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The Importance of Being Earnest and The Mayor of Casterbridge both support the assertion that the act of falling in love begins in attraction to another but results in the discovery of self. Jack/Ernest Worthing and Michael Henchard both discover who they truly are at the end of these respective works. Henchard through self-realization and Worthing through knowledge derived from others learn who they are.

Michael Henchard of The Mayor of Casterbridge has made many mistakes throughout his life that bring him emotional suffering and eventually contribute to his demise alone and unfriended. Beginning with the sale of his wife two decades earlier, Henchard's life advances him to political power and prosperity before it spirals downwards after he has to face the consequences of his earlier mistakes. In the best interests of their (apparent) daughter, Susan and Michael agree to marry again. Too late he discovers the joys of marriage and parenthood while maintaining a successful business and political career — all without alcohol, which destroyed his marriage initially. Later he learns that Elizabeth-Jane "to be none of his" and realizes that he is a childless man, leaving him in what Hardy describes as "an emotional void" (145). For part of his story, Michael Henchard is truly in love with his wife Susan and in consequence makes many self-discoveries; but with her death and without a child of his own, Henchard feels empty. As a punishment or retribution for his misdeeds Henchard makes many demands in his will, the clauses of which all follow from the premise that "no man remember me."

In contrast to Michael Henchard, Jack/Ernest Worthing is well-off; but he too makes mistakes. However, because he resolves his relationship problems by acquiring self-knowledge, he does not have to pay for his errors — this, after all, a comedy! The key to self-knowledge here, however, is information about his history, which he acquires by means of a handbag that had been misplaced in a railway station. Arguably, by falling in love with Gwendolen Fairfax, Jack Worthing learns that he is Algernon's older brother and indeed has the name Ernest — thereby fulfilling Gwendolen's dreams of marrying a man with that name while simultaneously fulfilling Lady Bracknell's expectations about his having the appropriate family background to be her daughter's husband. Throughout the play Jack's love for Gwendolen grows and eventually causes his discovery of who he truly is through the revelations of Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism.

Michael Henchard of The Mayor of Casterbridge and Ernest Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest both come to realizations about themselves, but at different levels. By his rekindled love, Henchard realizes his past mistakes and seeks reconciliation, proving that he is (as Hardy pronounces on the title-page) Michael Henchard, the Mayor of Casterbridge, A Man of Character. Worthing literally learns his identity, disovering that what he has made up is at least in part real. Without his love, Gwendolen, Jack/Ernest would never have had the opportunity to speak with Lady Bracknell about his having been found by Mr. Cardew. Thus, in both works falling in love leads protagonists to many self-discoveries.

Victorian Web Thomas Hardy Oscar Wilde Oscar Wilde

Last modified 11 July 2006