In Oscar Wilde's play The Importance of Being Earnest, how are Gwendolyn and Cecily alike/different?

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Gwendolyn and Cecily are alike in Oscar Wilde's play, The Importance of Being Earnest, in that both are romantic female leads. In many ways they appear on the surface to be similar to the stock character of the young girl, or "puella," in Roman comedy, who functions primarily as a love interest for the young man (the "puer"). They are both members of the upper or upper middle classes, sufficiently well off that they do not need to work. Both, over the course of the play, fall in love, and end up accepting proposals of marriage from the men they love. They are both more intelligent and more interesting than they might appear on the surface. Their conversation shows evidence of wide reading and astute wit.

In many ways, Gwendolyn appears a younger version of her mother Lady Bracknell (one of the great comic characters of the English stage). She has much of her mother's bossiness and concern with social propriety and standing. Both Gwendolyn and her mother though, despite being intelligent and having many qualities that might make them effective businesswomen or political leaders, are constrained by the social standards of their period to roles where their energy and intelligence has no outlet beyond managing the affairs of their social circle.

Cecily appears somewhat less concerned with appearances and perhaps better educated, as evidenced by the references to German. She also is less given to artifice than Gwendolyn, and although her diary is mainly introduced for comic effect, we get a sense that she is more imaginative and less pragmatic than Gwendolyn.

In Oscar Wilde's role as an editor of The Lady’s World he actually wanted to include more of substance and less of fashion in the magazine, and in his portraits of these two young women, we get a sense that his advocacy of equality for women shows through in the portrait of how the limited scope for action of women in their social position leads to a diminution of their lives. 

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Gwendolen and Cecily are alike in that they are well loved young women who are pampered with wealth, though Gwendolen is the daughter in a wealthy family and Cecily is impoverished in her own right but the charge of a benevolent, generous and wealthy guardian. Both young women admire fashion and uphold the value of appearance, though Gwendolen, being from the city, is more fashionable, while Cecily is more caught up in Romantic notions, actions and daydreams.

Both girls are affectionate and deeply fond, irrationally fond, of the name of Earnest, insisting that they will only love a man named Earnest because of the heart-felt sincerity it implies. Both Gwendolen and Cecily exhibit independence and strength of will and initiative in matters of the heart. The former rebels slightly against her mother in accepting an engagement and the latter concocts Romantic fantasies and rebels slightly against her governess and her guardian in matters of the heart.

Cecily is also a bit rebellious toward her governess in other matters as well and doesn't hesitate to connive to arrange things to her own advantage. Gwendolen shares this general touch of rebellion as she also will connive and manipulate circumstances for her own advantage. Although both share a sincere respect for parents, in Gwendolen's case, and guardian, in Cecily's case. They differ significantly in that while Gwendolen falls in love after adequate acquaintance with the man, although with an irrational attachment to a name, Cecily falls in love based on hearsay, though with an irrational attachment to the same name.

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Cecily is upper-middle class while Gwendolyn is upper class

Cecily is a country girl, Gwen is a city person

Cecily is younger, less sophisticated, but just as snobby as Gwendolyn.

Cecily is under the guardianship of Jack while Gwen lives with her parents (her mother is Lady Bracknell)

It appears, however, that Cecily is indeed richer than Gwendolyn, since her dowry is very high, and Lady Bracknell considers that a plus when accepting her to marry Algernon.


They both have the fixation with the name "Earnest"

Both need permission to marry who they want.

They are both not as angelic as they first appear- both have ways to manipulate a conversation.

They are jealous and catty (to each other, at first)

You can almost safely say that they represent the image that Oscar Wilde often gave most (but not all) of his female characters: That of an ornamental, cute, annoying, pervasive, and airheaded person.


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