In The Importance of Being Earnest, why did Lady Bracknell say, "When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind"?  Analyze the quote.  

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lady Bracknell has just learned the the woman her nephew, Algernon, wishes to marry, Cecily Cardew, is very rich, and though she first opposed the match, when she finds out how wealthy Cecily is she begins to think it a good idea.  However, she tells Cecily, that "Algernon has nothing but his debts to depend upon."  In other words, he has no money of his own.  Then she says,

But I do not approve of mercenary marriages.  When I married Lord Bracknell, I had no fortune of any kind.  But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way. 

A "mercenary marriage" is one in which one partner marries a much richer partner, and the richer partner's money often makes them a great deal more desirable a marriage partner than they would otherwise be.  So, a person who claims not to believe in mercenary marriages would not be in favor of Algernon's marriage to Cecily (because she has a great deal more money), and that person would not marry someone so very much richer than themselves, either.  Therefore, when Lady Bracknell says that she had no fortune and never let that stand in her way when pursuing Lord Bracknell, she is directly contradicting her statement that she does not approve of mercenary marriages!  This contradiction, however, is in keeping with much of her character's other "principled" beliefs.  Just prior to this, when inspecting Cecily, she'd actually said, "We live, I regret to say, in an age of surfaces," and this is precisely what her contradiction shows us.  She claims, on the surface, not to approve of mercenary marriages because that is the socially-appropriate opinion for a woman of her status; however, she really does approve of them.  Further, she enjoys such high status that she need not even be concerned about this contradiction between appearance and reality; however, Wilde masterfully employs irony of all kinds to point out society's double standards in this play.

Read the study guide:
The Importance of Being Earnest

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question