‘Gwendolen is comic because she is both outrageous and conventional’

This is an essay plan for the question:

‘Gwendolen is comic because she is both outrageous and conventional’ In light of this comment, explore Wilde’s dramatic presentation of Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest.

Introduction –

  • Answer the Q.
  • Wilde uses both traditional values along with absurdity to ridicule the Victorians.


Paragraph 1 conventional –

  • Gwendolyn is concerned with appearances (Act II in the tea scene with Cecily).
  • They throw snappy remarks at one another.
  • Stop in the presence of Merriman because upper class expected to be role models for lower classes.
  • Superficial, all about appearances.

Paragraph 1 outrageous –

  • Superficiality satirised through her obsession over the name Earnest.
  • Earnest: ‘produces vibrations’ any other name has ‘very little music’ to it.
  • Superficiality over passion and love.
  • Ridiculous that Gwendolens desire to marry Jack centred around his name being ‘Earnest’. Name was important to Victorians as it showed your social status.
  • Wilde ridiculing traditional Victorians like Gwendolen.


Paragraph 2 outrageous –

  • Gwendolen portrayed as an empowered woman.
  • She has a powerful role in her relationship with Jack, traditionally the man pursues and shows interest in the woman but Gwendolen is openly flirtatious in the way she teasingly refers to him as ‘Mr Worthing’.
  • Gender role reversal.
  • Funny because it was uncommon in the Victorian era for women to have power over men, also example of how Wilde introduces a new, empowered woman.

Paragraph 2 conventional –

  • Gwendolen conventional with Jacks proposal. She is disappointed with his lack experience ‘in how to propose’.
  • Obsessed with proposals appearance.
  • Outrageous as well because she disapproves Jacks lack of knowledge in proposal (as if it is desirable for a man to have attempted to pursue other women prior).
  • Wilde combines both factors to challenge and humour the conventional Victorian ways.


Paragraph 3 conventional –

  • Superficiality at play again.
  • Gwendolen takes a conventional approach in the way she expresses that she will announce her engagement in the ‘newspaper’.
  • Important example of Victorian superficiality because 1st thing she does after getting engaged is brag about it in the news.
  • Victorian marriages seen as ‘business’ rather than ‘pleasure’.
  • One of the ways Wilde uses Gwendolens conventional ways as a means of comedy.

Paragraph 3 outrageous – 

  • Wilde also expresses her outrageous side to further ridicule this superficiality.
  • Gwendolen tries to upstage Cecily’s engagement by asserting her higher social rank with the fact that Cecily’s engagement will only be displayed in her small country newspaper. Gwendolens in widely read city newspaper.
  • This is a comical look at how the Victorians always asserted their social power over one another.


Conclusion – 

  • Conventional and outrageous ways create comedy.
  • Wilde uses both of these characteristics to mock Victorians.
  • Also Gwendolens contradictory and impulsive behaviour that are comical, through the way she rebels and follows her mother’s wishes.

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