While reading Dracula and seeing Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” simultaneously, I noticed a few similarities between these works that I found particularly interesting. Although the works differ in style and genre, both managed to pinpoint a variety of themes and societal issues of Victorian society. While Dracula pointed out the fears and anxieties by merging them into a terrifying monster, The Importance of Being Earnest took a different approach to address similar views. Instead, this play took all the uptight, rigid aspects of Victorian society and turned them into a humorous joke.
The lack of seriousness about marriage, for example, is one very prominent feature in this work. Marriage was one of the most sacred principles of Victorian society, in that choosing a reputable partner was essentially the cornerstone of keeping family wealth and nobility. However, in great contrast to real Victorian morals about marriage, Gwendolyn insists that she must marry someone with the name of “Earnest” in order for him to be considered a good match, regardless of his personality or other attributes. She claims to adore the name, reasoning that a name like Earnest could only be given to a strong, confident man that would make a perfect husband. Obviously, marrying someone for something as trivial as a “good” name hardly constitutes a reason to wed. Her shallow request that she marry someone named Earnest, along with Earnest’s willingness to actually change his name just to be with her would ultimately make for the most naïve couple of the century. In this way, Wilde effectively makes a satirical statement about Victorians and their obsession with marrying into a well-known, respected family.
Another aspect of the play I found to be important was the idea of living a double life. Earnest is only Earnest when he lives in London, and he is only Uncle Jack when he visits his family in the country. He manages to keep his two identities completely separate, until Algernon shows up and ruins his illusion. To me, this separation reminded me of the “separate spheres” of men and women in the Victorian age. Women were considered dainty and dependent up until this point, and men were considered the strength and stability of the household. Wilde could be referring to this distinction, or even the distinction that existed between the traditional women and the “new” women that emerged from this time period. Thinking about Mina and Lucy as reference points, the two women displayed drastically different gender roles that ultimately challenged the idea of how a woman should live and behave.
Overall, the play’s mocking of straight-laced Victorian culture proved to be a hilarious and worthwhile endeavor. Wilde’s clever use of language, coupled with the spectacular performance delivered by the actors, grabbed my attention and held it from start to finish.