The Importance of Being Earnest
  • Publication Date: November 13, 2009
  • ISBN: 9781551116945 / 1551116944
  • 224 pages; 8½" x 5½"

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The Importance of Being Earnest

  • Publication Date: November 13, 2009
  • ISBN: 9781551116945 / 1551116944
  • 224 pages; 8½" x 5½"

The Importance of Being Earnest marks a central moment in late-Victorian literature, not only for its wit but also for its role in the shift from a Victorian to a Modern consciousness. The play began its career as a biting satire directed at the very audience who received it so delightedly, but ended its initial run as a harbinger of Wilde’s personal downfall when his lover’s father, who would later bring about Wilde’s arrest and imprisonment, attempted to disrupt the production.

In addition to its focus on the textual history of the play, this Broadview Edition of Earnest provides a wide array of appendices. The edition locates Wilde’s work among the artistic and cultural contexts of the late nineteenth century and will provide scholars, students, and general readers with an important sourcebook for the play and the social, creative, and critical contexts of mid-1890s English life.


“Samuel Lyndon Gladden’s edition of The Importance of Being Earnest continues Broadview Press’s proven tradition of excellence. This book will serve the undergraduate, general reader, and scholar. Gladden’s introduction is provocative, and the ancillary materials are especially welcome. Gladden balances familiar with unexpected contemporary works — from Gilbert and Sullivan to Ada Leverson, playbills to reviews, poems to pictures, conduct manuals to dandy tracts — plus excerpts of Wilde’s writings, including an earlier version of the play. Bibliography and chronology complete the presentation as one-stop shopping for an earnest acquaintance with Wilde’s charmer as social text.” — Frederick S. Roden, University of Connecticut

“Broadview’s Importance of Being Earnest carries on the press’s excellent series of texts for general readers and students alike. Samuel Lyndon Gladden presents the three-act text, as well as an appendix with important scenes and lines from the original four-act version. The volume includes many useful annotations and glosses, appendices with contextual information, illustrations, and extracts from letters and documents that will enhance understanding and interpretation of the play. The introduction places the play in up-to-date critical and biographical contexts, illuminating issues without closing down other approaches to making sense of Wilde’s carefully composed dramatic nonsense.” — Philip E. Smith, University of Pittsburgh

Oscar Wilde: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text

The Importance of Being Earnest:
A Trivial Comedy for Serious People

Appendix A: Playbills for The Importance of Being Earnest (1895)

  1. The First, Uncensored Playbill
  2. The Second, Censored Playbill

Appendix B: Reactions and Reviews

  1. From The Daily Graphic (15 February 1895)
  2. From William Archer, The World (20 February 1895)
  3. From The Observer (17 February 1895)
  4. From The Times (15 February 1895)
  5. From Bernard Shaw, Saturday Review (1895)
  6. From Max Beerbohm, Around Theatres (1902)

Appendix C: Ada Leverson’s “The Advisability of Not Being Brought Up in a Handbag” (1895)

  1. Ada Leverson, “The Advisability of Not Being Brought Up in a Handbag,” Punch; or,The London Charivari (2 March 1895)
  2. Telegram from Oscar Wilde to Ada Leverson (15 February 1895)

Appendix D: Three Works by Gilbert and Sullivan

  1. From W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, Patience; or, Bunthorne’s Bride (1881)
  2. From W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, The Gondoliers; or, The King of Barataria (1889)
  3. From W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, HMS Pinafore; or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor (1878)

Appendix E: From J.G.F. Nicholson, Love in Earnest

Appendix F: Conduct Manuals

  1. From Mrs. Humphrey, Manners for Men (1897)
  2. From Julia McNair Wright, Practical Life; or,Ways and
    Means for Developing Character and Resources

Appendix G: On Dandyism and on Wilde as a Dandy

  1. From Charles Kendrick, Ye Soul Agonies in Ye Life of Oscar Wilde (1882)
  2. George Frederick Keller, “The Modern Messiah,” Wasp (31 March 1882)
  3. Linley Sambourne, “O.W. [Punch’s Fancy Portraits 37],” Punch; or,The London Charivari (25 June 1881)
  4. From Lloyd Lewis and Henry Justin Smith, “No Wave of His Chiseled Hand” (1936)
  5. “Aestheticism as Oscar Understands It” (1882)
  6. “Mr. Wild [sic] of Borneo” (1882)
  7. W.H. Beard, “The Aesthetic Monkey” (1882)

Appendix H: Other Works by Wilde

  1. From “A Few Maxims for the Instruction of the Over-Educated” (1894)
  2. From “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young” (1894)
  3. From “Preface,” The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891)
  4. From “The Decay of Lying” (1889)
  5. From De Profundis (1897; published 1962)
  6. Letter to Philip Houghton (February 1894)
  7. Letter to George Alexander (July 1894)
  8. Letter to George Alexander (September 1894)
  9. Letter to George Alexander (October 1894)
  10. Letter to an Unidentified Correspondent (February 1895)
  11. Letter to Lord Alfred Douglas (February 1895)
  12. Letter to R.V. Shone (February 1895)

Appendix I: From the Original Four-Act Version

  1. Passages Regarding Algernon’s and Ernest’s Past-due Accounts
  2. Passages Illuminating the Characters and Roles of Miss Prism and Canon Chasuble
  3. Additional Passages


Samuel Lyndon Gladden is Associate Professor, Coordinator of Graduate Studies in English, and Dean’s Faculty Administrative Fellow for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at the University of Northern Iowa.