I also have The Society of Crossed Keys – a compilation of Zweig’s writings by Wes Anderson.

Mee’s rating: 5/5 – a satisfying read from a new-to-me author

Stefan-Zweig-001
Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) — Zweig studied in Austria, France, and Germany before settling in Salzburg in 1913. In 1934, driven into exile by the Nazis, he emigrated to England and then, in 1940, to Brazil by way of New York. Finding only growing loneliness and disillusionment in their new surroundings, he and his second wife committed suicide. (Yes, the good one always committed suicide.)

Chess is my first entry for Austria for my Reading the World project, and German Literature Month V (my first time participating!). The book is also included in 1001 books you must read before you die list.

The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling

I read the free Kindle version, but I'm using this cover for this post because it's one of my favorite Jungle Book covers :)
I read the free Kindle version, but I’m using this cover because I like it. Also Harper Collins version comprises only the first Jungle Book, while the Oxford World Classics for example, while it has a nice cover, comprises both the first and second Jungle Book.

The Jungle Book is a collection of short stories by Nobel Prize in Literature winner Rudyard Kipling. A lot of us probably know The Jungle Book from the Disney cartoon — I did. I remember my dad telling me that The Jungle Book is his favorite Disney movie. And talking about movie, there’s a good reason why I read this now. You may be aware that Disney is remaking a lot of his old cartoons, and that includes The Jungle Book. But in fact, there is not one upcoming Jungle Book movie, but TWO. One will be out in 2016 (the Disney remake), and one in 2017. (I know this very well because yours truly is currently working on one of them :).

The book is now on public domain (Is that the reason why there are 2 movies coming out around the same time?) so you can get it on Kindle or Project Gutenberg for free. There are 7 short stories in total, each story is followed by a poem.

Surprisingly to me, only the first three stories are about Mowgli and his jungle friends (and frenemies). All the familiar characters appear in the 3 stories: Bagheera the black panther, Baloo the bear, Shere Khan the tiger, Kaa the snake, and the monkey people.

I’m well aware that Disney takes much liberty in its adaptations, and how the movies are always quite different compared to their original stories, so I was well prepared and wasn’t easily surprised. There are a couple of characters that didn’t make the cut into the Disney movie: the wolf that takes Mowgli as a baby – Akela, and the annoying figure Tabaqui the indian jackal (for some reason he always appears in my mind as hyena). Shere Khan is a limp tiger, and he’s not exactly brave or honorable.

And if I haven’t been clear enough, the stories are nothing Disney-ish. They’re pretty harsh by today’s standard of children stories, and Mowgli in particular is a lot stronger and more assertive than the Mowgli I remember from my childhood.

The other 4 stories also feature animal characters and occasional humans. The White Seal features a white furred seal who sort of plays Moses role as he searches and finds a “promised” safe land and takes all his seal people there. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi features a mongoose who defends the human family he lives with from a couple of cobras. Toomai of the Elephants is about a boy who’s on his way to become a respectable elephant handler (or mahout). In Her Majesty’s Servants we get a glimpse of a late night conversation among a bunch of camp animals right before an important parade the next day.

I quite enjoyed all the stories — the Mowgli stories in particular, perhaps because of the familiarity and the continuity of characters. I did have a slight reservation when I reached the fourth story and realized that Mowgli stories have passed, and in fact I was taken out of the jungle altogether despite the Jungle Book title for the collection. But overall I found them refreshing and quite charming.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

Rudyard_Kipling_(portrait)

There are more Mowgli stories in The Second Jungle Book and I might go read it at some point, but for now I’m happy to have a taste of Kipling. Fun facts: Rudyard Kipling was the first English-language writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, and he’s also the youngest recipient to date, who was 42 years old when he received the prize in 1907.

Way back when I was a kid I never realized that The Jungle Book was set in India. I guess I instinctively associated animals with Africa. Kipling’s background of having born in India and spent some time there really interests me, so I look forward to reading more of his work, in particular Kim, as I heard good things about it.

 

Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson

Notes from a Small Island

Notes from a Small Island is Bill Bryson’s chronicle of journey around Britain in the 90s “for the last time”, right before he and his family moved back to the US. It’s a coincidence that I read this a few months ago, before I knew that his new book was coming, called The Road to Little Dribbling (subtitled More Notes From a Small Island), which is about his journey around Britain in recent years, 20 years after the trip of Notes from a Small Island.

In the same fashion as Neither Here Nor There, which is about Bryson’s journey around Europe in the 90s, it is funny and immensely entertaining. Much the same with Bryson, I wasn’t an Anglophile before I came to London, and turned to one almost immediately right when I stepped on this small island. He did not know when he came here that he’d marry an English woman and call this place home for the next couple of decades (like I didn’t know I’d be here for this long – 4.5 years and counting).

In fact now we know from his sequel to Notes from a Small Island that he and his family did come back to Britain after a few years stint in the US. So clearly their hearts are still here, and that fondness shows in Notes. It might take me a while to read the second book but I hope the warm sentiments were not lost — it doesn’t seem so from a couple of brief reviews that I read.

I probably don’t need to mention it, but you do need to have a great interest in Britain to fully appreciate this book (you don’t need to have lived here). Some quotes really resonate with me, so I was posting them on my instagram as I read:

(If you’re reading this on a feed reader you may not be able to see the pictures below, so please jump to my page :)

“And it has more congenial small things – incidental civilities, you might call them – than any other city I know: cheery red mailboxes, drivers who actually stop for you at pedestrian crossings, lovely forgotten churches with wonderful names like St. Andrew by the Wardrobe and St. Giles Cripplegate, sudden pockets of quiet like Lincoln’s Inn and Red Lion Square, interesting statues of obscure Victorians in togas, pubs, black cabs, double-decker buses, helpful policemen, polite notices, people who will stop to help you when you fall down or drop your shopping, benches everywhere. What other great city would trouble to put blue plaques on houses to let you know what famous person once lived there, or warn you to look left or right before stepping off the curb? I’ll tell you. None.” – Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island #currentlyreading #LoveLetterToLondon #dreamhouse A photo posted by Dioni | Wandering Mee (@meexia) on

“And the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why so many of their treats – tea cakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsbury- are so cautiously flavorful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake.” – Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island #currentlyreading. I seem to have caught this piece of culture because afternoon tea and its treats are always the highlight of my day 😊. And how pretty is this nursery/cafe? ❤️ How did I live in London for over 4 years and never heard of it before? It’s not even that far from my home! #afternoontea #London @petershamnurseries

A photo posted by Dioni | Wandering Mee (@meexia) on

I may be biased, especially on the London bits, but I loved this book :)

Mee’s rating: 5/5

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