Between 1891 and 1895, Oscar Wilde wrote four comedies that created and solidified his reputation.
The protagonist of each of these works is a stock character known as a “dandy.” The dandy figure lives for style and aesthetic success. The dandy is peripheral: his function is to make clever comments on the world, but he is not useful in the plot. Therefore, he makes a difficult central character. Wilde himself was a dandy.
Wilde’s comedies attempt to incorporate the dandy figure in dramatic form. In Lady Windermere’s Fan, the dandy evolves from a commentator into a romantic figure. In A Woman of No Importance, the dandy becomes the villain.
In An Ideal Husband, the dandy remains detached, connected with the plot only by chance and circumstance. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde’s best-known work, all the characters are dandies; the plot simply furnishes opportunities for the dandies to utter witticisms.