In the game of love that Wilde plays throughout The Importance of Being Earnest, Jack and Algernon, who strive for love, are pitted against the fickleness of the women they desire. Even though Wilde assigns stereotypical gender roles to each sex—Jack and Algernon are suave dandies, while Cecily and Gwendolen are vapid beauties—when it comes to marriage and love, he places women in a position of power because they are able to actively choose their mates and influence their partners’ behaviors. In the Victorian world women were rarely afforded this influence, as their male elders—fathers, brothers, uncles, etc.—had tight control over the men with whom they interacted, even dated. Yet Gwendolen and Cecily wield a great deal of power over their suitors. For instance, Jack and Algernon strive to christen themselves “Ernest” precisely because Gwendolen and Cecily threaten to withhold their affections from any man who does not hold this name. In doing so, they effectively compel Jack and Algernon to change their names.
Even though Gwendolen and Cecily’s engagements are restricted by a patriarchal system of cash, class, and character, it is important to note that Lady Bracknell, not Lord Bracknell, is the one who becomes master of matrimony, dictating who may marry whom. The general absence of male patriarchs points to the diminished presence of men in Wilde’s dramatic world, thereby highlighting women, like Gwendolen, Cecily, and Lady Bracknell in positions of power and prominence.
Men and Women in Love ThemeTracker
Men and Women in Love Quotes in The Importance of Being Earnest
Jack: I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.
Algernon: I thought you had come up for pleasure?...I call that business.
I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If I ever get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact.
Even before I met you I was far from indifferent to you…my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence.
Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism’s pupil, I would hang upon her lips.
Cecily: Miss Prism says that all good looks are a snare.
Algernon: They are a snare that every sensible man would like to be caught in.
Cecily: Oh! I don’t think I would care to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about.
You are too much alone, dear Dr. Chasuble. You should get married. A misanthrope. I can understand—a womanthrope never!
Miss Prism: And you do not seem to realize, dear Doctor, that by persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation. Men should be more careful; this very celibacy leads weaker vessels astray.
Dr. Chausible: But is a man not equally attractive when married?
Miss Prism: No married man is ever attractive except to his wife.
The home seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not? And I don't like that. It makes men so very attractive.
Unmarried! I do not deny that is a serious blow. But after all, who has the right to cast a stone against one who has suffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should there be one law for men and another for women?