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‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, having being written in the late Victorian period, shows examples of the contemporary society’s attitudes to and customs of marriage. These attitudes serve a very important role throughout the play. The problems and trials of marriage provide the basis for this play. Although this theme of the problem of marriage has featured in a number of English authors’ works, for example Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde adapted the theme in order for his contemporary audience to relate to it, and so the play is quite unique.
Act 1 of the play opens with Algernon holding a brief conversation with his servant Lane regarding marriage. We immediately have an insight into Algernon’s life as a single man; Algernon is more concerned with money and the high life than he is with responsibility and sensibility. He sees that not having a ‘first rate brand’ of wine, as it was mentioned was the case in marriage, as ‘demoralising’. It is not surprising that Algy, later on in Act 1, expresses such cynical views of marriage. Lane touches on the lower class’s attitudes towards marriage briefly in this scene.
Lane says that he has had very little experience of marriage he explains that he was “… only married once and that was a misunderstanding between himself and a young person. ” The humour in this line lies in the point that experience shouldn’t normally be measured in the amount of times one is married but the number of years one has lived in a marriage. He also says that it was a ‘misunderstanding’, which is intended to be funny, as marriage is an understanding between two persons. We learn more about Algernon’s views on marriage in his conversation with Jack. Algernon believes that a proposal is ‘business’.
This is typical of the Victorian gentleman’s attitudes towards marriage. The typical view of marriage was that it was more a way to achieve or sustain social status rather than a way of expressing love. Algernon actually believes that marriage puts an end to all romance. He says that ‘girls never marry the men they flirt with. ‘ This is an example of one of Oscar Wilde’s humorous epigrams, what is even more funny is when it is completely contradicted by what Algernon says shortly after: “The amount of women in London who flirt with their husbands is perfectly scandalous. “