A Woman of No Importance is yet another drawing-room play by Oscar Wilde, where he satirizes the morals, hypocritical conventions, and general views and conduct of Victorian upper-class society. Oscar Wilde was fiercely critical of the hypocrisy of the upper-class social norms and created some celebrated drawing-room plays to show the shallowness of the noble and rich. In this play, however, while keeping to his general social satire, Wilde has based his theme on social and legal injustice regarding dishonoured women and illegitimate children. It is quite shocking how the law and society of his day put the blame on women for their dishonour while overlooking the fact that a man’s deception also has contributed towards the act. While the trusting woman was punished and suffered, the man who deceived and forsook her was pardoned and free. It is said that this social and legal position was upheld to deter women from committing sin, but one can see its falsity right through. It is the men creating laws and social rules for their protection and to the detriment of women. And this sensitive theme is what Oscar Wilde exposes through the story of Mrs. Arbuthnot, “a woman of no importance”.
The story was quite touching. And we can feel Wilde’s sympathy for “fallen women”. I greatly enjoyed how Wilde turned the tables to show that, after all, it is the notorious Lord Illingworth who is not the important one and not Mrs. Arbuthnot. However, the story, though very moving, had to be pulled out from the rest of the social commentary. The two went their separate ways although thinly connected by the characters. This lack of interconnection was felt strongly in the opening Acts, making them slow-moving. And the lackluster tone doesn’t help either. The crucial turn at the end of the second Act got the story moving, yet the overall vibrancy, which is so characteristic of Wilde’s drawing-room plays, was lacking here. There is enough wit and satire, of course, to keep the reader entertained. But the preachy undertone, which was quite uncharacteristic of him, was tedious. In most of his drawing-room plays, Wilde has maintained his characteristic exuberance even though the subject matter is grave. But in this play, it was to some extent replaced by a somber ambiance.
Nevertheless, this is Oscar Wilde we are talking about, one of the wittiest playwrights of classical literature. So, one cannot find too many faults in a work of art by such a genius. All remarks here are made comparatively. And in this comparative light, A Woman of No Importance is perhaps the weakest drawing-room play by Oscar Wilde.