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Explore the ways Wilde presents late nineteenth century women. What he is saying about the fashionable women of the time, their interests, ideas, attitudes and treatment in A Women f No Importance?
A woman of no importance is a play about the upper and middle class. Wilde uses the women to portray is attitudes and views on the society of the nineteenth century. He portrays women in a way women would not have behaved at that time; this gives a comical atmosphere to the audience. In 1893 A women of no importance would have been very entertaining to watch, the audience would have found the play amusing however they would have been laughing at themselves as Wilde wrote the play to criticize the society.
The play’s first setting is a female home with conversation between women; Wilde may have done this to show the importance of women. Lady Caroline is the first character the audience meet; Wilde may have also done this for a purpose.
From the title ‘Lady’ we know Lady Caroline is a wealthy and high up in the aristocracy in England. She is a typical member of the high society; she has a very dominating overbearing personality and shows pride in her position. The Audience would have immediately recognised this from Lady Caroline’s conversation with Hester. She speaks down to her American guest, Hester who is travailing alone, “you have no country houses, I am told, in America?”
Another theme that Wilde conveys through women is the theme Hypocrisy and double standards. This is again shown through Lady Caroline and her attitudes towards the puritan Hester. Lady Caroline criticises lady Hunstaton choice of guests “But Mrs Allonby is hardly a very suitable person” but then praises Lady Hunstaton for inviting her to a pleasant party, Wilde is effectively satirising members of high society. Hester vocalises her opinion that she dislikes Mrs Allonby but Lady Caroline patronises Hester “I am not sure, that foreigners like yourself should cultivate like or dislikes.” suggesting that Hester is not a valued member of society. Wilde mocks the attitude of the high society through the ignorant women.
Lady Caroline is not as knowledgeable as she likes to make out, she continually keeps getting the name of the politician wrong, mistaking him for ‘Me kettle’ “Kevil, my love kevil.” The audience would mock Lady Caroline for this foolish mistake she keeps making.
Hester Worsley’s title is changed as the play progresses. Hester is first referred to as ‘Miss Worsley’ then she becomes known as the ‘American’ and finally ‘A puritan’. Hester is a contrast to all the other women in A women of no importance and all the women take a dislike to her she told me yesterday, and in quite a loud voice, that she was only eighteen. It was most annoying.” She has strong morals, values and opinions which she is not afraid to express ‘I dislike London Dinner Parties’. Wilde may have used Hester’s character to present his on views on the English aristocratic society.
Members of the high society frown upon those who are unmarried “I don’t think that England should be represented abroad by unmarried man” being married is more socially accepted. This gives the audience an impression of how shallow the society was and how status and social position dictate how people lived their lives.
Lady Caroline’s and Sir Johns is very different to a traditional Victorian marriage. Usually the man is the dominant one and women were known as men’s property. However Wilde contrasts this view, by Lady Caroline having control over her husband, being the dominant one in the relationship “John you should have your muffler. What is the use of my always knitting mufflers for you if you don’t wear them?” Their relationship is clearly showing a lack of love and affection. Their relationship is more like a child and parent relationship because of the idea of Lady Caroline ‘spoiling’ Sir John. Wilde is suggesting that they are together out of convenience and presentation. Lady Caroline gives her husband orders in the same way lady Hunstaton orders her servants “you had better go and put your overshoes at once.”
During the Victorian times when A women of no importance was written, women rights were begging to increase. In 1857 the matrimonial causes Act was established, in 1882 married women’s property act was confirmed, which gave women more rights and power over themselves, property and their children. These factors contributed to the way Wilde presented certain women especially Lady Caroline and Mrs Allonby.
Mrs Allonby is very similar to lord Illingworth they are both described as ‘dandies’ they use language which is intended to shock the audience. At the end of act one is it clear that Mrs Allonby is flirting with Lord Illingworth “What a thoroughly bad man you must be!” Wilde creates Mrs Allonby as a character who considers being a person who restricts the morals and norms of the society, in Victorian times there would have been very strict morals and social codes. “Women adore failures, they lean on us” Mrs Allonby is going against the stereotype, the man having control within Victorian marriages.
At the end of Act one Lord Illingworth reads Mrs Arbuthnot’s letter, he says “no one in particular A Woman of no importance”, the title of the play, which demonstrates Wilde’s views on the treatment of women in society.
Act 1 ends giving the audience an impression of a self-concerned, hypocritical society. Wilde presents these ideas through the use of comedy which give a strong message to the audience.