If Oscar Wilde really did live in terror of not being misunderstood—as he wrote inThe Critic as Artist in1891—then he need not have worried, at least not so far as his plays are concerned. That is because parts of the original texts are now so arcane that they are almost bound to be misunderstood, if they are understood at all.
Take Wilde’s most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest, which many say, quite rightly, is still relevant. Of course, it is, in everything from human shallowness to the fact that sugar is no longer fashionable.
But we should not allow the richness of the text to conceal the many dated references and topical allusions in it, which had a contemporary, often esoteric, relevance at the time Wilde wrote them, but which are now elusive—especially for young or non-British audiences.
In the East Village of New York City there is a bar called Dorian Gray and this week I made my inaugural visit. It styles itself as Simple, Cheery, and Charming—which it is, and that will have to suffice as a review as I was only there long enough for one beer. And therein lies a tale.
New Book : Beautiful and Impossible Things: Selected Essays of Oscar Wilde
Notting Hill Editions, UK (2015) | New York Review Books, US (2017)
“…and over our heads will float the Blue Bird singing of beautiful and impossible things, of things that are lovely and that never happen, of things that are not and that should be.”
So said Oscar Wilde in The Decay of Lying, one of the works included in Beautiful and Impossible Things, a new collection of essays plus the odd letter and lecture by Wilde, due for its U.S. release later this year.
Gyles Brandreth, the English writer, broadcaster, actor, and former Member of Parliament, has provided a solid Introduction to the book. Mr. Brandreth continues to bolster Wilde’s popularity in the U.K. and beyond, by efforts such as this, his being Honorary President of the Oscar Wilde Society in London, and not least by his successful Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries series of novels.
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia
With its marble columns and lobby posters of productions past, the Walnut Street Theatre is a venerable venue; and what other theatre can claim that Jefferson and Lafayette attending its opening night performance? 
Moreover, within the Walnut’s neo-classic Federal shell there is often the kernel of fine scenic design, tasteful costumes, and knowledgeable subscribers. One wonders, then, why a sledgehammer is usually employed to crack it?
Such had been the case on my recent visits to witness the repertory’s assaults on Agatha Christie and Noel Coward. So it was more with a sense of duty and dread, than enthusiasm, that my band of Philadelphia Wildeans revisited the scene of those crimes to see The Importance of Being Earnest. Wouldthe Wilde play be similarly executed?
Mark Samuels Lasner has long been recognized as an authority on the literature and art of the late Victorian era. He is also a collector, bibliographer, typographer, and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Delaware Library.
To those offices he can now add the honorific of benefactor.
For recently Mark donated his private library, the extensive Mark Samuels Lasner Collection, to the University of Delaware. It has been housed since 2004 in the Morris Library, and now becomes largest and most important gift of its kind in the university’s history.
If I am to find Wildean relevance in topical US culture, there is a latter-day Nellie the Elephant in the room. And before proceeding, I should explain that twisted metaphor for the uninitiated.
I refer to the UK children’s novelty song of that name, and in particular to the eponymous pachyderm who was celebrated in the oft-repeated chorus for going off with a trumpety-trump, trump, trump, TRUMP! Apparently, it’s a sound elephants make.
And like any other annoying refrain stuck in one’s head, it’s a word currently hard to ignore. So reluctantly I must face it—the capitalized version that is—before we send in the clowns and say goodbye to the circus that is becoming politics in America.