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Historical Context of The Importance of Being Earnest

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Allison Hambrick

on 5 February 2016

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Transcript of Historical Context of The Importance of Being Earnest

The Victorian era refers to a period in British history during the rule of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain. Victorian culture is often regarded for its emphasis on moralistic, straitlaced language and behavior. Oscar Wilde's
The Importance of Being Earnest
is among the most widely known pieces of literature from this period.
The Victorian Era
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest
differed from Wilde's previous works as well as the standards of the time because of its decidedly critical view on the hypocrisy of Victorian morality. Wilde utilized Victorian melodrama as his genre of choice. These plays often featured fallen women or children of uncertain parentage, and the plot often revolved around secrets threatening the happiness of otherwise well-meaning characters. Wilde redefined the idea of a Victorian melodrama by adding his own satirical flair, mocking the very same people he longed for the approval of. Underneath blatant comedy, Wilde crafted a commentary on the self-righteous and hypocritical aspects of Victorian society that remains relevant today.
The Dandy
Perhaps the most interesting contribution Wilde had for the Victorian melodrama was the introduction of a stereotype known as "the dandy." This figure was autobiographical in nature, inheriting Wilde's sense of dress as well as proclivity for epigrams and paradoxes. Wilde used this self-deprecating character as his greatest criticism of Victorian society by portraying him as shallow by nature and relatively ineffectual. This character is often the moral compass of the story, despite character flaws, and is the key to the resolution of the conflict.
Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin on October 16, 1854. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford before settling in London. Wilde became known for his flamboyant style of dress, his contempt for traditional values, and his belief in aestheticism, which embraces the principle of art for the sake of beauty alone. Literary acclaim was hard to come by for Wilde, and his only novel
The Picture of Dorian Gray
, published in 1891, was considered immoral and scandalous. Subsequently, Wilde focused his efforts on playwriting, finally gaining the attention he desired with the opening of
The Importance of Being Earnest
in 1895.
By: Allison Hambrick
Historical Context of
The Importance of Being Earnest

Queen Victoria
Oscar Wilde
Works Cited
Allingham, Philip V. "Oscar's Wilde's The Importance of Being
Earnest (1895)." Victorianweb.com. Lakehead University, Nov.-Dec. 2005. Web. 01 Feb. 2016.
"Historical and Cultural Background of The Importance of
Being Earnest." Resources.mhs.vic.edu.au. Melbourne High School, Aug.-Sept. 2014. Web. 28 Jan. 2016.
"Oscar Wilde Biography." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television,
n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2016.
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Importance of Being
Earnest.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2004. Web. 1 Feb. 2016.
Wilde, Oscar.
The Importance of Being Earnest. Project
Gutenberg.
Project Gutenberg, 29 Aug. 2006. Web. 15 Sept. 2015.
What exactly is Wilde trying to get across?
The Victorian Era could likely be referred to as a time in which aestheticism triumphed reason. Wilde ran with this concept, creating a story in which manners triumphed morals.
The lead character's love interest, Gwendolyn, says it best, "In manners of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing." (Wilde Act III).
What makes this message different from that of other pieces of literature from the Victorian Period?
Wilde used his writings to highlight the hypocrisy and vanity of British society in the 1800s by showing caricatures of the upper class and their disregard for right and wrong in favor of keeping up appearances socially.
For example, when Algernon says Bunbury died in an explosion, Lady Bracknell immediately thinks poorly of his memory and claims he deserved his death because she believes he was involved in a workers' riot or some revolutionary outrage from the Whigs, the British liberal party of the time.
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