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A Woman of No Importance is a play by Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. The play premièred on 19 April 1893 at London's Haymarket Theatre. Like Wilde's other society plays, it satirizes English upper class society. It has been performed on stages in Europe and North America since his death in 1900.Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish author, playwright and poet. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London's most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. He is remembered for his epigrams, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, his plays, as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.At the height of his fame and success, while his masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), was still on stage in London, Wilde had the Marquess of Queensberry prosecuted for libel. The Marquess was the father of Wilde's lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. The charge carried a penalty of up to two years in prison. The trial unearthed evidence that caused Wilde to drop his charges and led to his own arrest and trial for gross indecency with other men. After two more trials he was convicted and imprisoned for two years' hard labour. In 1897, in prison, he wrote De Profundis, which was published in 1905, a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898), a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life. He died destitute in Paris at the age of 46.
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THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY
Sir John Pontefract
Lord Alfred Rufford
Mr. Kelvil, M.P.
The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny, D.D.
Lady Caroline Pontefract
Miss Hester Worsley
Time: The Present.
Place: The Shires.
Lawn in front of the terrace at Hunstanton.
[Sir John and Lady Caroline Pontefract, Miss Worsley, on chairs under large yew tree.]
Lady Caroline. I believe this is the first English country house you have stayed at, Miss Worsley?
Hester. Yes, Lady Caroline.
Lady Caroline. You have no country houses, I am told, in America?
Hester. We have not many.
Lady Caroline. Have you any country? What we should call country?
Hester. [Smiling.] We have the largest country in the world, Lady Caroline. They used to tell us at school that some of our states are as big as France and England put together.
Lady Caroline. Ah! you must find it very draughty, I should fancy. [To Sir John.] John, you should have your muffler. What is the use of my always knitting mufflers for you if you won’t wear them?
Sir John. I am quite warm, Caroline, I assure you.
Lady Caroline. I think not, John. Well, you couldn’t come to a more charming place than this, Miss Worsley, though the house is excessively damp, quite unpardonably damp, and dear Lady Hunstanton is sometimes a little lax about the people she asks down here. [To Sir John.] Jane mixes too much. Lord Illingworth, of course, is a man of high distinction. It is a privilege to meet him. And that member of Parliament, Mr. Kettle—
Sir John. Kelvil, my love, Kelvil.
Lady Caroline. He must be quite respectable. One has never heard his name before in the whole course of one’s life, which speaks volumes for a man, nowadays. But Mrs. Allonby is hardly a very suitable person.
Hester. I dislike Mrs. Allonby. I dislike her more than I can say.
Lady Caroline. I am not sure, Miss Worsley, that foreigners like yourself should cultivate likes or dislikes about the people they are invited to meet. Mrs. Allonby is very well born. She is a niece of Lord Brancaster’s. It is said, of course, that she ran away twice before she was married. But you know how unfair people often are. I myself don’t believe she ran away more than once.
Hester. Mr. Arbuthnot is very charming.
Lady Caroline. Ah, yes! the young man who has a post in a bank. Lady Hunstanton is most kind in asking him here, and Lord Illingworth seems to have taken quite a fancy to him. I am not sure, however, that Jane is right in taking him out of his position. In my young days, Miss Worsley, one never met any one in society who worked for their living. It was not considered the thing.
Hester. In America those are the people we respect most.
Lady Caroline. I have no doubt of it.
Hester. Mr. Arbuthnot has a beautiful nature! He is so simple, so sincere. He has one of the most beautiful natures I have ever come across. It is a privilege to meet him.
Lady Caroline. It is not customary in England, Miss Worsley, for a young lady to speak with such enthusiasm of any person of the opposite sex. English women conceal their feelings till after they are married. They show them then.
Hester. Do you, in England, allow no friendship to exist between a young man and a young girl?
[Enter Lady Hunstanton, followed by Footman with shawls and a cushion.]
Lady Caroline. We think it very inadvisable. Jane, I was just saying what a pleasant party you have asked us to meet. You have a wonderful power of selection. It is quite a gift.
Lady Hunstanton. Dear Caroline, how kind of you! I think we all do fit in very nicely together. And I hope our charming American visitor will carry back pleasant recollections of our English country life. [To Footman.] The cushion, there, Francis. And my shawl. The Shetland. Get the Shetland. [Exit Footman for shawl.]
[Enter Gerald Arbuthnot.]
Gerald. Lady Hunstanton, I have such good news to tell you. Lord Illingworth has just offered to make me his secretary.
Lady Hunstanton. His secretary? That is good news indeed, Gerald. It means a very brilliant future in store for you. Your dear mother will be delighted. I really must try and induce her to come up here to-night. Do you think she would, Gerald? I know how difficult it is to get her to go anywhere.
Gerald. Oh! I am sure she would, Lady Hunstanton, if she knew Lord Illingworth had made me such an offer.
[Enter Footman with shawl.]
Lady Hunstanton. I will write and tell her about it, and ask her to come up and meet him. [To Footman.] Just wait, Francis. [Writes letter.]
Lady Caroline. That is a very wonderful opening for so young a man as you are, Mr. Arbuthnot.
Gerald. It is indeed, Lady Caroline. I trust I shall be able to show myself worthy of it.
Lady Caroline. I trust so.
Gerald. [To Hester.] You have not congratulated me yet, Miss Worsley.
Hester. Are you very pleased about it?
Gerald. Of course I am. It means everything to me—things that were out of the reach of hope before may be within hope’s reach now.
Hester. Nothing should be out of the reach of hope. Life is a hope.
Lady Hunstanton. I fancy, Caroline, that Diplomacy is what Lord Illingworth is aiming at. I heard that he was offered Vienna. But that may not be true.
Lady Caroline. I don’t think that England should be represented abroad by an unmarried man, Jane. It might lead to complications.
Lady Hunstanton. You are too nervous, Caroline. Believe me, you are too nervous. Besides, Lord Illingworth may marry any day. I was in hopes he would have married lady Kelso. But I believe he said her family was too large. Or was it her feet? I forget which. I regret it very much. She was made to be an ambassador’s wife.
Lady Caroline. She certainly has a wonderful faculty of remembering people’s names, and forgetting their faces.
Lady Hunstanton. Well, that is very natural, Caroline, is it not? [To Footman.] Tell Henry to wait for an answer. I have written a line to your dear mother, Gerald, to tell her your good news, and to say she really must come to dinner.
Gerald. That is awfully kind of you, Lady Hunstanton. [To Hester.] Will you come for a stroll, Miss Worsley?
Hester. With pleasure. [Exit with Gerald.]
Lady Hunstanton. I am very much gratified at Gerald Arbuthnot’s good fortune. He is quite a protégé of mine. And I am particularly pleased that Lord Illingworth should have made the offer of his own accord without my suggesting anything. Nobody likes to be asked favours. I remember poor Charlotte Pagden making herself quite unpopular one season, because she had a French governess she wanted to recommend to every one.
Lady Caroline. I saw the governess, Jane. Lady Pagden sent her to me. It was before Eleanor came out. She was far too good-looking to be in any respectable household. I don’t wonder Lady Pagden was so anxious to get rid of her.
Lady Hunstanton. Ah, that explains it.
Lady Caroline. John, the grass is too damp for you. You had better go and put on your overshoes at once.
Sir John. I am quite comfortable, Caroline, I assure you.
Lady Caroline. You must allow me to be the best judge of that, John. Pray do as I tell you.
[Sir John gets up and goes off.]
Lady Hunstanton. You spoil him, Caroline, you do indeed!
[Enter Mrs. Allonby and Lady Stutfield.]
[To Mrs. Allonby.] Well, dear, I hope you like the park. It is said to be well timbered.
Mrs. Allonby. The trees are wonderful, Lady Hunstanton.
Lady Stutfield. Quite, quite wonderful.
Mrs. Allonby. But somehow, I feel sure that if I lived in the country for six months, I should become so unsophisticated that no one would take the slightest notice of me.
Lady Hunstanton. I assure you, dear, that the country has not that effect at all. Why, it was from Melthorpe, which is only two miles from here, that Lady Belton eloped with Lord Fethersdale. I remember the occurrence perfectly. Poor Lord Belton died three days afterwards of joy, or gout. I forget which. We had a large party staying here at the time, so we were all very much interested in the whole affair.
Mrs. Allonby. I think to elope is cowardly. It’s running away from danger. And danger has become so rare in modern life.
Lady Caroline. As far as I can make out, the young women of the present day seem to make it the sole object of their lives to be always playing with fire.
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. Yes; I see that. It is very, very helpful.
Lady Hunstanton. I don’t know how the world would get on with such a theory as that, dear Mrs. Allonby.
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.
Lady Stutfield. Yes; that is quite, quite true. I had not thought of that.
[Enter Sir John and Mr. Kelvil.]
Lady Hunstanton. Well, Mr. Kelvil, have you got through your work?
Kelvil. I have finished my writing for the day, Lady Hunstanton. It has been an arduous task. The demands on the time of a public man are very heavy nowadays, very heavy indeed. And I don’t think they meet with adequate recognition.
Lady Caroline. John, have you got your overshoes on?
Sir John. Yes, my love.
Lady Caroline. I think you had better come over here, John. It is more sheltered.
Sir John. I am quite comfortable, Caroline.
Lady Caroline. I think not, John. You had better sit beside me. [Sir John rises and goes across.]
Lady Stutfield. And what have you been writing about this morning, Mr. Kelvil?
Kelvil. On the usual subject, Lady Stutfield. On Purity.
Lady Stutfield. That must be such a very, very interesting thing to write about.
Kelvil. It is the one subject of really national importance, nowadays, Lady Stutfield. I purpose addressing my constituents on the question before Parliament meets. I find that the poorer classes of this country display a marked desire for a higher ethical standard.
Lady Stutfield. How quite, quite nice of them.
Lady Caroline. Are you in favour of women taking part in politics, Mr. Kettle?
Sir John. Kelvil, my love, Kelvil.
Kelvil. The growing influence of women is the one reassuring thing in our political life, Lady Caroline. Women are always on the side of morality, public and private.
Lady Stutfield. It is so very, very gratifying to hear you say that.
Lady Hunstanton. Ah, yes!—the moral qualities in women—that is the important thing. I am afraid, Caroline, that dear Lord Illingworth doesn’t value the moral qualities in women as much as he should.
[Enter Lord Illingworth.]
Lady Stutfield. The world says that Lord Illingworth is very, very wicked.
Lord Illingworth. But what world says that, Lady Stutfield? It must be the next world. This world and I are on excellent terms. [Sits down beside Mrs. Allonby.]
Lady Stutfield. Every one I know says you are very, very wicked.
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. Dear Lord Illingworth is quite hopeless, Lady Stutfield. I have given up trying to reform him. It would take a Public Company with a Board of Directors and a paid Secretary to do that. But you have the secretary already, Lord Illingworth, haven’t you? Gerald Arbuthnot has told us of his good fortune; it is really most kind of you.
Lord Illingworth. Oh, don’t say that, Lady Hunstanton. Kind is a dreadful word. I took a great fancy to young Arbuthnot the moment I met him, and he’ll be of considerable use to me in something I am foolish enough to think of doing.
Lady Hunstanton. He is an admirable young man. And his mother is one of my dearest friends. He has just gone for a walk with our pretty American. She is very pretty, is she not?
Lady Caroline. Far too pretty. These American girls carry off all the good matches. Why can’t they stay in their own country? They are always telling us it is the Paradise of women.
Lord Illingworth. It is, Lady Caroline. That is why, like Eve, they are so extremely anxious to get out of it.
Lady Caroline. Who are Miss Worsley’s parents?
Lord Illingworth. American women are wonderfully clever in concealing their parents.
Lady Hunstanton. My dear Lord Illingworth, what do you mean? Miss Worsley, Caroline, is an orphan. Her father was a very wealthy millionaire or philanthropist, or both, I believe, who entertained my son quite hospitably, when he visited Boston. 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. How very singular! . . . Well, from whatever source her large fortune came, I have a great esteem for Miss Worsley. She dresses exceedingly well. All Americans do dress well. They get their clothes in Paris.
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