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Analysis of Wilde’s Use of Humour Critique: Essay

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‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ (1895) and ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (1890) both address women in different ways whether this be because of their class or because the genre of the individual texts changes the overall portrayal of the characters. The comedic nature of the play allows for the women to flourish as they continue to match the quick wit of their male counterparts however, the gothic categorization of the novel fits comfortably within the traditional Victorian views on gender thus putting a barrier between the women and their significance. As the play continues to challenge the traditional outlook of gender roles in the 1890s the novella remains stagnant on the outward view of certain commitments despite the fact that the ‘naughty nineties’ was a superficially progressive decade for women. Marriage was hugely important to the average female of the 1890s, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ satirizes this idea as the conflicting concepts of the era were mocked throughout yet, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ seems to have a more consequential take on marriage as the engagement of Sibyl and Dorian becomes a catalyst for the climax of the novella. Perhaps the way that they present marriage in each text is a reflection of the supposed insignificance of the female characters.

Comedy, a concept so widely used throughout ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ permits the women in the play to thrive as it allows for them to play into the farcical nature. Gwendolen and Cecily, both strong characters within the text due to their wealth, are not as convincing as Lady Bracknell but their characters are much more compelling than those in ‘Dorian Gray’. Chris Sanford highlights the ‘silly nature of the play as he states ‘it is a silly play. It may well be dressed up as a clever play but the events and the characters and the plot are supremely daft’. The daftness is what allows Gwendolen and Cecily`s imaginative characters to surpass the argument that they are ‘underwritten’. However, Gwendolen`s aristocratic status pushes her character towards a self-inflated personality as she claims ‘I am never wrong’ such a confident statement to make almost makes her look foolish considering the ongoing lie that she so confidently believes. Her overconfidence in herself is a weakness. Similarly, Cecily, a sweet, simple, innocent girl is presented as a hopeless romantic. Her ‘girlish dream’ to love someone named Ernest takes away from her significance as she subverts back to gender stereotypes. Though both Cecily and Gwendolen are intrigued by the fairy-tale romance their fixation on the name ‘Ernest’ satirizes the romantic ideals and the Victorian views on earnestness and superficiality. Cecily states I pity any poor woman whose husband's name is not Ernest likewise Gwendolen expresses 'I pity any woman whose husband's name is John the only really safe name is Ernest' the repetition of the word pity from both characters creates the impression that they do possess some similarities in the way that they are written as they disparage the name based on stereotypes, despite Gwendolen being a brilliant, clever, thoroughly experienced lady and Cecily being a sweet simple innocent girl their nature to be hopelessly devoted to the name Ernest adds to the comedic style of the play, thus highlighting the idea that they are thoroughly written. Even though Gwendolen and Cecily might be quite strong characters they still have a passivity about them as they forgive Jack and Algernon almost immediately after they were very quick to anger each other. It begs the question of whether forgiveness is a strength or whether it highlights their return back to their romantic ideals. Especially as Gwendolen questions was it in order that you might have an opportunity of coming up to town to see me as often as possible the phrase was it outlines the querying way in which she asks this to jack highlighting her strong desire to forgive him and go back to the topic of their marriage. Her desperate, questioning tone presents the idea that she wants to resolve the issue and is happy to pretend that she believes him. perhaps giving the impression that they are unconvincing as they fail to provide consequences for the men of the play. Contrastingly, Dorian Gray presents a darker tone than Earnest this led Joyce Carol Oates to believe that it certainly possesses a supernatural dimension and its central image is gothic the more mellow tone of the novel stops the women of the play from developing their characters further as the tragedy encompasses one of the main female characters.

Though sibyl vane is much less convincing than Cecily and Gwendolen is described as so shy, and so gentle and highlighted to have something of a child about her already showing her immaturity. It could be argued that her character becomes one of the most significant in the novel as after her suicide Dorian becomes brutalized especially portrayed when he murders Basil, stabbing again and again and listening to the sound of him choking with blood Wilde`s choice to use the verbs choking and stabbing amplifies the violence as the spoken tone of the words is very harsh also illustrating the effect that sibyls death had on him. The difference between the characters of the play and the novel is that the play allows them to be more secure with themselves. Lady Bracknell seems very sure of herself as she states, while I am making these inquiries you, Gwendolen will wait for me below in the carriage the phrases I am and you, Gwendolen, will have a very demanding tone inferring that she is secure with her role as a mother. On the other hand, in Dorian Gray Sibyl Vane`s insecurity and her questioning why he loves me so much highlights her immaturity maybe this is down to the difference in age or possibly their class as wealth and affluence could equate to greater confidence. In addition to her self-doubt, she refers to Dorian as her Prince Charming. The intertextuality of the children`s storybook ‘Cinderella’ implies that she has an inexperienced and childlike personality suggesting that she is optimistic yet naive this allows for the argument that she is underwritten to succeed.

The complexity of the characters in ‘Dorian Gray’ led Mike Haldenby to utter that ‘Sibyl Vane evokes some striking parallels with his marriage’ Oscar Wilde`s marriage to Constance Lloyd got complicated considering his homosexuality however, Haldenby`s comparison of the two women can be challenged if you contemplate their status of education, their class and Constance`s relentless desire for women`s rights and independence. Though this view can be criticized both women were artists, in different forms, artists nonetheless clarified Wilde`s involvement with the aesthetic movement. Sibyl was a little actress. The adjective little supports the idea that she is insignificant suggesting that she is just a phase that Dorian was going through and the degradation of actresses and Sibyl within the word some epitomizes the misogynistic tone that ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ maintains. Sibyl vane is definitely underwritten although her influence on Dorian is significant. He expresses that his voice and the voice of sibyl vane are two things that he shall never forget the hyperbolic nature of the expression never forget clarifies the impact that Sibyl Vane had on him. As formally addressed, the acting profession is the embodiment of decadence and aestheticism outlined when Lord Henry declares ‘How different an actress is! Harry! Why didn`t you tell me that the only thing worth loving is an actress?' it highlights the themes of deception and double life in the novel. It outlines the idea that actresses can become other people thus they never get boring so, it could be argued that Sibyl`s character was not portrayed to her full potential because Dorian did not fall in love with Sibyl herself, but the very well-written, famous female leads of Shakespeare as Lord Henry illuminates as he suggests To you at least she was always a dream, a phantom that flitted through Shakespeare's plays. The intertextuality of Shakespeare`s Hamlet and King Lear as Henry suggests mourning for Ophelia and mentions that ‘Cordelia was strangled' proposes how underwritten sibyl is as Wilde allows Lord Henry to declare don`t waste your tears over Sibyl Vane. She was less real than they were. The phrase less real illustrates how unconvincing Sibyl is as she`s compared to a character who doesn`t actually exist.

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Marriage in both texts is an indirect depiction of how the women in the play and the novel are presented. Both texts include a strong mother figure, lady Bracknell from The Importance of Being Earnest, and Mrs. Vane from The Picture of Dorian Gray. The more powerful of the two, due mainly to her wealth and class (Lady Bracknell) has certain criteria that she uses to consider suitable bachelors for her daughter shown when Lady Bracknell states you are not down on my eligible list of young men. The eligibility mentioned is derived possibly from a set of assumptions around marriage at the time. During the 1890s it was a popular belief that upper-class and middle-class women had to stay dependent on a man, first as a daughter and later as a wife. Considering this view, Lady Bracknell`s view on marriage was solely that of a business arrangement, hinted at when she asks Jack what is your income?. Similarly, Mrs. Vane also views marriage as a business transaction however, she is undecided between Mr. Isaacs giving them fifty pounds to pay off our debts and her daughter's hope for love is more than money. It is made clear that Mrs. Vane does not approve of Sibyl`s belief that Prince Charming rules life for us now when she shouts, foolish child, foolish child! The use of an exclamation mark conveys the passionate and determined way that Mrs. Vane feels toward this topic and highlights her stagnant view on marriage. The combined view that love and marriage do not come as a pair but come separately and focusing on the business plan instead of the modern idea of marrying for love clarifies the similarities between the two mothers. However, Mrs. Vanes' character is presented as more unconvincing than Lady Bracknell's as her societal status and class are much lower. The convincing nature of Cecily is secured when she changes Algernon`s view on marriage. The character of Algernon has a rather resentful attitude towards marriage as he argues I really don`t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love, but there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. His view argues the unromantic nature of marriage however, Cecily`s strong influence and her girlish dream managed to change Algy`s view as later he expresses I love you, Cecily. You will marry me, won`t you? the drastic change in attitude goes to discard the argument that she is insignificant, especially applying Lisa Hopkin's idea of marriage as comic closure. Oscar Wilde seemed to use a similar idea thus making Cecily`s ability to change Algernon`s attitude very significant.

Contrastingly, the only marriage in The Picture of Dorian Gray is that of Lord Henry and Victoria Wotton, a marriage based on separation. Lord Henry`s view on marriage is that men marry because they are tired; women, because they are curious: both are disappointed possibly mirroring Oscar Wilde`s view on marriage. Victoria`s nervous nature is shown when The same nervous laugh broke from her thin lips, and her fingers began to play with a long tortoise-shell paper knife could be a result of Lord Henry`s hedonistic character. His hedonism is outlined when he states The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it thus highlighting that Victoria is underwritten as she is unable to change the opinion of Lord henry like Cecily could, due to Lord Henry`s need for vicarious self-indulgence. Victoria is presented as insignificant as she projects I always hear Harry`s views from his friends. It is the only way I get to know them, therefore, highlighting how insignificant she is as even her husband does not speak to her frequently. On the contrary, Lord Henry announces They have had my own divorce case continuing on to highlight that the man with whom my wife ran away played Chopin exquisitely. Poor Victoria! I was very fond of her. The house is rather lonely without her the phrase ran away almost suggests some independence and disobedience from Victoria perhaps presenting her as more convincing than previous encounters. The sentence The house is kind of lonely without her demonstrates the relative influence that Victoria had on Lord Henry as he highlights the emptiness.

John Ruskin`s idea of the man being the doer, the creator, the discoverer, and the defender leaves the woman confined to the domestic realm. In the Victorian era, the idea of separate spheres signified that the world enjoyed the idea of a powerful man thus leaving the expressive role to the women due to their fragility. This view is clearly outlined with the characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray Sybil Vane and her mother Mrs. Vane play a very domestic role as Mrs. Vane highlights I don`t know how we could manage without him underlining their dependence on Mr. Isaacs for money. On the other hand, in The Importance of Being Earnest Lady Bracknell confidently challenges this idea. The concept of separate spheres reiterates the proposition put forward by the 19th-century feminist Josephine Butler who argued that equality cannot exist between both sexes until the definitive line between social roles is erased this idea is put into perspective with Lady Bracknell. During the Victoria era it was very common for the male to be the head of the family Lady Bracknell seems to take on this role very convincingly as she states you are not engaged to anyone. When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact the direct address used at the beginning illustrates her stern, confident character. The phrase I, or your father suggests that Lord and Lady Bracknell are on a similar level within their family dynamic. As a character, Lady Bracknell has become the most memorable from The Importance of Being Earnest. The most famous line A handbag? creates a huge impact on the audience furthering more criticism of the argument that she is underwritten. Lady Bracknell continues to criticize this argument as her character drives the play continuing to be very forward, and forthcoming shown when she argues that The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes the final phrase it would prove serious danger to the upper classes highlights the comedy of manners that satirizes the upper class.

Overall, the women in the novella are much more underwritten than the women in the play. Sybil Vane and Mrs vane appear less convincing due to their wealth and societal status whereas Cecily, Gwendolen, and Lady Bracknell are presented as much more convincing due to the comedic element of the play. The immaturity of Sibyl in Dorian Gray hinders her development but her effect on the characterization of Dorian is significant. Lady Bracknell`s fierce nature and abrupt attitude are that of a very convincing woman and this is shown generously throughout as she navigates the engagement of her daughter and Jack. The novel and the play are completely different in genre, one being a classic Victorian melodrama filled with tragedy and the other being a comedy of manners. The genre of the texts is a huge contributor to the way women are presented. Finally, though not completely untrue there are factors that would disprove the underwritten unconvincing insignificant nature of the female characters.

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