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[Rahman] 1 [Syed Aquib-ur Rahman] [Dr.

Anuradha Ghosh] [MA Semester 3] [October 28, 2012]

[THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST: WILDE IN PURSUIT OF A NEW MEANS OF LITERARY EXPRESSION]

The play The Importance of Being Earnest comprises of characters who may be considered to be lacking in any kind of seriousness. Wildes characters assume a code of behavior that represents the reality that Victorian convention pretends to ignore. They are serious about not being serious. Francis Fergusson in The Idea of a Theatre says that Wilde provides a limited perspective, shared with the audience, as the basis of fun, showing human life as comicbecauseconsistent according to some narrowly defined, and hence unreal, basis. In the beginning of the play we find Algernon is reluctant to attend his aunt, Lady Bracknells dinner party. He is shown to be shocked of the conventions of the society of his times. He tells Jack that women in those parties spoil the fun of extramarital flirtation. Women like, Mary Farquhar, instead, decide to flirt with their own husbands. He considers this kind of behavior to be perfectly scandalous. And he is quite serious about it. The very fact that Algernon is not joking is what Wilde is perhaps trying to satirise. Wildes work can be seen as what Richard Foster in Wilde as Parodist: A Second Look at The Importance of Being Earnest considers the play to be a revolutionary quest for new means and materials of literary expression. He suggests that it is not adequate enough to label the play as farce or a comedy of manners, as it seems to contain elements of both. Farce generally depends for its effects upon extremely simplified characters who get entangled in incongruous situations. Wildes characters are

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indeed, simple and he does make use of some farcical situations. For instance, Jacks mourning scene and recognition scene at the end of the play. But the play does not wholly depend on the farcical element. The comic element cannot be considered to be depending solely upon action or situation. It is concentrated elsewhere in dialogue where it has a much subtler comic effect than farce. The play then, through the use of dialogue bends much closer to the genre of comedy of manners. It ridicules and exposes the vanities, the hypocrisies, and the idleness of the upper classes through verbal wit. It also consists of characters who fulfill the patterns of Restoration and eighteenth century manners comedy. Jack and Algernon are characters who dont seem to care about the riches they have and are in a quest to find true love in society and Gwendolen and Cecily are their hunted, respectively. Lady Bracknell plays the dowager role and is shrewd, rich and dominant. Her main plot function is to be the obstacle to Jacks romance with Gwendolen. However, Foster argues that to be a comedy of manners the play has to represent the real world, one that is possible. Even if the characters are heightened representations of human foibles, people laugh at it nevertheless. Folly is represented in the world of manners comedy but in Wildes play folly is essentialised. Wilde accomplishes this essentialisation of folly by creating an as if world in which real values are inverted, reason and unreason interchanged, and the probable defined by improbability (Foster,19-20). In one instance of the play we find Gwendolen saying, in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing. She echoes what Wilde considers to be the general contempt of the English theatre towards melodrama and sentimentalism in his times. In another instance, we find Algernon telling Jack, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either and modern literature a complete impossibility. Foster then suggests that Wilde is satirically demonstrating how art lies about human behavior where the simple laws of real life get distorted with complications that create a melodrama.

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Wilde parodies the myth of love in the play. Algernon detests the notion of Jack proposing to Gwendolen. He believes that there will be no more excitement left after marriage. The girls also happen to believe in this inverted code. They know when they are going to get proposed by their suitors and it seems to annoy them. Gwendolens love for Jack is derived from the high society monthly magazines. It is only sympathy that she has for him. She promises him her full devotion even if they dont get married in the future. This kind of attitude is in fact, an old romantic idea of spiritual love based on simplicity and Platonic sensibility. Wilde, as Foster seems to suggest, reinforces his parody of the innocence of love at first sight and the spiritual side of Platonic love by confusing us whether it is a romantic melodrama or a real comedy of manners. Algernon, who in the beginning of the play is totally against conventions decides to wait for Cecily for seventeen years so that he can marry her until she legally comes of age at thirty-five. She, however, declines it because of her untainted simplicity. There is also a love complication in the play that arises due to a misunderstanding. Both Gwendolen and Cecily have fallen in love with Ernest. But, that is the name of Jack when he is in town. He creates a fictional Ernest telling everyone in the country that Ernest is his brother. But when Algernon comes to the country disguised as Ernest to do his usual Bunburying, loves ideality for both the couples seem to be shatteringly threatened. But this situation can be healed, just like it is done in Pride and Prejudice, between Elizabeth and Darcy, where the offending party shows generosity to prove him-/herself. When both Jack and Algernon are discovered to be impostors of the same name, they decide to face christening. The girls change their minds and the situation seems to be healed. This love complication which ultimately gets healed in the end has been a part of literature since centuries and this is what Wilde also particularly parodies.

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Bunburying gives the plot its moral significance. The play deals with the consequences of not being earnest, which Algernon calls Bunburying. It simply means to invent a fictitious character which helps provide a guise to escape the frustrating repressive convention. Wilde suggests that the pretense is the price the Bunburyist pays for freedom from the pretense of convention( Reinert,5). This is his charge against Victorianism.

[Rahman] 5 [Bibliography]

1. Reinert, Otto. "Satiric Strategy in the Importance of Being Earnest." (n.d.): n. pag. Www.jstor.org. National Council of Teachers of English. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/372763>.

2. Foster, Richard. "Wilde as Parodist: A Second Look at the Importance of Being Earnest." Http://www.jstor.org/. National Council of Teachers of English, n.d. Web. 25 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/372764>.