The Deception of Oscar Wilde
The late 1800’s were a busy time for Oscar Wilde. Wilde had written a novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray and he had two successful plays being performed in London’s West End. However, Wilde’s success would shortly be coming to an end. Deception was a major theme in Wilde’s play, The Importance of Being Earnest. In The Importance of Being Earnest the play centers on Jack Worthing a man who lives in the country that is a guardian to his adopted-father’s grandchild and Jack is also a landlord to several other people in his community of Hertfordshire. But Jack has a secret. Jack pretends to Ernest and Ernest is Jack’s make believe brother that lives in London. Earnest leads a “hedonistic” lifestyle. But really it is just Jack who is living the “hedonistic” lifestyle. This really does seem to be a mild form of deception. Yes, Jack/ Ernest are messing with people’s lives. It’s better than another book that was out around this time, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (at least there is no murder in The Importance of Being Earnest!) During the time of The Importance of Being Earnest was being performed, Wilde’s life was crumbling before him. In the play by Moises Kaufman titled, Gross Indecency (written several decades after Wilde’s trial) is about the trial of Wilde’s homosexual acts. Wilde was a married man and had children. However, in Wilde’s private life he was exploring homosexual relationships. Wilde had a relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas the son of a Marquess. There were three trials against Wilde. The first trial was Wilde suing Lord Alfred’s father for libel. The libel that was against Wilde was for sodomy. Lord Alfred’s father was able to prove sodomy against Wilde and thus resulted in Wilde being arrested. The last two trials were against Wilde’s sodomy trials. Wilde’s works, especially The Picture of Dorian Gray were used against him during his trials. Wilde stood up for his works and his friends stood up to defend him. The public life and the private life have a way of eventually coming out, like it did in The Importance of Being Earnest. There is no way that Jack could have kept it a secret that he was really Ernest. Jack always ran the risk of someone catching on to his act and Jack says, “I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left” (33). It’s very hard to lead a double life and I’m sure that it would have been a lot easier for Wilde if people weren’t clever and able to pick up on him being homosexual. Wilde wasn’t able to keep his private life separate from getting into his works (you see a lot of this in The Picture of Dorian Gray). Unfortunately for Wilde he does not get a happy ending like Ernest did in the end. Wilde says, “I must say to myself that I ruined myself, and that nobody great or small can be ruined except by their own hand” (75). Deception is a nasty game to play. However, Wilde just wanted to be true to himself and what he was. Wilde wanted to protect his art and his works.
Jack1956. Wilde and Bosie. Digital image. Oscar Wilde. Wikipedia, 11 April 2011. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.
Kaufman, Moisés. Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1999. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. N.p.: Project Gutenberg Ebook, 2006. 29 Aug. 2006. Web.