Algernon also says a comment about divorce: “Divorces are made in Heaven”. This is an inversion of the normal phrase “Marriages are made in Heaven”. Divorce would have being a topic up for much debate at the time not only because of the issue of money but also that women were basically subservient to men, which meant that women would have had limited rights. However, this is not an issue in the play as women’s role in society in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is portrayed as quite the opposite; all the women have more money than the male characters and
seem to get the ‘upper-hand’ over men.
For example, Lady Bracknell sends her husband to dine alone in the bedroom if Lady Bracknell’s ‘table is out’ at her dinner parties. Algernon also believes that marriage can’t consist of just two people, as it would be ‘tedious’ for a man to do so. He says that in marriage “three is company and two is none”.
It was not uncommon in the contemporary society for men to have a wife and a mistress. Wilde may be hinting at this fact or he may possibly be using irony to have a private joke about his own ‘Bunburying’.
He was known to be living a double life with his wife and his lover Lord Alfred Douglas. It could be that he was directing this joke to a few members of the audience at the time, who knew what he meant.
In the play, there is irony that both Jack and Algernon only have their ‘Bunburys’ while they are single men. Lady Bracknell’s views on marriage are key to the basis of the play. Lady Bracknell believes that it is entirely the parents’ decision on who marries their daughter: “An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant as the case may be.
It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself. ” This quotation is funny as it has an element of truth but is going beyond the normal customs. It is true that the parents would have had a lot of influence of the husband of their daughters but the girl would have an idea of who he would be. It was more a matter of agreement than completely arranging the whole thing with the girl being oblivious to it all. Gwendolen’s reasons for wanting to marry Jack are quite absurd. She illustrates that she loves Jack mainly because she thinks his name is Ernest.
She says that ‘the only safe name is Ernest’. She is being ridiculous in thinking that the fact that a newborn baby’s character would be determined by the name he had been given. Whilst her mother is basing her decision on Jacks money, status and birthright; Gwendolen is basing her marriage on a name. Even though the later seems the more absurd, Wilde may also be demonstrating that permitting marriage on the grounds of birthright is just as ridiculous as it is true that one cannot help what one is named or into which family one is born.