Art and Life: the Politics of Ritualism in The Importance of Being Earnest

  • Jarlath Killeen
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Nineteenth-Century Writing and Culture book series (PNWC)

Abstract

Taking Wilde’s most famous play as its focus, this chapter argues that previous interpretations of The Importance of Being Earnest (while important) have ultimately failed to comprehend the extent of its radicalism, because they have not registered its relation to a ‘theatrical’ faction within the Anglican Church in the nineteenth century — the Ritualist movement. My analysis here is very different from that usually made about this play, and this difference is vital to grasp. The Ritualist movement originated in the Tractarian debates and the shift in High Church Anglicanism to a more coherent form of Anglo-Catholicism. Anglo-Catholic Ritualists surrounded themselves in controversy by rein-stituting the liturgical offices of the Catholic Church, including using ecclesiastical vestments again. Canon Chasuble is the clearest signal in this play that Wilde is attempting to comment on the Ritualist movement, the chasuble being a Eucharistic vestment traditional to the Catholic Church.

Keywords

Income Schizophrenia Assure Gall Posit 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    This chapter will mostly use The Importance of Being Earnest, ed. Russell Jackson (London: Ernest Benn, 1980), but will occasionally draw attention to lines from the Licensing Copy which now lies in the British Library. Act and Line number will appear in parentheses in the main text.Google Scholar
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  3. 3.
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    Patricia Flanagan Behrendt, Oscar Wilde: Eros and Aesthetics (London: Macmillan, 1991), 171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 14.
    For a useful collection, dealing with Kingsley and others of the same ideology, see Donald E. Hall, ed., Muscular Christianity: Embodying the Victorian Age (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).Google Scholar
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    See Joseph Bristow, ‘Wilde, Dorian Gray, and Gross Indecency’, Sexual Sameness: Textual Differences in Lesbian and Gay Writing, ed. Joseph Bristow (London: Routledge, 1992), 44–63.Google Scholar
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  8. 21.
    See Craft, ‘Alias Bunbury’, passim. Also Jan B. Gordon, ‘ “The Wilde Child”: Structure and Origin in the Fin-De-Siècle Short Story’, English Literature in Transition 15: 4 (1972), 277–90.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    For this, see Claudia Nelson, ‘Sex and the Single Boy: Ideals of Manliness and Sexuality in Victorian Literature for Boysn’, Victorian Studies 32: 4 (Summer 1989), 527–50.Google Scholar
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    Quoted in G. W. Soltau, A Letter to the Working Classes on Ritualism (London, 1873).Google Scholar
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    For drag, see Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety (London-New York: Routledge, 1992).Google Scholar
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    Quoted in Karl Beckson, London in the 1890s: a Cultural History (New York and London: Norton, 1992), 132.Google Scholar
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    Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837 (New Haven-London: Yale University Press, 1992).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jarlath Killeen 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jarlath Killeen
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KeeleUK

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