In The Importance of Being Earnest
one’s residence is a key signifier of one’s social standing and sophistication. Lady Bracknell’s
keen interest in Jack’s
address exemplifies this alignment between class, fashion, and residence. She finds Jack’s house in town to be “unfashionable,” and his country estate to be neither a “profit or a pleasure,” but sufficient, as “it gives one position.” Just as Lady Bracknell judges Jack’s class upon the value of his real estate, Gwendolen
tastes based upon her upbringing in the country
. Gwendolen, a fashionable urbanite, makes several oblique remarks about country girl Cecily’s lack of taste: “I had no idea there was anything approaching good taste in the more remote country districts…Personally I cannot understand how anybody manages to exist in the country—if anybody who is anybody does.” While Gwendolen views Cecily as a country-bumpkin-nobody for her rural roots, Cecily associates city
living with vulgarity and aristocratic snobbishness: “I believe most London houses are extremely vulgar…I believe the aristocracy are suffering very much.” Through Gwendolen and Cecily’s attitudes about country and city life, Wilde upsets the characters’ alignment of the city with sophistication and the country with poor taste. Instead, he suggests that town and country, alike are paradoxical places—the city is urbane, but it is also “vulgar;” and while the country lacks taste it also affords one “position” in society. Wilde also suggests that town
and country are a means of fantasy and escape. Jack escapes to the city, under false pretenses, to avoid his obligations to Cecily in the country, while Algernon similarly escapes to the country to avoid his social obligations to his aunt and cousin.