While Wiled is now known for his relatively remarkable sexual preferences we must not, as Alan Sniffled states, ‘assume that queerness, like murder, will out’. This means that though Wiled may be considered queer, this does not mean that we should assume undoubtedly that every character or nuance is undoubtedly so. ‘It might be nice to think of Jack and Algerian as a gay couple’ writes Canfield, ‘But it doesn’t really work. ‘l. As put forward by Peter Arab, Wiled can be seen to present the image off highly superficial and hypocritical society, with vast divide between our personal and social Identities.
This helps push audiences to question Identity In terms of the social Implications of gender, name, spousal choice and sexual preference, since fined or not, sexuality Is surely a key element of our Identities. During the late nineteen hundreds, when the play was written, sexuality was not well defined; there was simply ‘heterosexuality’ and at the time the recent term, ‘invert’3, which referred to the soul of one gender trapped inside a body of the opposing gender.
With social issues changing over time, we must not look necessarily for queer tones, but for the mockeries that Wiled makes of social constructs so that we can in turn relate them to challenge the more modern constructions of sexuality.
At the outset, the title of the lay refers to the importance of being sincere, here Wild’s use of irony embodies the theme of satire. This theme runs throughout the entire play due to the lack of seriousness of the mall characters regarding proposal to marriage and changing of names.
Both potential fiance©s of Jack and Algerian claim they could only be married to men named Ernest, ‘It produces ablations. . This claim In countered by both men offering to be rechristened as Ernest. This nuance points to the shallow nature of vows that should be based on sincerity and the ideology of changing your name to fit a social construction. An ‘Ernest’ can be seen as an ambiguous term for either the fitting in to a social role, in this case the provider for a soon-to-be nuclear family. Names are undoubtedly a huge part of our identity, so the Ideology of changing your name suggest an element of redefining yourself.
In this case to fit a social construction of an idealistic family life. Paralleling this element of redefinition, the notion of changing your sexual identity to fulfill a cultural stereotype can be envisioned. However Wiled does not present this redefinition in a positive light; to redefine yourself suggests a loss of identity and a part of yourself. However this redefinition Is presented as almost Inevitable, ‘Ernest [SIC. ] Is really the only safe option’, Implicating that It would be grossly difficult outside the warmth of social etiquette of the time – an idea Wiled explored in A Woman of No Importance.
To not defined sexuality, to not fit the mould is presented as an unjustly cold and unforgiving option, an option that Peter Arab argues is , ‘a way of life which has no future’2. Both protagonists are shown to be maintaining double lives, ‘Ernest in town and Jack in the country’, Wiled presents these dual lives as manifestations exulting from the constraining social pressures: the need to keep up appearances. Ernest, the doppelgänger, is the improper younger brother, described as getting into, ‘all kinds of scrapes' whilst we see Jack as the one with the, ‘high moral tone’ as it is, ‘his duty to do so’. Unlike Andrew J. Webber, who claims that doppelgängers present an image of homosexual desired, Eve Spooky Sedgwick suggests that ‘Not everyone has a lover of the same sex, but everyone, after all, has a self of their own sex’6 pointing to the reductionism nature of set definitions of sexuality.
This reductionism notion is echoed in Wild’s portrayal of the confining nature of social laws which he demonstrates through the double lives that the protagonists are, to an extent, forced in to and the vast divide demonstrated between their personal and social identities. Shortly before he died Wiled echoed the phrase of Algerian, ‘the truth is rarely pure and never simple’7, once again drawing attention to the fluid nature of life and truth and embodying the concept of oversimplification in terms of social customs and sexual definitions. Wiled rather strengthens the imagery of restraining social rules through his presentation of characters simply playing into the roles that are constructed for them by society, hence portraying a lack of individuality and from this a loss of identity.
Initially, Wiled presents Condoled is presented as demanding romance in public, ‘l hope you will always look at me Just like that, especially when there are other people present’  suggesting a the idea of romance being verified only by others knowing about it. Her request can be seen as a form of role playing: putting forward he image of a loving couple, soon to be engaged however this questions their true devotion. This is ironic due to romance and love supposedly holding associations of excitement and mystery focused between two people alone and hence suggests that romance is yet another social construct.
The ironic notion of this presentation of romance is shown in a negative and restrictive light due to the connotations of freedom, fresh starts and purity that are related to the word romance. Similarly it can be seen as shadowed by the theme of the restrictive notion of set definitions of defined sexuality. Through this Wiled once again paints the image of a hypocritical society, suggesting that we should challenge social constructs. The character of Jack is presented by Wiled as difficult to pin down into a specific role; a social abnormality.
Wiled uses the humor of Jack being found in a handbag to draw attention to his lack of fit in society, ‘l was in a handbag [sic]… An ordinary handbag, in fact. ‘. This lack of fit into defined social roll or class in this case, gives Jack’s character a sense of individuality and in our individualistic culture, this helps the audience or reader to empathic with Jack, and in a more modern reading of the text, critics can empathic lack of acceptation of those with individualistic ill defined sexualities.
His humble origins result in potential rejection from the privilege of higher society, ‘you can hardly imagine that l… Would allow our [sic]… Daughter to marry into a cloakroom’, through this likening of a lack of social fit to a cloakroom, set roles and classes within society and pushed to the conclusion that they indeed should question the constructions of society, an ideology still relevant in the society f today. Ultimately, The Importance of Being Earnest shows the contrast between the reductionism and confining rule of society against the liberal realism of personal identity against social identity. This was shown to be due to the unrealistic lack of fit of high social expectations, Jack and Algerian were reduced to fantastical double lives, to mere roles and stereotypes.
Every person is different and cannot be reduced to stereotypes, hence why the set definitions of sexuality should be challenged, a single label cannot make a person as we are complex beings. Wiled presents this educationist ideology as trivial, hypocritical and finally laughably pointless. Bibliography: Oscar Wiled, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume E, Stephen Greenbelts, up. 195-218. Available via Cambridge Collections Online. ‘ The name of Wiled commonly conjures recollections of him as a playwright, cultural artic and often his ultimate plunge into disrepute as a committed homosexual – a notion many consider buried within his literary works. Even today we find Wild’s works applicable, particularly in regards to questions of sexual identity.
In the past (circa nineteen eighties) Wild’s life was seen as embarrassing and students were often under pressure to disregard homoerotic undertones: a notion embodied by Alfred Douglas’ phrase, ‘Love that may dare not speak its name’. However following the relatively recent movement of lesbian and gay studies into the line of social acceptability, we can now look for elements of homoerotic patterning. Many critics debate how the Homosexual genre came into being and how it cannot conclusively apply to Wild’s works, this brings to mind the question of how much we apply ourselves to historical specificity and sexual being.
In Christopher Craft’s essay, ‘Allis Bunny he draws out the ambiguity behind the character Leghorn’s alibi to escape his family -a regularly ill phantom friend named Bunny. This creation can be seen as an unimportant character based on a hypochondriac childhood friend of Wild’s or a symbolism of a more erotic tie between Jack and Ernest. Craft points to how the opposing interpretations are continuously, ‘exchanged, accelerated, derailed… Cross- switched’ by Wiled, mirroring the word pun in the title, ‘The Importance of Being E(a)Ernest’. This approach can be congratulated on its lack of reductionism regarding suggestive puns and the social implications that may lie beneath.
A homosexual interpretation of Wild’s plays could be seen as sculpting the ideology within literature and implicating what it means to be homosexual or gay. According to Michael Faculty these are modern labels as they assume sexuality is based on period Sodomy’s was not considered a gender-specific homosexual act, but simply a sexual behavior. The terms Hetero and Homosexual had not yet been defined. Around the eighteen-nineties thinkers such as Henries Lyrics et al. Ere attempting to classify human sexuality, coining the term, ‘sexual invert’: defined as a female soul that could inhabit a male body and vice versa. This term was used at Wild’s trial as an attempt to discredit him. Following his term incarcerated, he considered himself merely a, ‘pathological problem in the eyes of German scientists… Quantum mutates’, suggesting that before he had not previously considered himself defined specifically s a homosexual or ‘invert’.
Alan Sniffled suggests we should be careful not to presume that Wiled, as an effeminate man, could be definitively comprehended as a ‘homosexual’. He points to the fact that many believe that, ‘queerness… Will out’, but that this is not the case. Many commentators look too hard for the unlikely tones of homoerotic, for example between Algerian and Jack, though realistically they both want to marry heiresses. Sniffled claims this over analysis may be because ‘our stereotypical notion of male homosexuality derives from Wiled’ though ultimately Wiled could not intelligibly be defined as a specific type of sexual deviant. This notion is supported by Deed Cone’s Journalistic reports of court proceedings at Wild’s trial.
Cohen noted how newspapers were unable to specify sexual acts of Wiled, but did all they could to present him with traits that we may now deem, ‘homosexual’. Though based on Wild’s ‘unmanly self-presentation and the ‘aesthetic Movement’, this sensationalist reporting had the result of the creation of a new definition of sexuality based on, ‘personality not, ‘practice’. Eve Spooky, in support of anti-homophobic eating of Wild’s The Importance of Being Ernest, urges us to take into account a different model on which Wild’s exploration of male-male relationships could be based.
She claims Wild’s works are structured mainly around a shift between generations of lovers, emanating from, ‘pederast’s love in the process of being superseded… By the homo/hetero imposition’. In Lawrence Damson’s essay on The Portrait of Mr. W. H. , Damson argues that the play demonstrated Wild’s objection to the increasing cultural obligation that held Men to their ties of the nuclear family whilst by contrast advocating same-sex desire. This clear demonstration caused Henry Laborers to set the conflicting precedent in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 that prevented sexual acts between men, both in public and in private.
In contrast, Sniffled argues that this cannot be the case, since Damson suggests that there was a specific homosexual undertone in ‘Mr. W. H. ‘ whilst in reality, our modern definition of homosexuality has evolved over the last decade, often in key relation to Oscar Wiled. He states that the lack of definition of the form of love in ‘Mr. W. H. ‘ could be based more on the censored nature of pederast’s love in Victorian England. This notion is supported by Linda Dowling, who asserts that in the period of Victorian Hellenize, Wild’s portrays pederast’s love in a fully unapologetic way.
She points to how he in his own trial stated, in reference to ‘Love that may dare not speak its name’, stated ‘It is not unnatural. It is literary’. Following on Bristol points to the contradictory nature of assuming that Wild’s works, specifically The Picture of Dorian Gray, are entwined with themes of ‘Love that may dare not speak its name’. Ultimately presenting the notion of deceiving looks: Doorman’s beautiful visage against his sinful nouns men? ‘.
This ill defined ‘friendship’ only ever leads to negative consequences, as supported by Jeff Announce who points out, ‘expression of homosexual desire cancels, rather than clarifies the definition of the character through whom it is conducted’. We also must not disregard the Hellenic origins of Doorman’s name held in parallel with his outward appearance that seems almost Hedonistic and suggests nothing of his sinful nature. In a society without the strict structure of Victorian England, perhaps it would have been possible to discover what it means to be ‘A employ multiform creature’.