In The Importance of Being Earnest is Wilde suggesting homoerotic behavior in Lady Bracknell and Jack's discussion of Lady Lancing who went to see the French maid? Lady B: "after three months her...

In The Importance of Being Earnest is Wilde suggesting homoerotic behavior in Lady Bracknell and Jack's discussion of Lady Lancing who went to see the French maid?

Lady B: "after three months her own husband did not know her."

Jack: "And after six months nobody knew her."

Cliffnotes interpreted it as a reference to homosexuality (see below). But what do you think?

In Act III Wilde makes a comment on the value of being homosexual with a veiled reference to Lady Lancing. When Lady Bracknell asserts that Cecily needs to have a more sophisticated hairstyle, she recommends "a thoroughly experienced French maid" who can make a great deal of change in a very short time. She explains that such a change happened to an acquaintance of hers, Lady Lancing, and that after three months "her own husband did not know her." Jack uses the opportunity to make a pun on the word know, using it in an aside — a comment only the audience can hear. Jack interprets know to mean they no longer had sex, insinuating Lady Lancing's preference for the French maid. He says, "And after six months nobody knew her," indicating that the homosexual experience made a new woman of her. Although homosexuality would have been seen as immoral to Wilde's audience, Jack indicates that being homosexual might be a good thing — almost as a social commentary — directly to the audience. It seems a double life is necessary after one is married, whether it be bunburying or the homosexual life Wilde was experiencing in an increasingly public way.

 

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

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There is no doubt that Wilde does fill the majority of his works with innuendos which, whether homosexual or not, do point to Wilde's extreme dislike for the Victorian ideal of the institution of marriage.

In order to decide whether he was speaking of homosexual behavior regarding Lady Lancing, scholars have often suggested to read on Wilde's biography at the time that the play is written. The year is 1894 and, according to Wilde's biographer Frank Harris in his book Oscar Wilde: his Life and Confessions,it marks the time when Wilde is at his most eccentric behavior as far as his life goes. It also represents the time in Wilde's life where his own homosexual behavior was under public scrutiny despite of the fact that he was married with two young sons.

According to Harris, it was a well-known fact that Wilde was openly carrying about with male escorts and that his main intention was to see who would dare do anything about it; it was Wilde's own way to expose the hypocrisy of Victorian middle-class society. When The Importance of Being Earnest was finally performed in the St. James's theatre on Valentine's Day, 1895 Wilde was sure that it would be a success. For this reason, he injected any poison that he may have wished and still get away with it.

This being said, it is highly likely that Wilde did intend to push buttons and use the word "know" in the carnal sense.However, let us not limit Wilde to mere homosexual innuendoes. Remember that it was also Lady Bracknell who spoke about the poor new widow, Lady Harbury

I was obliged to call on dear Lady Harbury. I hadn't been there since her poor husband's death. I never saw a woman so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger.

Therefore, it is an overall dislike of marriage what mainly drives Wilde to speak so openly against it. Yet, it is indeed more than likely that the other lady, Lady Lancing, did have an epiphany of the lesbian kind.

By 1894 as well, Wilde was pushing society's buttons as a whole quite passive-aggressively by challenging the Marquess of Queensbury in befriending the latter's son, Lord Alfred Douglas. It is this friendship that ultimately destroyed Wilde both publicly and personally.

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