English 103 AS14
February 25/ 2015
In the play The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, the protagonist Jack Worthing has fallen in love with a young woman by the name of Gwendolen Fairfax. Gwendolen is meant to represent the typical upper class aristocratic woman in Victorian England. Wilde uses her to paint a fairly accurate image of the upper class; however there are certain inaccuracies that are meant to highlight the flaws of affluent Victorian England. Gwendolen’s preoccupation with the insignificant and her shallowness are meant to represent the nature of the people she symbolizes. Wilde uses these flaws to mock the behaviour of the aristocrats. Gwendolen only manages to portray the characteristics of an upper class aristocratic woman to a limited extent due to the fact that her flaws, which include shallowness and almost sycophantic behaviour where her husband is concerned, are exaggerated by the author in order to satire the upper class. Gwendolen Fairfax is a confident and intelligent character, and contrasts with Cecily to represent what a conservative woman should behave like in Victorian England nearly perfectly. Oscar Wilde ensures that the reader falls under the presumption the Gwendolen is a respectable Victorian woman with interests that fall in line with what would be expected from a Victorian woman. It is easy to imagine Gwendolen as a fairly pretty, fashionable young woman who spends the majority of her time at tea parties or lavish dinners with fellow aristocrats. She comes off as intelligent in the way she interacts with other people, most notably with Cecily. Her conversations with Cecily show that both these characters are different in some ways and similar in others. Tony Garland’s assessment of their verbal confrontation in Act II highlights the fact that they are similar in character in how they manage to equally reciprocate the other’s attitude and sharpness. During this part of the play “a well-mannered animosity is made apparent and is instigated by naming” (Garland 272). They are both quick witted and show an above average ability to read other people and maintain conflict. In this, they portray a common characteristic among upper class Victorian women. However, Cecily is a country girl who seems to be more naturally inclined to doing what she wants, which often diverges from the refined behaviour Miss Prism would like her to exhibit. Wilde immediately renders Cecily as less conventional than Gwendolen as soon as she is introduced to the reader at the beginning of Act II, with the scene of her watering the flowers. The notion is given that Gwendolen would never do such a thing, which Miss Prism describes as being “rather [a] Moultron’s duty than yours” (Act II). Wilde’s rendition of Cecily is meant to make Gwendolen look more conservative in comparison, and portrays Gwendolen as an upper class woman who seems much older than she really is, and Cecily as rather less classy than Gwendolen. Gwendolen notices this, and couples her distaste for the country with her distaste for Cecily when she states, rather disdainfully “It is obvious our social spheres have been widely different” (Act II). A more powerful example would be Cecily’s severe dislike of her lessons, making her seem almost childish in comparison with the more sophisticated Gwendolen. David Parker draws attention to the point of view that an example of Oscar Wilde’s satire of the upper class’s often silly behaviour exists when Gwendolen states “I never change. Except in my affections” (Act III). Parker points out that “their changeability is most amusingly demonstrated” (Parker 181) in reference to the two young ladies’ constantly changing attitude towards each other in Act II, which adds to Wilde’s comical portrayal of the upper class. Wilde ensures that Gwendolen portrays the characteristics evident in most aristocratic upper class Victorian women, taking after her mother. As a matter of fact, Algernon...
Cited: Wilde, Oscar. “The Importance of Being Earnest”.
Garland, Tony. “The Contest of Naming Between Ladies in THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST”. Explicator 70.4 (2012): 272-274. Print.
Parker, David.” OSCAR WILDE 'S GREAT FARCE THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST”. Modern Language Quarterly 35.2 (1974): 173-186. Print.
Poznar, Walter. “Life and Play in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest”. Midwest Quarterly 30.4 (1989): 515-528. Print.
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