Monthly Archives: January 2017

Monday, 30 Jan 2017


The Importance of Being Earnest (Wilde)


Wilde as Parodist

Respond to these passages during class:

The point of Wilde’s satire is found in the nature of Algernon’s reformation. Be- fore his first interview with Cecily is over, Algernon is engaged to be married and reconciled to getting christened. But he had already been exploded in his very first exchange with Cecily, when his supposedly irretrievable sophistication is bested by the supposedly artless and sheltered country girl’s supersophistication: “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pre- tending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.” With this the wit has passed from Alger- non to Cecily, and he never regains it at any time when she is on the scene. The moral of Wilde’s parody: the rake is a fake, girlish innocence is the bait of a monstrous mantrap, the wages of sin is matrimony.


Wilde’s specialty, the squinting epigram that is at once murder- ous and suicidal, is perfectly at home in Earnest. It is the verbal function of that queer double consciousness that permeates the whole play and transforms it into a kind of parody. It is quite right that Cecily, who maneuvers under the aegis of wide-eyed innocence, should say of her own journal of unspoiled reactions, “It is simply a very young girl’s record of her own thoughts and impressions, and con- sequently meant for publication.” Here burlesque of the Miranda character fuses with exposure of a grotesque type of litterateuse. A similar satiric fusion takes place when Cecily discovers that her innocent “nanny,” Miss Prism, is, surprisingly, one of the three-volume ladies of Richardsonian sentiment and sensation. Cecily hopes that her novel did not end happily. “The good,” answers prim Miss Prism, with shrewd business prowess, “ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.” Such passages, deftly worked into the total fabric of the comedy, hold the key to Wilde’s methods and purposes. By ex- posing and burlesquing the vacuities of a moribund literature Wilde satirizes, too, the society that sustains and produces it; he has given us an oblique perspective on a society’s shallowness through direct ridi- cule of the shallow art in which it sees its reflection.

Foster, Richard. “Wilde as Parodist: A Second Look at The Importance of Being Earnest.” College English, volume 18, number 1, 1956, pp. 18-23.