Double Lives In Victorian Literature Essay

1384 words - 6 pages

The existence of a “dark double” abounds in many literary works of the Victorian Era. These

“dark doubles” are able to explore the forbidden and repressed desires of the protagonist, and often

represent the authors own rebellion against inhibitions in a morally straight-laced societal climate. The

“dark doubles” in these stories are able to explore the socially unacceptable side of human nature, and

it is through these “dark doubles” that many of the main characters (and through them, the reader), are

able to vicariously explore and experience the illicit, forbidden, and often exciting underbelly of what

was considered deviant behavior. The accepted “normal” behavior that strict Victorian social protocol

demanded could be cast aside by these “dark doubles” and the “immoral” desires of the human heart

could be explored in the safety of ones sitting room.

In Oscar Wilde's play, “The Importance of Being Ernest,” we see a satirical prodding of the

hypocrisy associated within the strict moral code of English “genteel” society. The play's protagonist,

Jack, creates his own “dark double”, his supposed carefree, immoral, and decadent brother, Ernest. It is

through his own creation of Ernest that Jack is able to lead his entertaining double life. While

portraying himself as Ernest, we see Jack pursue all of the things that he is incapable of exploring in his

own stuffy Victorian world as Jack. While explaining his presence in town to Algy, Ernest states, “Oh,

pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one anywhere?” (690). Ernest goes on to explain to Algy

what occupies his time this way, “When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country

one amuses other people. It is excessively boring” (690). The audience and the reader, are left to imagine what titillating “pleasures” and “amusements,” Ernest is alluding too.

For most of the play, Jack is Jack, not Ernest, and when the lies and deceit finally catch up to

Jack, who needs to make his “brother” Ernest disappear, and at the same time, become a man named

Ernest, one feels both amused and confused at the hypocrisy surrounding these strange events. Wilde's

implications are clear when we discover that Jack's real Christian name is in fact Ernest John.

Although Jack felt societal pressure to create the persona of Ernest, they are still the same man, having

to hide his identity while fulfilling hidden desires does not change that. The irony here is that Jack

needed Ernest, or at least the name of Ernest, to exist in order to achieve the respectable, socially

acceptable life that the “good” side of his persona aspires too.

Like much of Wilde's work, the play ends on a witty and humorous note, with Jack telling his

beloved Gwendolen, “ it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been

speaking nothing but the truth” (720). Jack understands the...

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