Wilde Being Earnest with Himself

Everytime I read The Importance of Being Earnest, it seems absurd to me that the socialites of Wilde’s day were not at all outraged by the mockery of themselves and their society which makes up essentially the entirety of the tragicomedy. There was, I’m sure, some blowback from those who watched the play, but it seems that Earnest did very well, as it is widely considered to be Wilde’s best, and most famous production. I suppose it is likely because the play is rarely biting or direct in its criticism of the upper class that it gets away with all of its mockery, and I imagine a good bit of it went over many of the audience members’ heads at the time it was first put to stage. 

Despite this play clearly being a parody of the ridiculous restrictions and expectations of upper class life in England, I believe that Wilde also intended to poke fun at himself with The Importance of Being Earnest. I think this can be seen in his insert character, Algernon Moncrieff, who, like most of Wilde’s other insert characters, relentlessly mocks the society he is living in, much to the general confusion of those around him. A line that stands out to me is, after Algernon states his apathy concerning societal standards, Aunt Augusta retorts, “Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that.” While Augusta as a character is clearly a mockery of high society, I feel there is some truth that can be extracted from her words here, and it may be that Wilde is admitting a bit of hypocrisy on his part, that he openly mocks high society while taking an active part in it on a regular basis. Overall, while The Importance of Being Earnest serves to mock the social elite of Wilde’s day, it would seem that Wilde is not completely ignorant to the fact that, by most definitions, he himself belongs to that group himself.