Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
The implicit confidence that her destiny must be one of luxurious ease, where any trouble that occurred would be well clad and provided for, had been stronger in her own mind than in her mamma's, being fed there by her youthful blood and that sense of superior claims which made a large art of her consciousness. It was almost as difficult for her to believe suddenly that her position had become one of poverty and humiliating dependence, as it would have been to get into the strong current of her blooming life the chill sense that her death would really come. (2.2)
Gwendolen's expectations for herself are largely class-based. She can't imagine anything for herself but a life of luxury and good society.
[Gwendolen] had no notion how her maternal grandfather got the fortune inherited by his two daughters; but he had been a West Indian—which seemed to exclude further question; and she knew that her father's family was so high as to take no notice of her mamma, who nevertheless preserved with much pride the miniature of a Lady Molly in that connection. (3.4)
When the narrator says that Gwendolen's grandfather had been a West Indian, it means that he had made his fortune by going out to the West Indies and owning plantations. It seems as though this sort of enterprise – which could bring in a lot of cash, for sure – was not necessarily favored by "old money" types like Gwendolen's father's family.
Of course marriage was social promotion; she could not look forward to a single life; but promotions have sometimes to be taken with bitter herbs—a peerage will not quite do instead of leadership to the man who meant to lead; and this delicate-limbed sylph of twenty meant to lead. (4.2)
Gwendolen doesn't exactly want to get married, but marriage can provide a way to climb the social ladder. Gwendolen has many ambitions to get ahead, so it seems like she'll have to suck it up and get married.