In The Importance of Being Earnest, what is Wilde trying to say about writing/writers, considering Prism's novel, Cecily/Gwendolyn's diaries, and that Chasuble has written nothing?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Subtitled A trivial comedy for serious people, The Importance of Being Earnest is charged with puns and ironies that directly juxtapose society and reality, making the audience realize the extent to which Wilde's society chooses to see everyday life under a strict regime of grueling social rules, useless etiquette, unfair ranking, and utter ridiculousness.

One of the ways in which Wilde illustrates this juxtaposition comes in the form of Cecily's diary, and in Prism's writing of a three-volume novel.

Cecily, in reality a bored-out-of-her-mind country girl, has made a habit of diary-writing. Being that not much occurs in her daily life, she has taken to making up situations in her entries, even her own marriage proposal...and the break up of the proposal! After she finally meets the "Ernest" that she had hoped to marry one day, she reverts to her writings and even blames him for things that he had done; things that she had written herself and has come to believe in wholeheartedly. Cecily is clearly out of her mind, and has come to take her writings as valuable, worthy of being published, and real.

Prism, Cecily's tutor, epitomizes the Victorian governess; a frustrated spinster stuck between her limitations as a lower-class woman and the ostentation of the upper and middle-class employers whom she serves. Being that governesses are often described as either too prudish, or too lose, Prism's chaste demeanor hides a wild streak that comes out at the mere site of Dr. Chausible. Either way Prism and Cecily, live their limited lives out in the desolate, quiet,  English countryside.

When Prism and Cecily discuss the very famous three-volume novels that are so popular during Wilde's time.

Miss Prism: Do no speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily.  I write one myself in earlier days.

Cecily: Did you really, Miss Prism? ...I hope it did not end happily? I don't like novels that end happily. They depress me too much.

Miss Prism: The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.

Aside for making his trivial pun on fiction, Wilde also implies that hysterical, desperate, and man-hungry women such as Cecily and Prism use writing as a conduit to expiate their desperate situations. In other words, anyone who is crazy and desperate enough can consider herself or himself a writer during Wilde's time. This accounts for the plethora of publications that Wilde wanted to counterattack by creating something unique and new, such as his works were. Dr. Chausible, however, is left untouched. Wilde uses him merely to insult the lacklustre intellectuality of the clergy; in other words, Chausible is just too dumb to write anything.

Therefore, to Wilde, anyone can be a writer; a young girl, an old spinster, anyone who feels that they have a story to tell. Yet, there is a huge difference between a writer and an author. Writers, there are many. An author, especially a great author, there can be just a few; Wilde was quite aware that he belonged to that selected group.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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