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)


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.


Pastoral Theology Catholic Priest Orphan Status Patriarchal Family Real Presence 
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Copyright information

© Jarlath Killeen 2005

Authors and Affiliations

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

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