In the days when the play was set, people were spilt into three different classes. There were the Upper class people, who lived in an aristocrat society, who mainly invested from lands. Then, there were the tradesmen, who had “new wealth” which they made from their businesses. Finally, you would have the lower class people, who were the servants of the upper classes. The characters in the play are leading a comfortable life. They live in a sophisticated life style, where everything for them is a breeze, they have servants to do all the work for them, while they sit and relax.
They lead a superior life style, everyone under them has to look up to them. The lower classes are expected to respect them. In act 1, when Lady Bracknell visits Algernon, he had eaten all the cucumber sandwiches, which were especially made for her. As a good and loyal servant should do, Lane lies to get his master out of trouble, which is what all good servants should do.
Algernon quotes, “… if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? ” This shows what they thought of the lower classes as being their “guide to life”.
Lady Bracknell quotes, “Nor do I approve in anyway of the modern sympathy with invalids” when speaking to Algernon about Mr Bunbury. She says this with coldness and in an uncaring way. The aristocrat society lives on an unearned income. They, do not have to work for their living, they needn’t a job.
That is why land and inheritance are important in their life. They invest in land mainly and that’s where their money comes from. With no businesses to worry about, they can enjoy the comfort of gong to dinner parties, arranging them, go to the opera and watch plays.
They can sometimes to go into debt, like Algernon for example, who owes much money, pays no bills etc. We know this as he quotes, “… Half of the chaps who get into the bankruptcy Court are called Algernon,” This obviously means that he goes there often, if he know everyone’s names there who go themselves. He lives beyond his means, he just spends, spends, and spends. Lady Bracknell quotes, “He has nothing, but he looks everything” when trying to persuade Jack to allow Algernon to marry Cecily. They live in an extravagant lifestyle with many luxuries.
Algernon’s flat is said to be “artistically furnished. The rich of that era have calling cards, when someone visits, to inform the owners of the house. A servant carries these to them on a salver, a silver plate. They drink good wine and make sure it does not go to waste. They eat their bread with no crust. They usually own a country estate with acres of land, which are usually let out. Then, they should have a town house, somewhere to stay during the season. The “season” is when everyone comes to London to attend all the parties, galas, balls, etc. to exchange gossip. Young unmarried girls come with their parents to find an eligible bachelor.
Rich girls usually married for a title or name. Men with a title or name, but no money, would marry a rich girl, to gain some money. The book is based in a aristocratic society, where they have many values, which are most importantly; Money, appearance, sincerity, social snobbery and superficial values. Oscar Wilde has put in a whole range of these in his play. Money is everything to the aristocrat society. Without it, they would be pushed down the society ladder. They do not work for their money, but instead they invest it from land and properties. If you had money, you could do anything you want.
In Act 1, when Lady Bracknell asks for the cucumber sandwiches, Algernon replies, “I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being no cucumbers, not even for ready money,” This shows that he just gets his food without paying, they just put it on a tab with him. He probably owes many people money, but who is to argue with the rich? Anyone would do anything for money. When Cecily sneaked out of the house to go and visit Jack in his country house, she probably asked her maid to keep quiet about her whereabouts. Though, by the means of a small coin, Lady Bracknell managed to gain the information of her daughter’s whereabouts.
Lady Bracknell is the one in the play who most considers money to be the main importance in life. It would seem obvious that she even married for money herself, as she says, “When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind. But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way”. When questioning Jack, to see if he is fit to be even considered to marry her dear Gwendolen, the most important question is “What is your income? ” Jack replies to this saying “Between seven and eight thousand a year,”, which in those days, would make him a millionaire. This is the only note she makes of him in her notebook.
She is perfectly satisfied that Jack makes his money from investments and not so much from land as she says,, “Land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure,” Lady Bracknell questions Cecily to see if she is acceptable to marry her nephew, Algernon. She first says that she is running out of time, halfway through the interview and she must hurry. Then, as a last question, she asks if Cecily has any fortune. She expects Jack to answer that by saying, “No, she has little, she lives here as my ward and I provide for her,” To her surprise, Jack tells her that Cecily has about £30,00 in the funds.
He then says, “That’s all. Good-bye Lady Bracknell, So pleased to have seen you,” knowing her attitude would change now to the mention of that large sum of money. Lady Bracknell decides to stay, after discovering that this girl is an extremely wealthy girl and her money is in the funds as well. She now says, “Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady now that I look at her,” Lady Bracknell now finds her a respectable candidate for Algernon, as she has all this money. Her plan backfires though, as Jack refuses their engagement.
Lady Bracknell tells Jack, that she will overlook Algernon’s conduct to him, but this is not true, she hasn’t carefully considered her decision, but she wants to try and persuade Jack to accept the engagement so Algernon can grab his hands on Cecily’s money. Jack tells Lady Bracknell that Cecily does not come legally of age until she is 35. Lady Bracknell has no objection to this though, as she realises that if she leaves the marriage for a few more years, Cecily ‘s money will grow even more. Gwendolen makes it quite clear, that she is wealthy, by pointing out that she buys the “more expensive” monthly magazines, when talking to Jack.
She doesn’t but the expensive magazines, but the “more” expensive ones. Which shows, she’s probably no different to Lady Bracknell, as Algernon says, “All women become like their mothers. ” In every interview, she always starts with a few simple questions e. g. how old are you? Then, in the middle of her questions, she adds the most eagerly waited of question, how much money do you have. Appearance is also important to the characters in the play. The whole of the play is based on the one name of “Ernest”, which for some reason Gwendolen and Cecily adore and is their dream to marry someone with that name.
Gwendolen says, “There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence” She says that she was destined to love him as soon as she heard the name mentioned. She says that the name, “Produces vibrations” This shows us that the first thing Gwendolen looks for in a man is his name. “Your Christian name has an irresistible fascination,” quotes Gwendolen. The name Jack sounds such a plain name, when you think of Jack, you think of someone who lives in the country, who is quite plain and simple. The name Ernest though, sounds more aristocrat and when saying it, Ernest sounds more interesting than Jack does.
She looks for a husband who will listen and do everything she commands, just how Lady Bracknell treats her husband. I know this, from the line Gwendolen says at the end of her engagement discussion with Jack. She says, “I hope you will always look at me just like that, especially when there are other people present” referring to Jack’s blue eyes, like a puppy-dog face. She wants him to be like a dog on a leash that she can take with her anywhere and have him well trained. Cecily, a more plain girl, it would seem, but she is also picky with names.
She and Gwendolen both say that they, “pity any poor married woman whose husband is not called Ernest. ” Algernon thinks his name is rather an aristocratic name, but Cecily would only give all her love to someone with the name of Ernest. She here is being a little judgmental towards the name of a person. It’s like how Gwendolen first met Cecily, Cecily told her, her name and Gwendolen in turn replies, “What a very sweet name! Something tells me that we are going to be great friends,” Which is a bit ironic, as later on in their meeting, they despise each other. Lady Bracknell considers the odd number side of the street as “unfashionable”.
She tells us this when she is questioning Jack. This shows us that the respected ones in society live in an even numbered house. When Jack tells her about him, that he was discovered in a handbag at Victoria Station, she immediately is disgusted. She almost certainly now will not allow her daughter to marry someone who was found in a handbag, or as she puts it, “… to marry into a cloakroom and form an alliance with a parcel”. She says that Algernon has no money, but he looks the part, though this is a bit false, as Lady Bracknell is always thinking of “money” when it comes down to these circumstances.
Though it doesn’t really matter, because if Algernon and Cecily do get married, then Algernon will share her money. She also finds long engagements not acceptable as, “They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage,” She has this idea of making someone look something that they’re really not. As long as you look good, that’s what important. She examines Cecily’s profile, when inquiring about her. Her first impressions of Cecily, were that she dressed too simply and hair was not done up in any extravagant way, but was left as nature might have left it.
She tells Cecily to put her chin a little higher, “Style largely depends on the way of the chin is worn,” as she states. The characters in the book have many false and superficial values. Girls of the aristocrat society, did not have a choice of who they wanted to marry, it was up to their parents to decide for them. We discover in the first act, that Lady Bracknell has a list of eligible young men, the same list as the Duchess of Bolton in fact. She carries a notebook and pencil in her pocket, as though she’s always on the look out for new candidates to add to her list.
Algernon thinks that “Bunburying” should be known to every man’s life. He believes that if a man doesn’t know about it when he gets married, then he’ll have a very tedious married life. He believes that, “in married life three is company and two is none. ” Bunbury, as Algernon calls it, is way of making up an imaginary friend/relative and using them as an excuse to get out of town into the country or the other way round. Both Algernon and Jack have invented a imaginary friend/relative to get them out of town and dinner parties. It’s this “bunburying” that causes so much trouble and confusion among the characters.
In the play, dinner and meals are mentioned quite a lot. Cecily says, “When one is going to lead an entirely new life, one requires regular and wholesome meals,” Algernon’s first conversation in the play with Jack, he asks Jack to dine with him and says, “I hate people who are not serious about meals. ” Most of the lines that are to do with food, are Algernon’s lines. His character is a very greedy character, food wise that is. Algernon states that, “… it is customary in good society to take some slight refreshment at five o’clock.
Nearly every moment in the play he is always eating something, I guess that Wilde, perhaps did this deliberately to make the play more amusing. A dinner party is also a key aspect of their lives. Lady Bracknell is an expert in this and plans her seating plans very carefully. So there is the same amount of men as there is women, so they can all pair up. When Algernon says he cannot attend his Aunt’s dinner party, Lady Bracknell in turn replies to this, “… It would put my table completely out,” Her husband, instead would have to fill in Algernon’s place, which she is not too pleased about.
This shows that her and her husband’s relationship, doesn’t seem to be a very strong one and she prefers not to mention Lord Bracknell. Dinner parties are the limelight of the “season”. It’s where everyone went to catch up with news and find a husband/wife. The main characteristics of the character in the play, are their social snoberish, Which they show a lot of in the play. Algernon, when it comes to food and drink, he’s quite selfish. He had cucumber sandwiches made especially for his Aunt, but he ends up eating them all. He is allowed them, but no one else is. He finds that not receiving invitations is annoying.
Algernon takes his life too easy, he lives in debt and if something goes wrong, he has Lane or another lower class to blame. He thinks it is ” awfully hard work doing nothing”, which is quite the opposite of what most people would think. As he has no job, nothing to occupy himself, it is quite easy to get bored and you realise you need the need of some sort of hobby, events to got to etc. Algernon states that, “Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live… ” This is a bit ironic, as at the end of the play, Algernon discovers that his best friend is in fact his elder brother.
The characters find the French as disrespectful and are a bad influence on the English. The Germans, however are more respected. Lady Bracknell, always seem to boast about her social links with people of a high position. When Lady Bracknell finds out there are no cucumber sandwiches, she doesn’t mind as she had some crumpets with Lady Harbury, a Lady, probably with a high social position. Lady Bracknell even shares the same list of eligible men as the Duchess of Bolton. There are also several other names of high social stature mentioned by Lady Bracknell in her conversations, Lady Lancing and Lady Dumbleton.
Lady Bracknell quotes, “That in families of high position strange coincidences are not suppose to occur,” referring to the confusion of Jack’s true identity. She is trying to say that only the common would find themselves in these inexplicable situations. People, according to Lady Bracknell, are only considered respected, if they are seen at social gatherings and dinner parties. “… They count as Tories. They dine with us. ” And “Indeed I am told that one of the Mr Markby’s is occasionally to be seen as dinner parties. So far I am satisfied.
These are examples of this way of judging people by their attendance to social parties, that Lady Bracknell says in the play. People who went to Oxford were said to be truthful people, but this is a lie as Algernon went to Oxford and has told many lies in the play. Algernon says, “Literacy criticism should be left to those who didn’t go to university,” Therefore the ones who could not afford to attend universities, but earn a living from writing critical comments in the newspapers. The uproar between Cecily and Gwendolen, is quite amusing, as they both have to try and control their surge of anger, for the sake of their reputation.
They don’t want Merriman to see them having a bickering, which could break out into violence, that is not what an upper class lady would do, it’s something that you would see the lower class do. Gwendolen throws such snoberish comments at Cecily. “Sugar is not fashionable anymore,” and “Cake is rarely seen at the best houses nowadays,” which really puts Cecily down. Gwendolen tells Cecily that she hates crowds, which is ironic, as Cecily replies to this, “I suppose that’s why you live in town? ” and Gwendolen is furious.