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How are the matriarchal figures portrayed in 'The Importance of Being Earnest' by Oscar Wilde and 'Persuasion' by Jane Austen?

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How are the matriarchal figures portrayed 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 ...read more.


Lady Bracknell does not want to change her beliefs and give in, as her principles are more important to her than other people's happiness. Therefore, Lady Bracknell controls and affects more people by her behaviour, and by imposing her beliefs on them. The contrast between Mrs. Smith and Lady Russell highlights the difference in classes and the people belonging to those classes. It has been suggested that Anne 'replaces this cruel stepmother [Lady Russell] with a different kind of mother surrogate'4, Mrs. Smith, whom does not interfere with Anne's life, instead wishing her the best in her future marriage to William Walter Elliot, 'I hope and trust you will be very happy'. She does not tell Anne he is spiteful, to influence her decision as she thinks Anne is going to marry him and thus must think him to be an agreeable man. When she realises Anne is not going to marry William Walter Elliot she informs Anne about his true character, 'he is black at heart, black and hollow'. Mrs. Smith is a better mother figure to Anne, as she does not try to control or influence her, but she explains why Anne should not marry a rich man, contrasting with Lady Russell who tries to convince her not to marry a poor man as, part of the upper class of society, she believes she knows what is best for Anne. Austen was trying to convey that status, wealth and class are not important through the use of Lady Russell, her wrong beliefs and contrasting characters, such as Mrs. Smith. Wilde allowed the marriages to happen, as he had to, as those who attended the theatre were the upper class and they would have discarded his play if he had had Gwendolen marrying a poor man with no prospects, or if she had married someone whose parents were of humble origins. However, Oscar Wilde used 'The Importance of Being Earnest' to make a mockery of the class system as he disagreed with it, to achieve this he created Lady Bracknell as a representation of the audience. ...read more.


This is shown through Gwendolen who is formed into a younger version of Lady Bracknell, and has inherited some of her mother's beliefs, such as that men should stay at home and let the women do the socialising, 'the home seems to be the proper sphere for the man'. The matriarchal figures are portrayed as very prominent women in society, and their husbands play such subordinate roles they do not appear in the texts. Lady Bracknell and Lady Russell are also seen to be upper class snobs that want to ensure Gwendolen and Anne marry rich men with promising futures. Lady Bracknell will not allow her daughter to marry Jack as he has no known origins, and if she should allow the marriage she would be criticised by society for it. She does not want her reputation to be tarnished just because her daughter is in love. Lady Russell approves of William Walter Elliot as it would mean Anne would then reside at Kellynch Hall, near her. The women show their snobbery, selfishness and shallowness in this manner, which is the principal reason for them being included in the play or novel. Though Lady Russell does not directly say that Anne should marry for money 'she deprecated the connexion [to Wentworth] in every light', and only approves of alliances with men with money, such as Charles Musgrove and William Walter Elliot. The matriarchs actions and advice to women would be 'don't marry for money, but go where money is'8. Word Count - 2992 1 The Pocket Oxford Dictionary 2 York Advanced Notes 'The Importance of Being Earnest' 3 Richard Foster , Wilde as Parodist: A Second Look at The Importance of Being Earnest 4 Inside the House of Fiction, 'Jane Austen's Cover Story' 5Dan Rebellato, Drama Classics Series, 'The Importance of Being Earnest' 6 York Notes Advanced - 'The Importance of Being Earnest' 7 Richard Foster , Wilde as Parodist: A Second Look at The Importance of Being Earnest 8 Juliet McMaster , Alfred Lord Tennyson as quoted in 'Class' ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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