Society’s view of social classes and one’s identity is continuously morphing to fit in new views and essentially to create an ideal culture. During the Victorian Era, the views of the social classes were very black and white when it came to the values and lives of the rich verses the poor. During this era there were many pieces of literature written to show example of the society they lived in. One of the most satirical of those pieces of literature is The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde.
The Victorian people were obsessed with image. It was important to know who your parents are in society. That lineage is how you can tell what your “ranking” is in society. It is a culture that is very much focused on your bloodline and how you carry yourself with that certain bloodline. There is so much resting on your background that it can keep you from getting the job you want or getting permission to marry someone. Authors from this era often show examples of society in the literature that they write. A few examples of Victorian society in literature can be found in quotes from the aforementioned text, Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest.
In Act 1, Algernon says, “Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.” This quote is contradicting the way we typically see societies structured. We would usually see the upper class set an example for the lower class. Algernon is insinuating that the upper class is corrupt and need to try and be as straightforward as the lower class (Wilde, 1734). The corrupt nature of the upper class is not a subject that is mentioned, typically, in nice and casual conversation.
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...What’s so interesting about this aspect of The Importance of Being Earnest is that this new fact is so incredibly important. His new real place in this society makes it absolutely okay to marry Gwendolen, even though they are actually cousins now. Back then, marrying your cousin was acceptable and common. Lady Bracknell, after hearing the news, has a completely new attitude towards Jack. Her opinion on him changed as quickly as a light switch (Wilde, 1775).
Those are just a few of the quotes and examples of the view of Victorian society from The Importance of Being Ernest, but they really have the power to show the tone with society in the literature of this time period. Overall, the Victorian society, with their obsessing over material items and identity, is not too far off from the millennial generation with our “selfies” and need for more followers on Twitter.
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