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Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) b. in Dublin dandy Aestheticism o artifice wit All that I desire to point out is the general principle that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. Lies are more beautiful than truth. The Happy Prince and Other Stories (1888) The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) COMEDIES: Lady Windermeres Fan (1892) A Woman of No Importance (1893) An Ideal Husband (1895) The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) - masterpiece There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. (art for arts sake)

arrested and sent to prison for offenses against public decency De Profundis (1897) The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) 1900 dies in Paris

The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) satire romantic comedy comedy of manners farce parody Wit o o o o 3 a : astuteness of perception or judgment b: the ability to relate seemingly disparate things so as to illuminate or amuse c (1) : a talent for banter or persiflage (2) : a witty utterance or exchange d : clever or apt humor

earnest o o o eager or zealous sincere, serious, and determined important, not trivial

Comedy of Manners Ridicules pretensions of upper class society, witty dialogue, cleverly constructed scenarios, comments on the standards and mores of society stock characters rapid plot twists

an age of surfaces o in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing

Style v. substance

Algys piano playing not accurate, with expression


Secret Lives Victorian norms - repressive and suffocating Bunburying o o o Algernon invalid friend Bunbury to avoid social obligations Jack brother Ernest for pleasure Duty and Responsibility

Earnestness the desire to do the correct thing Are the more important or serious issues overlooked in favour of trivial concerns about appearance? o Gwendolyn: marriage proposal performed correctly; brother practises proposing

The Civilised War The guise of correctness Gwendolen - no sugar; Cecily adds four lumps Asks for bread and butter, gets a large slice of cake. True feelings in an aside: "Detestable girl!" Cecily lives with Jack - a chaperone? aristocrat's concern for propriety!!

The Absence of Compassion For illness and death Lady Bracknell: o "Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to be encouraged in others. Health is the primary duty of life. 3

"It is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd."

Religion Canon Chasuble rechristen, marry, bury, and encourage at a moment's notice interchangeable sermons filled with meaningless platitudes Victorians concerned themselves little with attitudes reflecting religious faith

Popular Culture novels o scandals: o More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldnt read

Literary criticism for "people who haven't been at a University. They do it so well in the daily papers."

inserts many examples of popular thought, revealing bias, social bigotry, thoughtlessness and blind assumptions

Passion The other world Cecily naive: excited about meeting a wicked man o I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.

Parody of romantic love: diary entries, love letters badly spelled

Beneath the surface... allusions to passion, sex and moral looseness Chasuble -Prism's flirting - coded conversations about things sexual o Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism's pupil, I would hang upon her lips.

Algernon stuffing his face to satisfy his hungers (cucumber sandwiches, muffins) 4

the diaries (acceptable venues for passion) Miss Prism's three-volume novel & headaches

Courtship Careful selection process, e.g. LB and Algy; LB and Cecily o o Fortune Family background

Just as absurd as marrying for a name Duty (not joy, love or passion) o "A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it."

Marriage o end of freedom, pleasure, wickedness, and the beginning of duty and doing what is expected Marriage proposal = business not pleasure "...girls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don't think it right. "In married life three is company and two is none. "Divorces are made in heaven"

o o o o

Widowhood Lady Bracknell. It really makes no matter, Algernon. I had some crumpets with Lady Harbury, who seems to me to be living entirely for pleasure now. Algernon. I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief. Lady Bracknell. It certainly has changed its colour. From what cause I, of course, cannot say.

Education o The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a

serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. o The Fall of the Rupee is too scandalous/sensational

Contempt for decorum could lead to o "the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to? Maintaining the status quo power in the hands of the right people

Class Conflict Aristocrats attitudes virtuous high ground Others should conform Society for the Prevention of Discontent Among the Upper Orders To the Victorians, reform means keeping the current social and economic system in place by perpetuating upper-class virtues and economy.

Wilde: social change happens as a matter of thoughtfulness Art can bring about such thoughtfulness. Upholding strict social conventions leads to a loss of humanity. 1. Wilde's play has two settings the city of London and the country. How does he create differences between the two settings? 2. What attitudes toward marriage do Wilde's characters explore?

3. How does Wilde create and comment on the differences between the social classes in England as represented by Lady Bracknell and the servants in both settings? 4. Manuscripts are used by various characters diaries, sermons, and a three-volume novel. What function does each have in the play? 5. 6. What attitudes of the aristocracy can be seen in Lady Bracknell's dialogue? How is conflict developed in the play?

7. How does Wilde turn around well-known proverbs or epigrams to comment on Victorian attitudes? 6