The Victorian Truth: Oscar Wilde’s Revelations of the Aristocratic Lifestyle

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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 …show more content…
They have developed fictional occupations of their time, and are numbed as individuals that it has become a source of comedy. While the majority of characters fit this mold, Wilde creates a mother-daughter pair of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen who serve as the ultimate stereotype of inherited class. Entering the play in a grand entrance, they quickly display to the audience a lack of individuality. Gwendolen’s first line sums up her position in society, when she insists that to be perfect would “leave no room for developments,” and that she “intends to develop in many directions” (Wilde 12). Blistering with irony, Wilde immediately shows his audience a character who has a lot say and very little idea of what she is talking about. Socially, Gwendolen probably cannot develop at all, and though the audience may not be aware of it at the time, personal development is “preoccupied with fashionable diversions,” and has “no legal, economic, or military aspects whatever” (Paglia 135). Even in her entrance, Gwendolen’s speech is as good as filler. Her mother is not only equally removed from reality but has been a part of the aristocracy so long that her personality verges on detrimental. In her first line of substance she recalls Lady Harbury, who she had not seen “since her poor husband’s death,” and who “looks quite twenty years younger” (Wilde 13). Here Wilde introduces a second theme: aesthetics, such as

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