Friday, 23 April 2021

This and That

 This is the day generally regarded as William Shakespeare's birthday, and celebrated as such – but not on Google (no Shakespearean doodle), nor on Wikipedia, which in this matter shows itself a stickler for fact and gives only the baptismal date (the 26th). 
Anyway, it's another bright, sunny, very nearly warm day here in the Southeast. The day before yesterday I saw my first swallow (overflying at speed – they never stay around here), and the day before that I spotted one of our local peregrines, flying elegantly past one of the urban cliffs (i.e. tower blocks) that are now their habitat. Butterflies continue to be few and far between, though there are orange tips, holly blues and speckled woods flying now, as well as the peacocks and brimstones. 

But enough of nature notes. Here is a sentence from Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (Algernon speaking): 'The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous.' Yes – 'the amount of women'! It is something of a shock to come across such looseness of language in a writer otherwise so impeccably stylish – see also Henry James and Vladimir Nabokov. No doubt I'll recover. Incidentally, unlike many plays, The Importance reads very well on the page. I'm reading it in a 1924 Methuen edition, the eighteenth since its first publication in 1899. It took ten years – the years of Wilde's disgrace, presumably – for Methuen to republish it in a standard edition, but it seems to have really taken off during the Great War, with five editions, four of them in 'cheap form', being brought out during the war years, and two more in 1919. It must have made for perfect escapist reading, like a dispatch from a lost world.

It's always a pleasure to discover a new word, especially if it denotes something for which no word seemed to exist. Admittedly the word in this case is not English but Japanese, but I was still pleased to find it, as it describes the blurry effect of out-of-focus areas of a photograph – one of the things that most attracts me about old photos by the likes of Julia Margaret Cameron.  The word is 'bokeh' and there is a very long, technical entry devoted to it on Wikipedia. Much of that I don't understand, but I look forward to using (or misusing) the word some time – 'I say, look at that bokeh!' 


  1. In Yeats's Autobiographies (Chapter X of "The Trembling of the Veil"), he writes of a discussion with Wilde about a sentence in The Decay of Lying:

    I said, 'Why do you change "sad" to "melancholy"? He replied that he wanted a full sound at the close of his sentence, and I thought it no excuse and an example of the vague impressiveness that spoiled his writing for me. Only when spoke, or when his writing was the mirror of his speech, or in some simple faery-tale, had he words exact enough to hold a subtle ear.'

  2. Thanks George. Yeats is right about that 'vague impressiveness', I think, and much of Wilde's writing is deeply flawed (also by sentimentality). But of course in The Importance his writing is indeed mirroring speech and Wilde is at his very best. It really is a brilliant comedy.

  3. I'm sure you will be excited to learn of this new Importance of production:

  4. Dear Lord! What is wrong with these people?