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- The Importance of Being Earnest & Other Plays
He also kept a house in Paris, in the street now named Boulevard Jules Verne, and a beloved yacht, the Saint Michel, named after his son.
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Sign up and get a free eBook! Part of Enriched Classics. Enriched Classic Mass Market Paperback. Price may vary by retailer. Add to Cart Add to Cart. About The Book. About The Author. Oscar Wilde. Both characters are also recognizable to the upper- and middle-class audiences as stock figures. Algernon is a stylish dandy — a young man very concerned about his clothes and appearance — in the pose of the leisure-class man about town. His fashionable apartment in a stylish locale immediately tells the audience that they are watching a comedy about the upper class. After introducing Algernon, Wilde turns him into a comic figure of self-gratification, stuffing his mouth with cucumber sandwiches.
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Self-gratification is ammunition against the repressive Victorian values of duty and virtue. In fact, as Algernon and Jack discuss marriage and Gwendolen, food becomes a symbol for lust, a topic not discussed in polite society.
Much of what Algernon says is hopeless triviality, beginning a motif that Wilde will follow throughout the play: Society never cares about substance but instead reveres style and triviality. Wilde seems to be saying that in Victorian society people seem unaware of the difference between trivial subjects and the more valuable affairs of life.
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Jack is a little more serious than Algernon, perhaps because of his position as a country magistrate and his concern over his unconventional lineage. Helplessly a product of his time and social standing, Jack knows the rules, the appropriate manners, and the virtue of turning a phrase beautifully. He is an accepted upper-class gentleman, mainly because of the Cardew fortune.
Novels written during this period, such as those of Charles Dickens, often turned on melodramatic plot devices such as the orphan discovering his real identity and winning his true love. Wilde hilariously turns this popular orphan plot on its head by having Jack found in a handbag in a major railroad station.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®
Absurdity is Wilde's forte. Both men are living a secret life, Jack with his Ernest identity and Algernon with his friend, Bunbury. Even Lane, Algy's servant, seems to have a second life in which he filches champagne and sandwiches from his "betters. The classic nineteenth-century farce often turned on such mix-ups. The deliberate use of the name Ernest is calculated. Earnestness, or devotion to virtue and duty, was a Victorian ideal. It stood for sincerity, seriousness, and hard work.
Duty to one's family and name was a form of earnestness. Wilde turns these connotations upside down, making Ernest a name used for deception. Some critics suggest that earnest in this context means a double life. Other critics believe that earnest is understood in some circles to mean homosexual.
The Importance of Being Earnest & Other Plays
By using the name Ernest throughout the play, and even in the title, Wilde is making references to social criticism, his own life, and his plot devices. Marriage in Victorian England comes under fire throughout the first act. Wilde saw marriages filled with hypocrisy and often used to achieve status. Wilde also saw marriage as an institution that encouraged cheating and snuffed out sexual attraction between spouses. When Lane says that wine is never of superior quality in a married household, Algernon questions Lane's marital status.
Lane flippantly mentions that his own marriage resulted from a "misunderstanding. Algernon replies that he thought Jack had "come up for pleasure? I call that business.