Study Guide

The Importance of Being Earnest Love

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In The Importance of Being Earnest, it is often hard to distinguish Wilde’s notion of romance from that of real love. Readers must settle for a decidedly un-modern definition of love. For example, in Earnest physical beauty—both female and male—can initiate and sustain a love affair.

Forgiveness is an ingredient of love as well. Both women forgive the men for their earlier deceptions when they discover the good intentions behind their crimes. It seems that the definition of love in this play is not so much an unconditional and self-sacrificing love, but a general attitude of good intentions, admiration, and honest affection.

Questions About Love

  1. How do each of our four main characters define love? How do their definitions of love coincide or clash with the ideals of fictional romance?
  2. What initially attracts the women to the men? What initially attracts the men to the women? Is this common for Victorian couples?
  3. How do the men prove their love to the women? In return, how do the women show that their love for the men still survives?
  4. In your opinion, which couple’s love is more legitimate? Why?

Chew on This

The concept of love in Earnest is never challenged; each of the four main characters complacently adores his or her lover purely for their looks or their name and never questions their character.

The integrity of each character’s love in Earnest is challenged—both by the standards of high society and by the characters’ own dishonesty—and all of them pass the test.

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