In The Importance of Being Earnest, how does Algernon use Wilde's asthetic principles to transform his life into a work of art?

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

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As the mouthpiece of Wilde's aesthetic values, Algernon Moncrief epitomizes the Victorian dandy; the declared bachelor who lives above his means, follows only his own canon of life, and stops at nothing, nor for anyone, to get what he wants.

In creating the character of Bunbury, Algernon takes the first step into creating an alternate reality that would enable him to come and go as he pleases in plain view of others. Openly admitting his creation, Algernon tells Jack how important it is to keep a "Bunbury" in one's life, especially when there are tasks and responsibilities that one does not necessarily want to comply with.

ALGERNON:I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable.

In a similar fashion, Wilde is quoted with saying that leading a moral (tedious) life is a "middle class" phenomenon while there is more joy that can be drawn from living like a libertine. This is sealed with the words spoken by Algernon to Lane in Act I:

ALGERNON: Lane's views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.

Another instance of aestheticism in Algernon's life is living above his means. Abiding by the code of the dandy, Algernon can afford to require the best of everything despite of paying for nothing. We catch minor glimpses of reality lurking in Algernon's life when we hear that he has "creditors" who "knock" at a specific way at his door. Yet, he scoffs at this and moves onwards with his fantasy, particularly after finding out that Cecily is a rich heiress with a strange imagination, and of a marriageable age:

ALGERNON: A glass of sherry, Lane...To-morrow, Lane, I'm going Bunburying... You can put up my dress clothes, my smoking jacket, and all the Bunbury suits….I hope to-morrow will be a fine day, Lane.

Hence, by obeying his own rules and breaking everybody else's Algernon's life illustrates the fanciful and the fashionable, for whom Wilde coined the sobriquet "the beautiful people".

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