The Importance of Being Earnest

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Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel Symbol Analysis

Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel Symbol Icon
Miss Prism’s three-volume-novel symbolizes the engrossing nature of fiction and the loss of one’s sense of reality. Miss Prism mentions to Cecily in Act II that she once wrote a “three-volume-novel.” At the end of the play it is revealed that she absentmindedly placed the manuscript of the novel in the infant Jack’s stroller, while placing the Jack in a handbag forgotten in a coatroom at Victoria station. The manuscript, being a work of fiction, and its inadvertent role in Jack’s childhood disappearance, represents the captivating quality of fiction. One may become so engaged in a work of fiction, that like Miss Prism he/she, may lose track of reality.

Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel Quotes in The Importance of Being Earnest

The The Importance of Being Earnest quotes below all refer to the symbol of Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Importance of Being Earnest published in 1990.
Act 2, Part 1 Quotes

The good end happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

Related Characters: Miss Prism (speaker)
Related Symbols: Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Prism tells Cecily that she once wrote a novel, but lost the manuscript a long time ago. In this quote, she succinctly explains what happened in the novel. This statement is partly humorous because in claiming that "the good end happily, and the bad unhappily" is a rule of fiction, it's suggested that this rule must be mostly untrue in real life—where indeed, one's fate seems unrelated to one's morality. Wilde here also pokes fun at the ways in which strict Victorian society rules often invaded other aspects of cultural life, such as works of literature. These rules on practiced morality largely stemmed from the Church, so when Miss Prism states that the "good end happily, and the bad unhappily," she refers to the idea that those who sin are punished, and those who behave responsibly are rewarded. Though both characters like Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism take the rules of Victorian morality very seriously, Miss Prism is prompted more so by religion and in the name of being proper, while Lady Bracknell's views are influenced by society and aristocracy. 

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Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel Symbol Timeline in The Importance of Being Earnest

The timeline below shows where the symbol Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel appears in The Importance of Being Earnest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 2, Part 1
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction  Theme Icon
...novels. Slighted by this comment, Miss Prism reveals that she was the author of a three-volume-novel that was never published because the manuscript was lost. (full context)
Act 3, Part 2
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction  Theme Icon
Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality  Theme Icon
...was found three weeks later in Bayswater containing no trace of the baby, but a three-volume-novel. Overwhelmed by incriminating evidence, Miss Prism confesses that she does not know what happened to... (full context)