Do Gwendolyn and Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest have more power to choose whom they marry than Florinda and Hellen from The Rover?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This is of course a key question as in both of these texts marriage appears to be not a free choice that can be made by an individual, but is dependent upon the blessing or agreement of one above you, either a parent or guardian. In The Rover, this dilemma becomes far more acute, because Florinda and Hellen are shown to have no choice whatsoever in terms of who they will marry. Aphra Behn seems to paint a realistic picture of the options available to women. Florinda, as befitting her status as the eldest daughter, must marry a man of her father's choosing. Hellena takes great enjoyment in describing the kind of marriage that her sister will enjoy and how loveless the marriage bed will be if she, as her father decrees, marries Don Vincientio, a man who is her senior by many years. Her lack of power and choice is shown by the way that, due to the absence of her father, she comes under the power of her brother, who wants her to marry his best friend. Hellena, on the other hand, is going to be sent to a nunnery. Both are shown to be treated as nothing more than objects or items to be disposed of in accordance with their owner's wishes. The eventual happy ending that both enjoy represents an unlikely miracle.

By contrast, Gwendolyn and Cecily seem to enjoy far greater opportunity and choice. They are free to court and to receive the affections of the men that they choose, however it is clear that the final choice must receive the approval of their parents or guardian. Note Lady Bracknell's less-than-enthusiastic response to Jack's rather obscure background:

You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dram of allowing our only daughter--a girl brought up with the utmost care--to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel. Good morning, Mr. Worthing!

Similarly, Jack threatens to withold his blessing for Cecile to marry Algernon to pressurise Lady Bracknell into letting him marry Gwendolyn. Thus, although the women in Victorian society are shown to have slightly more freedom than Hellena and Florinda, they still need the blessing of their parents or guardians to marry.

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