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The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

Versions of Reality: Romance Theme

In The Importance of Being Earnest, pampered young women have a skewed sense of reality, inspired by romantic novels. When real life gets too boring, these women decide to take matters into their own hands by recording their fantasies in diaries. Potential lovers enter the picture and provide an opportunity to act out the fantasies, but the women’s expectations of courtship often prove too whimsical and idealistic for reality. There’s no tragic disillusionment here, though. Just marriages, and lots of them. Earnest is a comedy, after all.

Questions About Versions of Reality: Romance

  1. How does a preference for the name, Ernest, provide the first hint that Gwendolen and Cecily are living in an idealized reality?
  2. Where does Cecily record all her romantic fantasies? What qualities does a diary possess that make it an ideal medium for recording one’s daydreams?
  3. What is Miss Prism’s definition of fiction? How does this apply to the girls’ attitudes towards life?
  4. Since we’re on the topic of fantasy vs. reality, consider the inventions of Ernest and Bunbury. Then think about the women’s whims. How do both the men and women in the play deal with reality?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Despite the happy ending of the Earnest, the character of Miss Prism shows the negative consequences that can result from trying to live a fictional romance in the real world; her history can be read as a warning to girls like Gwendolen and Cecily.

Characters of both sexes in Earnest invent fantasies – either through fictional characters or private novel-like worlds – to idealize and escape from the harsher realities of life.

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