The Importance of Being Earnest

by: Oscar Wilde

Gwendolen Fairfax

Characters Gwendolen Fairfax

More than any other female character in the play, Gwendolen suggests the qualities of conventional Victorian womanhood. She has ideas and ideals, attends lectures, and is bent on self-improvement. She is also artificial and pretentious. Gwendolen is in love with Jack, whom she knows as Ernest, and she is fixated on this name. This preoccupation serves as a metaphor for the preoccupation of the Victorian middle- and upper-middle classes with the appearance of virtue and honor. Gwendolen is so caught up in finding a husband named Ernest, whose name, she says, “inspires absolute confidence,” that she can’t even see that the man calling himself Ernest is fooling her with an extensive deception. In this way, her own image consciousness blurs her judgment.

Though more self-consciously intellectual than Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen is cut from very much the same cloth as her mother. She is similarly strong-minded and speaks with unassailable authority on matters of taste and morality, just as Lady Bracknell does. She is both a model and an arbiter of elegant fashion and sophistication, and nearly everything she says and does is calculated for effect. As Jack fears, Gwendolen does indeed show signs of becoming her mother “in about a hundred and fifty years,” but she is likeable, as is Lady Bracknell, because her pronouncements are so outrageous.