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    Moral Messages in the Importance of Being Earnest

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    The discussion of moral messages and observations in The Importance of Being Earnest lean towards a more didactic approach to art. Addressing the play as either a satire or a celebration of Victorian society might also suggest that it is a mimetic approach. Wilde’s aesthetic doctrines completely disagree with these two approaches. Wilde believes that “Art never expresses anything but itself”(Hardy 1) and “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates life” (Hardy 1). The play, The Importance of Being Earnest follows the conventional pattern of a romantic comedy.

    But it does so with such an absurd logic and ridiculous sequence of events that it emphasises the artificiality of these conventions. In this sense, The Importance of Being Earnest is a play that conforms perfectly to Wilde’s aesthetic doctrines. It has none of the notions of realism or sincerity that would lean towards giving the play some sort of moral meaning. As Wilde says: “In all important matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential. In all unimportant matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential. ” (Wilde, “Phrases and Philosophies”) The play is centred on the stylishness and elegance of the lovers.

    They are not concerned with the sincerity of their actions. One of the components that block any leanings towards sentimentality is the fact that both Cecily and Gwendolen insist that they can only love and marry a man whose christian name is Ernest. It would be difficult for them to justify falling in love with these men for any other reason, as both Jack and Algy are incredibly shallow and one-dimensional dramatic inventions (Hardy 4). Jack’s proposal to Gwendolen can be seen as another example of how The Importance of Being Earnest aligns itself with Wilde’s aesthetic doctrines.

    The audience have no idea why Jack adores Gwendolen as much as he professes. Nor are they encouraged to have the slightest interest in finding out. It seems completely plausible in this artificial and ridiculous world of the play that he propose to her at once. But Gwendolen is not impressed with the clumsy manner in which Jack tries to propose. She makes it very clear that the style of his proposal and his style as a lover is “infinitely more important than his sincerity” (Hardy 4). This is a play that creates a world where style is always preferred over sincerity, and surface elegance us more appreciated than any allusion of inner depth.

    There is also justification in the play for the aesthetic doctrine that life imitates art, rather than art imitating life. Both Cecily and Gwendolen recognise their diaries as imaginative works of fiction. Cecily informs Algy that they are already engaged by the time they meet. She has created the event and it becomes a reality. The events of Algy and Cecily’s romance are written about before they occur, and when they do occur they merely formalize what Cecily has already written. It is possible to read The Importance of Being Earnest in a variety of ways.

    It can be read as an observation of Victorian high society: both satirising and criticising aspects such as the upright and serious moralism. It can also be read as an illustration and celebration of the dandy, and the “significant social force” (Gillespie 167) this character was during the late nineteenth century. But this reading goes against Wilde’s own aesthetic doctrines of Art existing purely for Art’s sake. It is alternatively possible to read the play in accordance with these aesthetic principles.

    To read no deeper meaning beneath the stylish surface elegance and pure entertainment that comes from the ridiculous situations. Similarly, this reading cannot be completely justified. All writing is political, even when it attempts to be apolitical. The Importance of Being Earnest can definitely be enjoyed in its sense as a purely aesthetic piece of writing, but at the same time it is impossible to separate it from interpreted meanings with regard to the political and moral differences in opinion that surrounded Wilde at the time he wrote it.

    Sources  Beckson, Karl. “London in the 1890s. ” In The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. 1895. Ed. Michael Patrick Gillepsie. London: Norton, 2006. 71-78 Beckson, Karl. “Oscar Wilde. ” In Modern British Dramatists, 1900-1945. Part 2: M-Z. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 10. 204-218. Found on “The Victorian Web. ” http://www. victorianweb. org/authors/wilde/pva99. html Date accessed 08/05/2007  Gillespie, Michael Patrick. “From Beau Brummel to Lady Bracknell: Re-viewing the Dandy in the Importance of Being Earnest.

    ” In The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. 1895. Ed. Michael Patrick Gillepsie. London: Norton, 2006. 166-182.  Hardy, Linda. “The Case of Oscar Wilde: Lecture Four: Aesthetic Doctrines and The Importance of Being Earnest. ” 2007. Accessed via Victoria University Blackboard. http://blackboard. vuw. ac. nz/webapps/portal/frameset. jsp? tab=courses;url=/bin/common/course. pl? course_id=_26380_1 Date accessed 08/05/2007.  Rienert, Otto. “Satiric Strategy in The Importance Qf Being Earnest.

    ” College English 18, 1 (Oct, 1956) 14-18. Found on “The Victorian Web. ” http://www. victorianweb. org/authors/wilde/pva99. html Date accessed 08/05/2007.  Wilde, Oscar. “Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young. ” On the Website: “Famous World Trials: The Trial of Oscar Wilde. ” http://www. law. umkc. edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/wilde/wildeswritings. html Date accessed 08/05/2007.Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. 1895. Ed. Michael Patrick Gillespie. London: Norton, 2006.

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