A WOMEN OF NO IMPORTANCE
o A.B Walkley’s criticism best illustrates this shift in focus. Walkley gave the
play a mixed review. He commented that Wildes plots were not original,
but brilliantly written “in point of intellect”.
o A women of no importance is a vibrant, well devised exemplum (Latin for
example) of the radicalisation (is a process by which an individual or group
comes to adopt political, social or religious ideas) of conventional
nineteenth century drama.
A Woman of No Importance has been described as the "weakest of the plays Wilde wrote in
the Nineties". Many critics note that much of the first act-and-a-half surrounds the witty
conversations of members of the upper-classes, the drama only beginning in the second
half of the second act with Lord Illingworth and Mrs Arbuthnot finding their pasts
catching up with them.
Lytton Strachey gave a curious interpretation of the relationship between Lord Illingworth
and his new-found son Gerald when Tree put on another production of the play in 1907. In
a letter to Duncan Grant he described Lord Illingworth (again played by Tree) as
having incestuous homosexual designs on his son. Strachey's interpretation of Tree's
performance was probably influenced by Wilde's exposure as a homosexual himself.
Like many of Wilde's plays the main theme is the secrets of the upper-classes: Lord
Illingworth discovering that the young man he has employed as a secretary is in fact his
illegitimate son, a situation similar to the central plot of Lady Windermere's Fan. Secrets
would also affect the characters of The Importance of Being Earnest
In one scene, Lord Illingworth and Mrs Allonby (whose unseen husband is called Ernest)
share the line "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy.", "No man does.
That is his." Algernon would make the same remark in The Importance of Being Earnest.
In A Woman of No Importance purity is asserted by Mrs
Arbuthnot, the earnest American, Hester Worsley, and
the MP, Mr Kelvil. The latter complains that
Illingworth "regards woman simply as a toy,“ (link to
‘Cousin Kate’) whereas she is "the intellectual helpmeet
of man in public as in private life. Without her we
should forget the true ideals" (WNI 30). However,
Kelvil has packed his own wife and eight children off
to the seaside while he pursues his career; and although
Mrs Arbuthnot wins out against the unpleasant
Illingworth, it is at the cost of appearing narrow and
obsessive. Meanwhile, feminine, dandified values are
maintained by the leisured women.
Like many of Wilde's plays the main theme is the
secrets of the upper-classes: Lord Illingworth
discovering that the young man he has employed
as a secretary is in fact his illegitimate son, a
situation similar to the central plot of Lady
Windermere's Fan. Secrets would also affect the
characters of The Importance of Being Earnest.
QUOTES- HESTER WORSLEY
“set a mark, if you wish, on each, but don’t punish the one and let the other go free. Don’t
have one law for men and another for women. You are unjust to women in England.
“oh, your English society seems to me shallow, selfish, foolish. It had blinded its eyes and
stopped its ears”
“they are outcasts. They are nameless. If you met them on the street you would turn your
head away. I don’t complain of their punishment. Let all women who have sinned be
THE VICTORIAN UNWED
Although Mrs. Arbuthnot was able to hide her unwed status as a mother, she represents the
single woman of the Victorian Era who could have been in a desperate situation had she not had
Even in the works of Jane Austen we see similar situations - Lords who take advantage of
beautiful women of lower classes, and leave them destitute when they realize the women are
pregnant. In the British 'Poor Laws' of the 19th Century, there was a 'Bastardly Clause' that let
men off the hook while punishing unwed mothers by not allowing them to receive help from the
government. There was a thought that this law would teach women to be more moral.
The average working class wife was either pregnant or breast-feeding from wedding day to
menopause,” bearing approximately eight pregnancies, and ultimately raising approximately five
children. This overflow of offspring was most likely linked to the fact that birth control literature
was illegal at the time.