Friday, 10 July 2009

Seriousness & Triviality

Reading a review this morning of a new production of Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, I started thinking on his epigram about "treating all trivial things very seriously and the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality". This is indeed the English way, to play down truly important things and exaggerate when it comes to less important ones. We would for instance say "My father had rather a bad time during the war", but "We had a ghastly holiday, we met these terrible people and nearly died of boredom". We take things such as wine, dogs and horses, the weather, gardens, and so on very seriously indeed (these are serious matters!), but when it comes to life and death, we tend to make light of it and look with disdain on "making a fuss" or "feeling sorry for yourself". This is probably why other nations think we are cold and reserved, but it is as good a way as any of getting through life.

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