Importance of Being Earnest

338 Words2 Pages
A dandy is a man who places unusual importance on his clothes and appearance. He cultivates wit and refined language, and leads a leisured life. Dandies were common in the literature and drama of certain periods, notably comic plays of the Restoration period (1660-1700), and in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century literature. They were usually ridiculous figures who embodied the absurd fashions and mores of their time, and were meant to be laughed at by the audience or reader. Many of Wilde’s works feature a dandy, and in many cases, the dandy stands in for the author. As the Wildean dandy’s life is a work of art, he represents the ideal of the Aesthetic movement of which Wilde was a spokesman and figurehead. Wilde’s innovation was to make his dandies heroes with whom the audience can identify. His dandies are often profoundly good and moral people (such as Lord Goring in his play An Ideal Husband). Unlike the dandies of tradition, Wilde’s dandies are not meant to be laughed at; rather, in their role of a truthful observer of society and individuals, they point to what is ridiculous or hypocritical, and the audience laughs with them. The most dandified character in The Importance of Being Earnest is Algernon. Idle and charming, Algernon surrounds himself with beautiful objects and furnishings, speaks in witty epigrams, and dresses with great style, if somewhat extravagantly. Algernon is amoral and neither good nor evil. He is also, in his own way, an artist, whose aim is to create beauty, style, and ingenious fictions that delight both himself and the audience. Because he is an artist, he can be assumed to be close to a stand-in for the author. Algernon’s epigrammatic observations have a satirical edge, as they puncture the hypocrisies of conventional Victorian morality. For instance, his comment, “More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t
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