A Woman of no Importance

21 01 2012

My Kobo continues to work well, at least when Wilde’s plays are being read. A Woman Of No Importance is not as “tight” as The Importance of Being Earnest in my opinion, but then it isn’t a straightforward comedy either. It feels like it was written in a bit of a rush, with a repeated joke, and references to Earnest and other previous material. There are certainly moments of Wilde wit in it, but it’s got a deeper message of class divides, male/female roles, and regrets. I’d love to see it on the stage, as frankly, it’s a little hard to follow as a dry script. The characters are lady this, that and the other, but it’s hard to get a feel for their relative ages, and they refer to each other by Christian name which makes the whole thing far too tricky for an ex software engineer such as I! The play premièred on 19 April 1893 at London’s Haymarket Theatre, according to Wikipedia.

Allow me to share some highlights I met along the way…

Lady Caroline: I don’t think that England should be represented abroad by an unmarried man, Jane. It might lead to complications.

Mrs Allonby: The one advantage of playing with fire, Lady Caroline, is that one never gets even singed. It is the people who don’t know how to play with it who get burned up.

Lady Stutfield: Ah! The world was made for men and not for women.
Mrs Allonby: Oh, don’t say that, Lady Stutfield. We have a much better time than they have. There are far more  things forbidden to us than are forbidden to them.

Lord Illingworth: It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.

Lady Hunstanton: … I don’t know how he made his money, originally.
Kelvil: I fancy in American dry goods
Lady Hunstanton: What are American dry goods?
Lord Illingworth: American novels.

Lady Hunstanton: … All Americans do dress well. They get their clothes in Paris.
Mrs Allonby: They say, Lady Hunstanton, that when good Americans die they go to Paris.
Lady Hunstanton: Indeed? And when bad Americans die, where do they go to?
Lord Illingworth: Oh, they go to America.

Lady Stutfield: How very, very charming those gold-tipped cigarettes of yours are, Lord Alfred.
Lord Alfred: They are awfully expensive. I can only afford them when I am in debt.

Mrs Allonby: Curious thing, plain women are always jealous of their husbands, beautiful women never are.
Lord Illingworth: Beautiful women never have time. They are always so occupied in being jealous of other people’s husbands.

Lord Illingworth: So much marriage is certainly not becoming. Twenty years of romance make a woman look like a ruin; but twenty years of marriage make her something like a public building.
Mrs Allonby: Twenty years of romance! Is there such a thing?
Lord Illingworth: Not in our day. Women have become too brilliant. Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman.

Mrs Allonby: Is she such a mystery?
Lord Illingworth: She is more than a mystery – she is a mood.
Mrs Allonby: Moods don’t last.
Lord Illingworth: It is their chief charm.

Hester: I dislike London dinner parties
Mrs Allonby: I adore them. The clever people never listen, and the stupid people never talk.
Hester: I think the stupid people talk a great deal.
Mrs Allonby: Ah, I never listen!

Mrs Allonby: What a thoroughly bad man you must be!
Lord Illingworth: What do you call a bad man?
Mrs Allonby: The sort of man who admires innocence.
Lord Illingworth: And a bad woman?
Mrs Allonby: Oh! The sort of woman a man never gets tired of.

Lord Illingworth: What do you think she’d do if I kissed her?
Mrs Allonby: Either marry you, or  strike you across the face with her glove. What would you do if she struck you across the face with her glove?
Lord Illingworth: Fall in love with her, probably.

Mrs Allonby: Lord Illingworth, there is one thing I shall always like you for.
Lord Illingworth: Only one thing? And I have so many bad qualities.
Mrs Allonby: Ah, don’t be too conceited about them. You may lose them as you grow old.

Lord Illingworth: .But what is the mysterious reason why you will always like me?
Mrs Allonby: It is that you have never made love to me.
Lord Illingworth: I have never done anything else.
Mrs Allonby: Really? I have not noticed it.
Lord Illingworth: How fortunate! It might have been a tradgedy for both of us.

Lord Illingworth: One can survive everything nowadays, except death, and live down everything except a good reputation.
Mrs Allonby: Have you tried a good reputation?
Lord Illingworth: It is one of the many annoyances to which I have never been subjected.

Lord Illingworth: Shall we go in to tea?
Mrs Allonby: Do you like such simple pleasures?
Lord Illingworth: I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.

Lady Hunstanton: I am told that, nowadays, all the married men live like bachelors, and all the bachelors like married men.
Mrs Allonby: I certainly never know one from the other.
Lady Stutfield: Oh, I think one can always know at once whether a man has home claims upon his life or not. I have noticed a very, very sad expression in the eyes of so many married men.
Mrs Allonby: Ah, all that I have noticed is that they are horribly tedious when they are good husbands, and abominably conceited when they are not.

Lady Stutfield: But was it something very, very wrong that Mr. Allonby did? Did he become angry with you, and say anything that was unkind or true?

Lady Stutfield: But I would so much like to know what was the wrong thing Mr. Allonby did.
Mrs Allonby: Well, I will tell you, if you solemnly promise to tell everyone else.

Mrs Allonby: Men always want to be a woman’s first love. That is their clumsy vanity. We women have a more subtle instinct about things. What we like is to be a man’s last romance.

Mrs Allonby: More marriages are ruined nowadays by the common sense of the husband than by anything else. How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly rational being?

Lady Caroline: Oh, the Ideal Man should talk to us as if we were godesses, and treat us as if we were children. He should refuse all our serious requests, and gratify every one of our whims. He should encourage us to have caprices, and forbid us to have missions. He should always say much more than he means, and always mean much more that he says.

Lady Caroline: But you have not told us yet what the reward of the Ideal Man is to be.
Mrs Allonby: His reward? Oh, infinite expectation. That is quite enough for him.

Lady Caroline: There are a great many things you haven’t got in America, I am told Miss Worsley. They say you have no ruins, no curiosities.
Mrs Allonby [To Lady Stutfield]: What nonsense! They have their mothers and their manners.

Lady Hunstanton: My dear young lady, there was a great deal of truth, I dare say, in what you said, and you looked very pretty while you said it, which is more important, Lord Illingworth would tell us.

Lady Caroline: But I am bound to state, as you were remarking, Jane, that he is excellent company, and he has one of the best cooks in London, and after a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.

Mrs Allonby: The American girl was giving us a lecture.
Lord Illingworth: Really? All Americans lecture, I believe. I suppose it is something in their climate.

Lord Illingworth: All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy.
Mrs Allonby: No man does. That is his.
(This is a repeat of a joke in The Importance of Being Earnest… I guess it got a good laugh at the time!)

Lord Illingworth: Oh, duty is what one expects from others, it is not what one does oneself.

Lord Illingworth: Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.

Lord Illingworth: To win back my youth Gerald, there is nothing I would not do – except take up exercise, get up early, or be a useful member of the community.

Gerald: I suppose society is wonderfully delightful!
Lord Illingworth: To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of it simply a tragedy.

Gerald: It is very difficult to understand women, is it not?
Lord Illingworth: You should never try to understand them. Women are pictures. Men are problems. If you want to know what a woman really means – which, by the way, is always a dangerous thing to do – look at her, don’t listen to her.
Gerald: But women are awfully clever, aren’t they?
Lord Illingworth: One should always tell them so. But, to the philosopher, my dear Gerald, women represent the triumph of matter over mind – just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.

Lord Illingworth: Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.
Gerald: But don’t you think one can be happy when one is married?
Lord Illingworth: Perfectly happy. But the happiness of a married man, my dear Gerald, depends on the people he has not married.
Gerald: But what if one is in love?
Lord Illingworth: One should always be in love. That is the reason one should never marry.

Lord Illingworth: The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.

Lord Illingworth: Women love us for our defects. If we have enough of them, they will forgive us everything, even our gigantic intellects.

Lady Hunstanton: How charming you are, dear Lord illingworth. You always find out that one’s most glaring fault is one’s most important  virtue. You have the most comforting views of life.

Mrs Allonby: You have your looking-glass.
Lord Illingworth: It is unkind. It merely shows me my wrinkles.
Mrs Allonby: Mine is better behaved. It never tells me the truth.
Lord Illingworth: Then it is in love with you.

Lady Hunstanton: Music makes on feel so romantic – at least it always gets on one’s nerves.
Mrs Allonby: It’s the same thing, nowadays.

Lady Hunstanton: Poor dear Hunstanton used to tell me I didn’t blush nearly enough. But then he was so very particular. He wouldn’t let me know any of his men friends, except those who were over seventy, like poor Lord Ashton: who afterwards, by the way, was brought into theDivorce Court. A most unfortunate case.

Lady Hunstanton: I consider it was a great honour her coming to me last night. It gave quite an atmosphere of respectability to the party.
Mrs Allonby: Ah, that must have been what you thought was thunder in the air.

Hester: Who, being loved, is poor?




7 responses

21 01 2012

Witty…wilder was an acute observer…

22 01 2012
Quieter Elephant

Indeed. His observations on class, love and marriage are incisive.

22 01 2012
misfits' miscellany

One is tempted to reflect that the the rude reason a Woman of No Importance is not as tight, is placing the proverbial cart before the horse. In earnest, I shall not point this out, for it would be churlish, almost as reprehensible as mentioning Lady Windermere’s fanny.

22 01 2012
Quieter Elephant

You need to be careful there with your fanny usage. As it were. One of those English words that does not translate at all well between the English/English and the American/English. Like “fag”.

22 01 2012
misfits' miscellany

Women in America are extra careful of fanny usage.

I was using it in the full English breakfast sense… I suspect, given the tenet of the play, it was Wilde’s little joke to begin with.

22 01 2012
misfits' miscellany

TA! QE, for readin’.

22 01 2012
Quieter Elephant

I often do… I just don’t always leave breadcrumbs. 😉

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