Cannonball Read IV: A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde
Despite being an English Lit major at university, I recall reading little or no Wilde. I decided to tackle this one first. It's short and not that hard to push through (it was also recommended to me as one of the dozen books an enlightened man ought read - I forget where I found that list).
Some of the ideas Wilde proposes in his story must have been more than a little challenging back in the day - feminism in the form of a woman refusing to marry and bringing up a child (let alone her subsequently being accepted in "polite" society), the notion of a man refusing to accept responsibility for a child (though I'm certain there were many bastards born to minor gentry), the idea that women need and should marry, the terrible and undoubtedly hurtful gossip around the secret lives of the "upper class".
Reading through, I began by being frustrated, with my 21st Century sensibilities railing against the outdated world view represented in the play's characters. It was only when I caught myself and read on with a more neutral mindset that I began to enjoy it.
Once that shift was made, I was able to enjoy Wilde's shining of light upon the hypocrisy of these people. It's possible that every character has few redeeming qualities. Even our heroes have great failings.
It's definitely worth the read, reflecting on how much Wilde must have intentionally have been seeking to upset many readers. Speculating, it's possibly more than a little payback against the discrimination Wilde himself faced.
(Header image: Portrait of Sonja Knips by Gustav Klimt.)
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