Illustration of Jack Worthing in a top hat and formal attire, and a concerned expression on his face

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde
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Significant Allusions

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Last Updated on July 10, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 744

Allusions to Places 

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  • Scotland Yard: the central location of London’s Metropolitan Police Service 
  • Willis’s: a popular restaurant among the leisured classes in the Victorian era 
  • Grosvenor Square: a very affluent area in the Mayfair District of London 
  • Belgrave Square: a fashionable address in London 
  • The Empire: a famous music hall 

Allusions to Religion 

  • Primitive Church refers to the pre-Reformation Catholic Church, whose priests remained celibate. 
  • Manna in the Wilderness refers to the biblical Book of Exodus, in which God gives the Israelites sustenance when the food they brought from Egypt ran out. Here, Wilde is making fun of an all-purpose sermon, suitable for any occasion. 
  • Anabaptists refers to a religious group that believes the only form of baptism should be complete immersion of the body in water. 

Allusions to Myth 

  • Gorgon refers to one of three mythical monsters, of whom Medusa is best known, whose hair is made of living snakes and whose gaze, when met, turns mortals into stone. 
  • “Egeria and her pupil” refers to Egeria, a nymph, who gives wise laws to Numa Pompilius of Rome that are used for the vestal virgins. 

Allusions to the Economy/Money 

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Latest answer posted October 12, 2012, 3:26 am (UTC)

2 educator answers
  • “The purple of commerce” refers to aristocratic, or inherited money. 
  • “Fall of the Rupee”: Rupees were the currency of Britain’s colony in India. At the time of Wilde’s writing of The Importance of Being Earnest, rupees had been falling in value for several decades. 
  • “Agricultural depression”: This is a play on the word “depression,” as Gwendolen has said that the country bores her to death. There is also an economic meaning: farmland was giving way to grazing land for cattle. 
  • “The Funds” refers to government stocks that give a low yield of interest but are conservative and considered safe. 
  • “Mercenary marriages”: The only people who married very young were the children of the aristocracy, whose marriages were arranged for dynastic purposes. 

Allusion to Politics 

  • Liberal Unionist: Jack places himself safely in the middle of the political spectrum by identifying as a Liberal Unionist. Liberal Unionists were not quite Tories (conservative), as Lady Bracknell indicates, but they had voted against the controversial movement for Irish Home Rule. 

Allusions to the Arts 

  • “The corrupt French drama” refers to the plays of Eugene Scribe, whose plots often contained adultery and other scandalous themes, but always ended with punishment for the transgressors. 
  • “Wagnerian manner”: Richard Wagner (1813–1883) was a famous German composer best known for his “Ring Cycle” of operas, which featured sweeping cords and dramatic singing, here mocked for their thunderous Germanic style. 
  • “ . . . Three-volume novels that Mudie sends us”: Many of the best-selling novels of late Victorian England were long, sensational stories, often written by women and printed in installments in weekly periodicals before being sold as novels. Mudie was a private chain of lending libraries that charged a small fee to its subscribers for borrowing books. 

Allusion to History 

  • French Revolution: The French Revolution (1789–1799) was marked by waves of violence and counter-violence during which thousands of people were summarily executed. 

Allusions to Regional Stereotypes 

  • French maid: Jack intimates that Lady Lancing developed a homosexual preference for her French maid. Her husband no longer “knew” her, as she was exclusively having sex with the maid. “No one” knew her after six months, as she had completely turned her back on polite society. This could be seen as an veiled reference to Wilde’s own homosexuality. 
  • “Oxonian” refers to someone who graduated from Oxford University and is therefore assumed to be of good character and education. 

Miscellaneous Allusions 

  • “The season” refers to the round of social parties and public engagements (such as plays and operas) presided over by nobility, during which many of the gentry moved from their country homes to London residences. Young women were “debuted,” and marriage proposals were often sought and made during this time. 
  • “Right as a trivet”: A trivet is an iron tripod placed over a fire for a cooking pot or kettle to stand on. It is used in this expression to represent firmness and steadiness. 
  • “German skepticism” refers to a branch of German philosophy that examines style or appearance rather than substance. 
  • Court guides: refers to an annual reference manual listing the names and addresses of members of the upper class and aristocracy. 

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