When Jack praises Gwendolen for her perfection, she immediately rejects his claims, and for a rather nonsensical reason –

"JACK: You’re quite perfect, Miss Fairfax.

GWENDOLEN: Oh! I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for developments, and I intend to develop in many directions."

In his earlier fairy tale, "Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime", Wilde presented us with an apparently pure and perfect girl, Sibyl, with whom Arthur was very much in love. Sibyl’s physical and spiritual perfection meant that Arthur had to purge himself of evil before he could marry her. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde parodies Sibyl through Gwendolen, who is deeply vain and bad-tempered. When she discovers that Jack is a liar who periodically goes up to London on pleasure trips, she quickly forgives him and agrees to marry him: she is not spiritually perfect, so does not require a pure husband. On the contrary, she finds the idea of perfection rather amusing and nonsensical.

When Algy makes a similar remark to Cecily in Act II, he is faced with a similar reaction that surprises him - echoing an establishment reaction to this subversion of the archetype of Sibyl.

Throughout The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde undermines the more chaste ‘perfection’ of his earlier works. His presentation of Jack and Algy, for instance, is a reduction to absurdity of the serious, sinful and dangerous life led in The Portrait of Dorian Gray.


The Importance of Being Earnest is a nonsense play, and in it Wilde renders absurd the various serious ideas he had expressed in his earlier works. In "The Soul Of Man Under Socialism", Wilde argued in favour of the abolition of private property and stated rather wittily that this is in the interests of the rich since the ownership of large stretches of land is a great bother. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Lady Bracknell, the main representative of the British aristocracy, is obviously a capitalist, inflexible in her insistent preservation of the class system. However, in Act I, she seems to agree with Wilde’s views on private property:

"LADY BRACKNELL: What between the duties expected of one during one’s lifetime, and the duties exacted from one after one’s death, land has ceased to be a pleasure or a profit. It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it up. That’s all that can be said about land."

Even the language here is nonsensical. Money is of no use to anyone after death.

Wilde thus ridicules both his earlier, heavier works and the fashionable ideas of the day by reducing them to farce. A good example is his treatment of determinism. In "Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime", Arthur was presented as predestined by an external force. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian is predetermined by an inner force, his characters and appetites. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Algy proposes to Cecily only to discover that he is already engaged to her, and receives a detailed history of their engagement. Algy’s future is so predetermined that it can occur without him.

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