Explore Oscar Wilde's Presentation Of Women In A Woman Of No Importance

1496 words - 6 pages

Explore Wilde’s Presentation of Women in “A Woman of No Importance”

A woman of no importance was written late in the Victorian period and was first published in 1893. This was a time of change in traditional English society, the class system, that has stood in place for so many years, was brought into question, a long with the role of women in society with early ideas of gender equality and ‘women’s suffrage’ campaigns. In ‘A woman of no importance’ Wilde explores these changing views and offers several, contrasting presentations of women that existed in Upper Class Victorian society, which I will explore in this essay.
One presentation, which some may perceive as the most obvious one, ...view middle of the document...

This could be symbolic of Mrs Arbuthnot’s reliance on the male figures in her life, and show how she would fall apart without them. I say this may be perceived as the most obvious way to present a woman in a Victorian novel or play, as this is how the law regarding marriage was structured at the time. Women had to rely on men as (until 1882, when the ‘Married Women’s Property Act’ was passed) all their wealth, which would’ve previously belonged to their father, immediately went to their husbands when they got married, making women, by law, dependent on the male figure in their life.
The main theme in ‘A Woman of No Importance’ is ‘fallen women’, so it is worth examining how ‘fallen women’ have been presented in the play. The definition of a ‘fallen women’ was someone who had ‘lost her innocence’, in basic terms, a woman who had had sex before marriage and who had been found out by society. In one of her dramatic speeches, Mrs Arbuthnot describes what it is to be a fallen woman in polite, Victorian society. She presents herself as something inhuman; ‘like a thing that is a leper’, the word ‘leper’ suggests that being a ‘fallen women’ was as if to have a contagious disease, and it was not advisable to associate with them, for fear of catching their ‘illness’, therefore they were excluded from society, as Mrs Arbuthnot had been for so many years. Leprosy is a vile illness, which causes facial features to swell up; therefore the use of this word also suggests that people looked on ‘fallen women’ with disgust as if they were something vulgar, as many people would’ve looked at people suffering from leprosy at this time. The word ‘thing’ suggests that Mrs Arbuthnot no longer even looks upon herself as a woman, but as something that does not even deserve a definition. This harsh analysis of her self suggests that the world was very cruel towards ‘fallen women’, casting them out from society and treating them as diseased, dehumanised beings.
Much of how ‘fallen women’ were perceived and how they were treated was due to the amount of influence religion had over society at this time. Wilde shows this through the religious connotations of many of the phrases used in Mrs Arbuthnot’s speech, such as, ‘She is lost! She is a lost soul!’ this suggests that she is not only lost in this life, as she has been shunned and rejected by her society, but that she will also be a ‘lost soul’ in the afterlife, this could mean she will remain in purgatory, a judging ground for God between Heaven and Hell, which some Christians believe to be a worse fate then Hell itself. It could also mean that God has lost her soul, by which it now belongs to the devil, meaning that she has sinned so heavily she will go to Hell when she dies. Many Christians then, and some still, believed that to have sex out of wedlock was a great sin, therefore, as religion had so much influence at the time, people took it very seriously. Wilde’s dramatic description, full of religious imagery, of...

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