Please analyze the following quotation from The Importance of Being Earnest ? ''Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious...

Please analyze the following quotation from The Importance of Being Earnest ?

''Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square''

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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This phrase can be found in Act I during an interview between Lady Bracknell and Ernest (Jack) Worthing. During this interview Lady Bracknell asked Ernest questions regarding his income, habits, and lifestyle in order to determine whether Ernest is a good match for her daughter, Gwendolen. When asked

.. a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?

JACK: [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

This was a pleasing answer to Lady Bracknell. This is because she belongs to the social stratum which Oscar Wilde intends to criticize in this play: the opulent, hedonistic, lazy and unintelligent aristocrats who, as a result of having too much time and money in their hands, do nothing but engage in a myriad of trivial and meaningless tasks. 

Prior to saying the "fortunately in England, at any rate..." phrase, Lady Bracknell said an even more interesting thing when remarking how pleased she was to hear that Jack knows nothing. She said

I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.

Since Lady Bracknell is a major player in her idle circle of friends she must display twice over the ridiculous and useless traits that Wilde uses to define the high society in his play. Yet, the juxtaposition of ignorance and beauty produce the irony and the satire that Wilde elicits with such paradoxes.

After remarking her views on ignorance, Lady Bracknell explains that

''Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square''

"Education produces no effect"- this is yet another paradox used by Wilde to explain that, in the upper classes, education is worthless. The typical upper class Victorian was notorious for being "sent down" (kicked out) of the major universities of Oxford or Cambridge. Being "sent down" was almost a trademark of the upper-class dandy. Moreover, being able to go to a good college did not preclude that they would go there to learn anything. It is well-known that Oxford and Cambridge were playgrounds for the rich, where they did nothing but socialize. Those who graduated were meant to get jobs already aligned for them, or be given a title that they were to inherit either way.

Why a riot? As a true snob, Lady Bracknell sees ignorance as a right of the rich. Yet, just because they are rich, she believes it to be equal to intelligence. The poor are ignorant merely for being poor. That makes them worthy of pity. But if the poor become educated(she thinks) they would be a strong enough force to take on the rich as a form of revenge.

Why at Grosvenor Square? The mention of the Grosvenor is due to it then being the most fashionable garden for the upper classes back them. Owned by the Duke of Westminster in high-class Mayfair, this was a "must-be" place for the rich. Since they always paraded there, the poor would have known where to find them in the event that this ridiculously assumed "riot" would ever happen.

However, these details add to the satire of ignorance being beautiful and of the poor rioting against the rich. The details add realism to an otherwise asinine conversation.This is a signature of Oscar Wilde's humor. It is what many scholars call "realistic nonsense".

Sources:

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