Renoir Young Girl Reading


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Discussion Board

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest Link

1. Regenia Gagnier argues in her article, "Wilde and the Victorians," that Oscar Wilde's rebellion against Victorian social conventions is only superficial--at heart, she says, he truly accepts Victorian values. The Victorians sought control of the physical world through the use of science and technology; they wanted to be free from Nature (i.e., scarcity), and they had faith in the objectivity of their knowledge. They wanted freedom from political tyranny and economic exploitation, and believed firmly in individual freedom, equality, and autonomy. They also believed that human beings were essentially rational and, while they were social beings, were individually unique.
Other critics have argued that Wilde's rejection of Victorian social values makes him a Modern. The Moderns rejected the political and religious traditions upon which society had laid its foundations. They believed that God either never existed, or was now dead. Thus, all values based on a belief in God had to be called into question. There could, then, be no objective "Truth," since the only way we could know things was through our individual perceptions; with God no longer serving as arbiter, there was no longer any way to discover whose perception was correct. There could also be no firm basis for morality or ethics, as systems of morality and ethics had been based on religious systems. (More on Modernism in next week's lecture.)
In your opinion, was Wilde a Victorian or a Modern? Explain.

2. Critics have had various reactions to The Importance of Being Earnest.

In your opinion, does the play have any "purpose" beyond entertainment?

  1. What happens to the cucumber sandwiches Lane made for Lady Bracknell?
  2. Who has drunk 8 bottles of Algernon's champagne? How does he react to this?
  3. What comments are made in Act 1 about marriage by Lane? By Algernon? By Jack?
  4. What does Algernon say is the essence of romance? Does Jack agree?
  5. What secret has Jack been hiding from Algernon? How is his secret exposed?
  6. What is a "Bunburyist"?
  7. Why is Jack "Jack" in the country and "Ernest" in the city?
  8. How is Lady Harbury coping since her husband's death? How does Algernon and Lady Bracknell's conversation about her mock Victorian marriage conventions?
  9. What does Lady Bracknell have to say about the health and illness of Bunbury? How do her comments parody Victorian attitudes toward health and morality?
  10. According to Gwendolen, why is she so attracted to Jack? What does Jack intend to do about this?
  11. After Jack and Gwendolen become engaged, Lady Bracknell interrogates Jack. What does she ask him? How does he answer? How do Lady Bracknell's opinions both reveal and satirize Victorian attitudes?
  12. How does Lady Bracknell react when Jack tells her he was "found" and doesn't know his true parentage?
  13. What are the characters' attitudes toward the truth in this play?
  14. How does Algernon get Jack's address in the country? Why does he want to go there? Why does Jack want to keep him away?
  15. How does Cecily feel about German? What has Lady Bracknell said, earlier in the play, about the German language? What does this contradiction between the two characters reveal about them?
  16. Who is Miss Prism? How is her secret foreshadowed in Act 2?
  17. Who is Dr. Chasuble? What is his relationship with Miss Prism?
  18. How is Cecily different from what Algernon had expected?
  19. How does everyone react when they find out that "Ernest" is not really dead? What does this reveal about their attitudes toward the truth?
  20. Why does Algernon propose to Cecily, after all he has said about marriage?
  21. What surprise does Algernon get when he proposes to Cecily?
  22. Why has Cecily been in love with Algernon for so long? How does Algernon react to this?
  23. How do Gwendolen and Cecily get along?
  24. How do Gwendolen and Cecily react when they are told the truth about "Ernest"?
  25. In Act 3, when the women are listening to the men's excuses, what do they say about truth?
  26. How do the women react when the men resolve to be christened?
  27. How does Lady Bracknell react when she is told that Cecily and Algernon are engaged? How does she attempt to verify Cecily's social "fitness"? What finally convinces her that Cecily is "acceptable"?
  28. What is revealed about Miss Prism in Act 3?
  29. Who are Jack's real parents? What is Jack's relation to Algernon?
  30. What is Jack's real name?