The Importance of Being Earnest was written and published in 1895 by Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. Oscar Wilde wrote the book to express his opinion of the Victorian society. He thought the Victorians were too status conscious and too proper in their ways. Therefore, he wrote a play of characters opposing and over exaggerating Victorian ways. The Importance of Being Earnest was his most epigrammatic, and wittiest work and became his masterpiece. Algernon and Jack Algernon Moncrief is one of the plays major characters.
Oscar Wilde has given him the most exaggerated character in the play and he portrayed as a typical Victorian but rather holds views contrary to the normally accepted Victorian values. Algernon’s personality is outrageous yet he acts well in public, as he knows that this is what people are judged on. He lives in a comic world where nothing is taken seriously, he is light-hearted, witty and he disregards conventional morality; as we see in the opening scene where Algy and Lane joke about Lanes unsuccessful marriage and the dishonest drinking, on Lanes part, of champagne.
Lane says: ‘I have often observed that in married households he champagne is rarely at first rate brand’ towards the end of act three this gap becomes less; for example at the end of act two he then Algy’s language and conversation is highly formalised; it is the speech of a privileged young gentleman. However, sometimes he does not believe in and follow what he says; for example Algy tells Jack not to eat the cucumber sandwiches and then promptly begins to devour them himself. However towards the end of the play he begins to accept reality and becomes more conventional. Jack Worthing is one of the plays moralistic individuals, being very in touch with his romantic side.
However, his character is also over exaggerated. Jack has worked for his wealth and status and is therefore sensible, if a little audacious. He trys to follow convention but is not necessarily able to follow the rules set down by society; e. g. he has no fashion sense whilst fashion is important to most. Jack, an innocent person, who never wins verbal battles, is unable to conceal his deceits and therefore is found out a number of times; for example when Algy finds his silver cigar casewith the name ‘Jack’ iengraved in it instead of ‘ernest’ (in the first scene).
Both Jack and Algernon belong to the upper classes and move in the same high social circles. Algernon, being the nephew of Lord and Lady Bracknell, is a landed aristocrat, whilst Jack is an industrialist, who has worked hard to become a wealthy Middleton, yet does not know his ancestors: he was found as a baby, in a large handbag in a railway station. Despite all of this, Jack is much richer than Algernon, possessing a house in the country and a house in the town. Jack is not selfish with his money and he is not a spendthrift.
Algernon, however, lives off inheritance from his parents, and is constantly in debt due to the fact that he spends more than his allowance and earns nothing as he states to Jack in Act 1: “I happen to be more than usually hard up” Jack and Algernon, both being well educated, are learned men. However, only Jack uses his education scrupulously, and he has a job and lots of money. Algernon meanwhile feels no need to have a occupation, he lives solely off of his birthright. To be fashionable is Algernon’s most important concern and therefore he is forever buying new clothes.
He is the play’s dandy figure and as Lady Bracknell says, “He has nothing, but looks everything” Jack has no fashion sense yet he cares how he comes across in order to make a good impression on people. This is shown when Algernon states: “I never saw anybody take so long to dress, and with such little result. ‘ Algernon and Jack have very different views on marriage at the beginning of the play however by the end their views are identical. Algernon’s immature attitude towards marriage is unconventional.
His views challenge people – he is showing the absurdity of marrying for position and money rather than love: If I ever get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact” This suggests that he does not think that marriage is romantic; he proclaims, “Divorces are made in heaven” He believes that marriage kills the excitement of being in love; and so at the beginning of the play he is not ready to commit himself to anyone. However he firmly believes in the idea of love and romance. He states, “I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love” Jack has a very different attitude towards marriage; he is romantic and believes in love and marriage.
He declares his honourable intentions to marry: “I am in love with Gwendolen, I have come up to town expressly to propose to her” He shows that he has taken a lot of time and thought over proposing to Gwendolen, and that he is conventional, with a mature attitude towards the institution of marriage. He is indignant when he hears that Algernon does not share his views “How utterly unromantic you are! ” In spite of Algernon’s views at the beginning of the play, he ends up getting engaged to Cecily, Jack’s ward, and he begins to see that the idea of marriage does not destroy love, but simply confirms it.
Both Jack and Algernon deceive their families and friends in order to lead double lives. They both deceive the women they love by calling themselves ‘Ernest’ in order win their affection. Jack, known as Ernest, whilst being a man of leisure in town, to protect his ward’s respectable reputation in the country. When in town he meets Gwendolen, who falls in love with ‘Ernest’. However, later, when he proposes to her, he does not consider the upcoming difficulties and consequences of this particular deceit. Algernon lies to his Aunt Augusta creating “Poor Bunbury”-“a dreadful invalid” in order to visit the country.
He lies about his name when he goes to visit Jack in his country house in Hertfordshire, in order to gain access as Jack’s ‘brother’, ‘Ernest’. Jack is not as successful as Algernon in his deceits; Algernon (who lives in town), discovers ‘Ernest’s’ real name in Jack’s cigarette case (in Act 1). Algernon being much more cunning and accomplished, would be careful not to be found out. However, at the end of the play their deceits are pulled out into the open when Cecily and Gwendolen, find out they are both engaged to ‘Ernest’.
Luckily, Algernon and Jack are not chastised for dishonesty; in fact, they are rewarded for it with Cecily (for Algernon) and Gwendolen’s (for Jack) hands in marriage. Bringing all of jack and Algernon’s character traits together we can see that Jack and Algernon are similarly rakish, deceitful characters, although we can see that Jack leads a far more respectable, purposeful and serious life than Algernon. Not only is Algernon happy to lead an idle lifestyle but also he is irresponsible with money and only interested in a lavish way of life. Gwendolen and Cecily.
Gwendolen is encountered in Act 1 as Wilde’s vision of a shallow, impressionable lady of society, from an upper class background. She is image-orientated and a young and attractive woman, who is eminently marriageable, despite her resemblance to her formidable mother. She reverses of the current many conventions made by society; for example “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing” Gwendolen, being rebellious, does not follow orders set down by her mother; as we see when she does not follow her mother offstage in act 1.
When in society she covers her true personality well, and also never reveals her true self in the company of her mother, Lady Bracknell. However, Gwendolen has no other distinctive character traits. Her language is respectable and proper yet artificial, she speaks periphrastically. Cecily, when met in Act 2, immediately appears silly and romantic, contrary to Jacks statement, “Cecily is not a silly romantic girl, I am glad to say. ” She is introduced to us as having a close affinitive to nature and Algernon states that she is “like a pink rose”. However, she is not a figure of nature incarnate.
The roses in the garden are cultivated rather than wild and natural. Cecily has some pronounced characteristics, such as a vast appetite, she is inattentive to her studies and she picks up the social etiquette swiftly. Her language is silly and unorganised and she does not have the sophistication of acting in society. Both are born into the upper classes; Gwendolen is an aristocrat, her father being Lord Bracknell, whilst Cecily is a wealthy Middleton. Cecily’s grandfather, a wealthy merchant left Cecily in the hands of his adopted son, Jack, when he passed away.
Both the girls are rich but having been brought up differently they have a dissimilar attitude towards money. Gwendolen, who like her mother believes that money is there for spending, splashes out on luxury items, whereas Cecily possesses a more moralistic view of money. Gwendolen and Cecily posses the same girlish attitude to life are virtual clones of each other. They keep a diary, they dream of marrying a man called Ernest, and they call each other ‘sister’ when they discover the sham that has been practised on them over the reality of Ernest Worthing. They both believe that education is unimportant when social status is at hand.
Cecily does not enjoy education, she states, ” Horrid political economy! Horrid Geography! Horrid, horrid German! ” Likewise Gwendolen, like her mother, sees education as unnecessary and, although she attends college, she does not attend a worthy lecture; “University Extension Scheme of a permanent income on Thought”. From this statement we can see that Oscar Wilde is mocking the Upper Class and their morals. They lead lives in different places and therefore have different social attitudes. Cecily, living in the country, is a simple girl who has little experience with society.
She has social possibilities being both rich and beautiful, Lady Bracknell states; “Yes, quite as I expected. There are distinct social possibilities in your profile”. However Cecily does not care about such social possibilities and is rather more involved in her thoughts and dreams, than reality. Gwendolen, living in the city and spending all of her time paying visits and engaging herself in minor cultural events, develops a sharp skill for social etiquette and it is clear that later on in life she will be caught up in the centre of society. Cecily and Gwendolen are much like their elders in respect to fashion.
Cecily, like her guardian, Jack, does not know much about fashion and dresses simply as she resides in the countryside and has no need to dress for show. She does not care as much as Gwendolen about fashion, but she has the ability to pick it up without difficulty. Lady Bracknell comments; “Pretty child! Your dress is sadly simple and your hair is as though nature might have left it”. On the other hand Gwendolen, having been taught by her mother, is in touch with fashion and dresses in a sophisticated, elegant style as she splashes out on glossy city made attire.
Algernon states; “Dear me, you are smart”. With Gwendolen it is obvious that she cares greatly about being fashionable. Her need to be fashionable even goes as far as food, where she states, “Sugar is not fashionable any more” and “Bread and butter, please. Cake is rarely seen in the best of houses nowadays”. They share the typical feminine characteristics of young romantic girls; they are vain and easily flattered. Both girls love the idea of marriage, and enjoy the company of men.
They have the same ludicrous attitude towards marriage; to marry and fall in love with a man with a suitable Christian name, and to them ‘Ernest’ is a name that suggests the truth, sincerity and someone who is easily manipulated. In Act 1, Gwendolen treats marriage somewhat like a fairy tale; as she does not stop to consider Jack’s social position when she accepts Jack’s hand in marriage, to her this is of no importance (only his name is). She displays absurd romanticism: “I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s solitude.
The only really safe name is Ernest”. She clearly has no experience with love or men as she says, “But men often propose for practice. I know my brother Gerald does” Cecily is the youngest character in the cast, at the age of 18, but she is considered to be at a marriageable age by Victorian society. She is more imaginative and romantic in her ways than Gwendolen. We see this when she insists that Algernon and her are already engaged; “You silly boy, of course, why we have been engaged for the last three months”. They both keep to character by being very dramatic when they find out that there really is no Ernest.
Gwendolen says, “I am afraid it is quite clear, Cecily, that neither of us is engaged to be married to anyone. ” To conclude the two girls are generally alike in character- they have the same ludicrous, romantic and dramatic views on life. The main difference is that Gwendolen being more sophisticated, cares much more about fashion than nai?? ve Cecily. They are both highly manipulative and wish for husbands that they could keep under their thumbs. This is perhaps a reason for both of them liking the name ‘Ernest’. Both of them appear to be bound by no serious principles, their only ideal is to marry a person named Ernest.
Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism Lady Bracknell is the reason for the plot’s complications. If she were to acquiesce in the marriage of Gwendolen with Jack there would be no plot at all. She represents the powerful, forceful person in the play. She is a remarkable character, doling out a seemingly endless supply of witticisms that inadvertently mock the Victorian society in which she takes part. She shows us the limitations and unhappiness produced by such a way of life. Her main character trait is to speak her mind to people ; “I feel bound to tell you that you are not on my list of eligible people”
Lady Bracknell is hardhearted and inconsiderate, organising and controlling. Miss Prism is Cecily’s governess at Jack’s country house. She has a mysterious past involving previous employment with Lady Bracknell, a tasteless three-volume novel and a misplaced baby. Miss Prism is a very comical figure unaware of her own comic potential. She is narrow-minded; she is unable to accept anything different from her way of life. She is moralistic, unforgiving and very old-fashioned; she frowns upon Jack’s “wicked brother” saying when she thinks that Jack’s brother is dead that “what a lesson for him!
I trust he will profit by it”. Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism are originally from the same social classes, as Lady Bracknell states in the last act and as is shown in the film ‘The Importance Of Being Ernest’; “… I do not approve of mercenary, marriages. When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind… ” But through marriage they are now of different social classes. Lady Bracknell is a wealthy upper class aristocrat, her husband being Lord Bracknell. Miss Prism is of the lower middle class, being Cecily’s governess. Lady Bracknell’s life and power revolves around money.
Miss Prism cannot afford much and does not view money as important. Lady Bracknell, being rich, is able to afford all the latest fashions. She views being fashionable as an important show of society status and worthy of a lot of time and money. She is utterly power- and image-orientated. She involves herself in and respects society; “never speak disrespectfully of society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that”. Miss Prism, on the other hand, has no fashion sense and she does not give any proof of wanting to be fashionable, or being able to afford fashionable items. Miss Prism is much better educated than Lady Bracknell.
However, Lady Bracknell describes her as “remotely connected to education” which suggests that Miss Prism is not respected in the Upper classes. Lady Bracknell views education as unimportant as she is already rich with social standing. Miss Prism, however, is deeply interested in education as it brings her an occupation, money and it helps her to promote herself in society. But education was also her ruin; she lost a baby when a novel sidetracked her. Due to Lady Bracknell’s very forceful character she did not let the fact that she was middle class deter her from her aim of a good marriage.
Lady Bracknell has very set views for what her daughter should marry into. When managing her daughter’s possible future marriage she remains business-like and image-orientated. She judges what is best for her daughter but does not take her daughters love to heart, only her financial interests. The ideal husband for her daughter would have to be financially and socially suitable. He would have a good image and a house on the fashionable side of town. Nothing is good enough for her, as we see when Jack, during his interview, gives her his town address, Jack states “I own a house in Belgrave square”-number “149”
And Lady Bracknell replies, “… the unfashionable side”. She has views on marriage contrary to today’s accepted values; she does not believe that one marries for love. To her marriage is a business arrangement rather than a love-match Miss Prism’s timid character has meant that she has not managed a good marriage yet. She loves Canon Chasuble but even her comical flirting with Chasuble is still timid. However, although unlike Lady Bracknell, she would be marrying for love, it was additionally an advantage that Chasuble is of a slightly higher class than Miss Prism.
She is one of the oldest people in the play and like Lady Bracknell she is no longer attractive and is described by Lady Bracknell as “a female of repellent aspect”. Lady Bracknell meanwhile has the funds to make the best of her appearance. In conclusion, although from different social classes the two elderly ladies can be seen to be not entirely different. They both place great emphasis on how people regard them and their social standing. However their positions in society have made their personalities what the are;; Miss Prism manages to creep around unnoticed whilst Lady Bracknell is loud and speaks her mind.