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Matriarchal Figures In The Importance Of Being Earnest By Oscar Wilde And Persuasion By Jane Austen

2761 words - 11 pages

Matriarchal Figures in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and Persuasion by Jane Austen

‘A dominant female member of the family’[1] is often described as a
matriarch. Lady Bracknell in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and
Lady Russell in ‘Persuasion’ fulfill this role therefore can be
described as matriarchs, and as such they play vital roles. They
affect the lives of Gwendolen and Anne, by imposing their beliefs on
them.

Although Lady Russell is not related to any of the characters in
‘Persuasion’, after Anne’s mother died Lady Russell took on the role
of her mother. Lady Russell has some control over Anne, as Anne ‘had
always loved and relied on’ her and cannot believe she would ‘be
continually advising her in vain’. The matriarchs are pivotal as they
are the prime reasons for the plots’ complications; Lady Bracknell
tries to prevent two potential marriages between Jack and Gwendolen,
and Algernon and Cecily, and she is the reason Jack finds out about
his family connections. Lady Russell persuades Anne not to marry
Wentworth causing eight years of heartache and misery, as she was
wrongly persuaded. She induces further complications by trying to
persuade Anne to marry William Walter Elliot, when Anne and Wentworth
meet again.

Lady Bracknell’s importance is enhanced because she overshadows her
husband, which is true to her matriarch ways, and he occupies a
subordinate position. Lady Bracknell has taken the opposite role to
that which society accepted in the 1890’s, her husband stays at home,
while she goes to social gatherings. Her husband’s role is summed up
in Gwendolen’s speech to Cecily about her father.

‘The home seems to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly,
once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties, he becomes painfully
effeminate.’

Lady Bracknell has diminished the role of Lord Bracknell to the extent
that he does not appear in the play, and even at home he is expected
to eat upstairs if there are an odd number to dinner, as it was
necessary to have an even number of men and women at the table. Thus
Lady Bracknell ensures that Lord Bracknell ‘will have to dine
upstairs’, and her remark ‘fortunately he is accustomed to that’
suggests he is insignificant and is only needed at her social events
when there needs to be an even number to dinner.

The roles of men and women were an important issue in the Victorian
Era; the traditional view was that men were dominant, assertive and
economically independent, and women were passive and dependent.
Novelist George Gissing described the late nineteenth century as a
period of “sexual anarchy” because of the formal agitation by women
for wider rights’[2]. From the mid-nineteenth century the role of men
and women had caused abundant debates in newspapers, known as the
‘separate spheres debate’. It was given its name after the main
debate issue; that a woman’s proper sphere was in the home, and a
man’s proper sphere...

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