While it is widely understood now that Victorian society was one of excess and frivolity, it most certainly seemed legitimate to members of high society at the time. However, this was not the case with Oscar Wilde, who in his final play made mockery of his countrymen by satirizing the way in which they lived. This play, entitled The Importance of Being Earnest, follows the courtship of two young girls and exaggerates the absurd formalities of such a process in high society. The characters are shallow and delusional as a result of their upbringing, and collectively their words bring harsh criticism to the British upper class. These characters can be split into two clear categories. The majority, which is comprised of characters raised as orthodox aristocrats, is completely engrained with its ideals, primarily that of aesthetics over morals. These characters are in many ways like machines; so thorough is their connection with high society that they cannot function as individuals. In the other group, the minority, are those characters who would be referred to as “dandies” in Wilde’s time. They have retained their individuality, and use it seek their own slice of aristocratic influence. But by becoming so involved with high society they subject themselves to its triviality, and ultimately become as mechanical as their peers. In this way Wilde shows Victorian life to be corrupting rather than beneficial. Rather than a leading group in society, it’s obsession with luxury twists the upper class into meaningless robots. It is true that the aristocracy hold money and power, but there is an emptiness present that far outweighs the gains.Surely the members of the aristocracy who are the most empty are those who have been r…
…on, and Wilde brings to question how the rest of society can possibly prosper while its leaders maintain such trivial existences. And though it was aimed at a Victorian era, the principles Wilde asserts surely apply to all persons and periods. It serves as a call for action and awareness in those fortunate enough to have reached the top. Luxury may be theirs to claim, but their responsibility should be unavoidable.
Gillespie, Michael Patrick. “From Beau Brummel to Lady Bracknell.” The Importance of BeingEarnest. Ed. Michael Patrick Gillespie. Norton: New York, 2006. 166-182.
Paglia, Camille A. “Oscar Wilde and the English Epicene.” The Importance of Being Earnest.Ed. Michael Patrick Gillespie. Norton: New York, 2006. 116-132.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. Ed. Michael Patrick Gillespie. Norton: NewYork, 2006.