While reading The Importance of Being Earnest, I noticed a lot of connections between this work and “The Decay of Lying.” At the beginning of Act 1, Algernon says, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!” (362). This reminded me a lot of how in “The Decay of Lying,” Vivian states that modern literature is worse off because people don’t make up entertaining lies anymore and that they were too adherent to realism. Throughout Wilde’s works, an ongoing theme is that it’s a good thing to lie as long as it’s entertaining.
In the first half of this play, Algernon and Jack lie constantly for their own personal gain and amusement. They both made up people in order to go into the country or into town, and even when Jack decides to stop using Earnest as an excuse to go into the city, he decides the best way to get rid of Earnest is to kill him off instead of going clean. Both characters adhere to Wilde’s philosophy about lying.
However, Wilde seems to contradict his philosophy about lying by introducing consequences to Jack’s actions. When Jack’s lie is found out by Algernon, Algernon goes out into the country pretending to be Earnest, which complicates the situation. Although I haven’t finished the play yet, I predict that Algernon’s and Jack’s lies will implode, they’ll get in trouble for what they’ve done, and they’ll learn “the importance of being earnest,” as the title suggests. Perhaps the reason why Wilde seems to be contradicting himself by introducing consequences is because Algernon and Jack lied for their own personal gain and not just to be entertaining. (Although their lies are very entertaining for us as readers.) Or maybe it’s simply Wilde contradicting his own ideas because he always contradicts himself. But just like telling the truth, consistency is boring, and it’s better to be inconsistent and entertaining than boring.
2 thoughts on “Lying for Fun :)”
I also saw this connection. I feel like the title could also be translated as “the importance of lying.” Both main characters lie about being “Ernest” at different points in the story for their own benefit. Maybe the title means that lying is necessary and artistic, as Wilde suggests in The Decay of Lying. Algernon champions the importance of “bunbury-ing,” while the title emphasizes the importance of being “earnest” and Wilde proposes the importance of lying. Ultimately, I think all of these phrases mean the same thing.
Hi Christine! This is a great post. I became really interested in what you said about both Jack and Algernon making up people in order to go into the country or into the town. Although I do not have completely coherent thoughts about this idea yet, I find the characteristics of both their made-up “personas” interesting and how it depends on the geography. Earnest is extravagant and wicked, while Jack is moral and responsible and pays his bills (as when he takes the bill for Earnest’s extravagant dining and is praised for being generous). Earnest is in the city and in London, while Jack is in the country. The only way for them to be amused is to live these double lives and be physically mobile to other environments different from theirs, from London to the country. They cannot be solely confined to one, as that would be a “bore.” I’m not sure how this will develop throughout the play, but it is interesting to think about.