Question: Comment on the treatment of Love and Marriage in The Importance of Being Earnest
“The Importance of Being Earnest” (1899), Written by Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), is the best paradigm of love and marriage. Wilde in the play displays three pairs of love which make the plot more romantic. By love and marriage, Wilde expresses the contemporary tendency of modern people.
Love of the Three Couples
In the play “The Importance of Being Earnest” there are mainly three couples of lovers such as Jack and Gwendolen, Algernon and Cecily, and towards the end of the play Dr. Chasuble and Miss Prism. Here, Cecily and Gwendolen fall in love with the same name person “Ernest”. And this gives rise to a number of comic situations that are extremely amusing.
The love affair of Jack and Gwendolen
Jack Worthing comes to London with his name “Ernest” with the purposing marriage to Gwendolen Fairfax. Jack is Cecily’s guardian in the countryside. He has invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest whose wicket deeds and absurd manners of living often take him to London. Thus, Jack gets an opportunity to woo Gwendolen who is the daughter of Lady Bracknell. When Jack and Gwendolen are alone, Jack admits his feelings to Gwendolen and she admits that she likes him very much because she always wants to marry someone named Ernest. Gwendolen tells Jack:
“My idea has been to love someone of the name Ernest. There is something in this name that inspires absolute confidence.”
Jack is very happy, but he asks her whether she will love him or not if his name is not Ernest. She frankly tells that she will of course love him. Then Jack offers her, and she accepts.
Lady Bracknell’s inhuman attitude toward Jack
When Lady Bracknell comes to know that her daughter, Gwendolen falls in love with Jack, she shows her good attitude in front of her daughter and instructs her daughter to wait in the car. Then, Lady Bracknell questions Jack about his habits, his income, his background, and so on. Firstly, Jack informs her that his age is twenty-nine, he does not smoke, his income is between seven and eight thousand pounds a year. Lady Bracknell is quite satisfied at all this information. But when Jack says that he is an orphan, found in a handbag on the train, Lady Bracknell refuses Jack’s proposal of marriage to Gwendolen in strong terms:
“You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter- a girl brought up with the utmost care – to marry into a cloakroom, and form an alliance with a parcel!”
The love affair of Algernon and Cecily
Cecily is the ward of Jack and resides in the countryside. Like Gwendolen, Cecily also falls in love with the name of “Ernest”. Algernon comes to know about her by the inscription on Jack’s cigarette case and arrives with the disguise name Ernest in Jack’s countryside. Algernon falls in love with Cecily at the first sight. When Algernon praises her beauty, she tells him:
“Ever since dear Uncle Jack first confessed to us that he had a younger brother who was very wicked and bad……..I fell in love with you, Ernest.”
Cecily proposes “Ernest”. Cecily accepts him and informs him that they have already been involved for several months. She makes this decision without meeting her. She also informs him that she has always dreamed of marrying someone named Ernest.
Discord between the Two Girls
The two women seem to be friends until they discover that they are both married to Ernest. They argue over who has a better claim until Jack enters. Gwendolen asks if he is involved with Cecily he denies it. Cecily identifies Jack as Jack rather than Ernest. Algernon re-enters and Cecily asks Algernon whether she is involved with Gwendolen. He denies it. Gwendolen identifies Algernon as Algernon rather than Ernest. Now Cecily and Gwendolen are very angry because both Algernon and Jack have lied.
Old but Very Romantic Couple; Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble
Various characters in the play allude to passion, sex and moral looseness included Dr. Chasuble and Miss Prism. Chasuble and Prism’s flirting and coded conversations are starkly sensual and sexual. They both are interested in each other. At the end of the play, they agree to marry.
Oscar Wilde’s handling of love and marriage proves that for a happy and peaceful materialistic life love is inevitable but love should be based on marriage.