Reversals of Traditional Gender Roles in The Importance of Being Earnest Cover Image

Reversals of Traditional Gender Roles in The Importance of Being Earnest
Reversals of Traditional Gender Roles in The Importance of Being Earnest

Author(s): Nicoleta-Mariana Iftimie
Subject(s): Studies of Literature
Published by: Universitatea Tehnică "Gheorghe Asachi" din Iaşi
Keywords: gender and family roles; the ‘angel in the house’; domestic sphere; public sphere; topsy-turvy world;

Summary/Abstract: Oscar Wilde’s plays include a vast gallery of feminine and masculine characters: Lady Windermere, Lord Windermere and Mrs Erlynne in Lady Windermere’s Fan; Mrs. Arbuthnot, Lord Illingworth, Mrs. Allonby and Hester in A Woman of No Importance; Lord Chiltern, Lady Chiltern and Mrs. Cheveley in An Ideal Husband; Lady Bracknell, Jack, Algernon, Gwendolen and Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest. In Lady Windermere’s Fan, although men hold the power, their roles are defined to a great extent by means of their relationship to women: Lord Windermere is a husband-father figure to Lady Windermere, Lord Darlington is her devoted lover, while Lord Augustus is Mrs. Erlynne’s obedient, submissive lover. A Woman of No Importance introduces a gallery of possessive women who try to impose their ideas and values on the male characters. An Ideal Husband stands quite apart from Wilde’s other comedies, for the play’s ending is in conformity with the Victorian gender role code, according to which women should be gentle, submissive and should always support their male partners. Moreover, while both Lady Windermere’s Fan and A Woman of No Importance propose a re-examination of the ‘fallen woman’ stereotype, An Ideal Husband accepts the conventional views on such women. The Importance of Being Earnest displays the clear dominance of women over men. Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen, Cecily and Miss Prism are strong-headed, pragmatic women who take control over their male partners. This is a topsy-turvy world in which the Victorian patriarchal values are reversed: instead of having women who submit to their male counterparts’ authority, we meet men who submit to their female partners’ whims. The paper discusses the relationships between the male and female characters in the four main couples of The Importance of Being Earnest: Lady Bracknell and her husband, Gwendolen and Jack, Cecily and Algernon, Miss Prism and Canon Chasuble.

  • Issue Year: 64/2018
  • Issue No: 1-2
  • Page Range: 9-16
  • Page Count: 8
  • Language: English