Lady Bracknell represents the Victorian upper-class, born into wealth and status and obsessed with its maintenance. She is the image of the period’s fascination with propriety, and her primary concern during the play is ensuring that her daughter Gwendolyn makes a match that can be considered favorable for their class...
Lady Bracknell represents the Victorian upper-class, born into wealth and status and obsessed with its maintenance. She is the image of the period’s fascination with propriety, and her primary concern during the play is ensuring that her daughter Gwendolyn makes a match that can be considered favorable for their class and her connections. When it is discovered that Jack has no such connections (and in fact, that he was a discovered orphan with no known parentage), Lady Bracknell gives a firm no.
To illustrate how her character is a satirized version of her class, you must look for quotes that reveal an exaggerated concern with either propriety or status. This is usually presented ironically—an inversion of one’s typical expectations for how one should feel or react. One example is in Lady Bracknell’s treatment of Bunbury in the first scene. Rather than show concern for Algernon’s ailing friend, Lady Bracknell is annoyed because his illness prevents Algernon’s presence at her event and ruins the way she’s organized her table settings.
I should be much obliged if you would ask Mr. Bunbury, from me, to be kind enough not to have a relapse on Saturday, for I rely on you to arrange my music for me.
While humorous, this also shows the social perception that this particular Victorian class was concerned only with their own well-being. Another example of Wilde exaggerating Lady Bracknell’s concern with status comes when she pulls out a notepad and a pencil to interview Jack as a potential suitor for Gwendolyn. Any parent would grill a prospective son-in-law, but few take it down on paper in such a formal manner.
Finally, we can see that Lady Bracknell is not above manipulation to achieve her goals, especially when that goal is to maintain a clean, high-class image, even to her own husband. After Gwendolyn runs away in pursuit of Jack, she lies to him to protect her daughter’s reputation:
Her unhappy father is, I am glad to say, under the impression that she is attending a more than usually lengthy lecture by the University Extension Scheme on the Influence of a permanent income on Thought. I do not propose to undeceive him. Indeed I have never undeceived him on any question. I would consider it wrong.
All in all, Lady Bracknell’s character is a hyperbolic representation of the Victorian upper-class, and her most scandalous moments reveal an exaggerated concern for self-preservation, image, status, and propriety.