Satire And Fantasy In Wilde Essay

3736 WordsJan 20, 201215 Pages
Satire and Fantasy in Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest' ROBERT J . J O R D A N H E efforts of critics to rescue The Importance of Being Earnest from the triviality that Wilde claimed for it have led in recent years to two approaches. On the one hand Wilde's epigrammatic wit is analysed as an instrument of social criticism and the play is elevated to seriousness as a satire. On the other hand its fantasy is viewed as an expression of the author's aesthetic creed and so is accorded the dignity of a philosophy. The aim of this article is to consider aspects of both the satire and the fantasy, although the greater weight will be given to the latter as the more important of the two elements. The form of wit that lends particular support to the claim of social significance is that used to describe Lady Harbury's widowhood, T never saw a woman so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger'. In such a comment the platitudinous phrases embodying some conventional sentiment on morality or social behaviour are taken, one or two words (preferably towards the end) are altered, and the whole thing is blown sky-high. A sense of security is created as the tired, familiar words roll out and then suddenly comes the jolt. Instead of the conventional sentiment comes, more often than not, its complete negation, and the shock is all the greater because this inversion of the platitude often sounds just as plausible a record of human attitudes as the platitude itself. Since the very existence of the cliché in the first 1 2 3 T F o r example, E r i c Bentley, The Playwright as Thinker, N e w Y o r k , 1958, pp. 140-5, Richard Foster, 'Wilde as Parodist: A Second L o o k at The Importance of Being Earnest', College English, x v i i i , 1956, 18-23 and Otto Reinert, 'Satiric Strategy in The Importance of Being Earnest', ibid., pp. 14-18. See, for example, H a r o l d E .

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