In the end, I didn't even end up choosing a novel... instead, I chose a play. I chose one of the wittiest authors I know, with one of the most well-known comedic works I know, because if I'm going to try and make this school year a good time, best start it off laughing. I chose Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, a Trivial Comedy for Serious People.
It's one of my favorites, because of the comedic bent of not only the characters, but of the style of writing. Even reading things like the cadence and timing of the lines is impeccable, and seemingly unimportant elements like implied stage direction make me laugh. It's overall hilarity just strikes a chord in me, I guess, and I don't know why... maybe it's just the fact that late 19th century love shenanigans make me giggle. (And if you haven't seen the 2002 film adaptation, starring Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Reese Witherspoon, and Dame Judi Dench, you're missing out).
The satirical nature of the play makes it one of my favorites, as well. The Victorian era is known for its rigid social expectations and propensity for preserving tradition, for many reasons, including as a means of retaining order despite the change wrought by fluctuating class structures in Europe (due to the rising middle class with the advent of Industrialization). So all of this attempt at control was especially allied with interpersonal relations, and marriage - though increasingly more commonly made by choice, rather than arrangement - was expected as a familial and civic duty. In short, love and marriage was serious... and with The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde made a fool of the notion that the solemnity surrounding the idea of "love" was anything other than a silly business.
The social circles that operated around 19th century theater also interest me a lot, simply because of the unique strata in which they placed the arts. It was strictly a rich-people business, and while holding a position as an actor or a set designer would shortly become a respectable and career-building occupation in the coming century, the writers of the plays themselves enjoyed an immense amount of celebrity, since it was also great literature that was touted as a vital art form. Because of the wealthy people who were able to attend these events, the writers were drafted with the enormous task of presenting a "reality" within the scope of the play, that would not only appeal to, but would also seem relatable, to their opulent audience. This included costuming and wardrobe, because no matter how low-budget the theater, they were trying to impress some high-society viewers. This incredible social tension, serving as quality control of the fashionable presentation of the plays themselves, lends a unique intrigue to how 19th-century theaters operated.
Oscar Wilde's a pretty cool writer, and who knows? Maybe I'll get to read some more of his work in the coming school year. All I know, is that I'm happy to start it out with a smile.
Go on over to my Importance of Being Earnest "Looks from Books" post on College Fashion right now! Here's a sneak preview at one of my favorite outfits, based on the play's split setting of London and Hertfordshire estate:
Tell me what you think!