Homophones

“May Morning on Magdalen College, Oxford, Ancient Annual Ceremony.” William Holman Hunt, 1888/1893. [Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, 1907P132]


It’s debatable whether the name Ernest, used punningly by Wilde in his most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest, was chosen as a late Victorian code word for “gay”.

One the hand, the Wildean academic, John Stokes, suggests here this may be true “since the word ‘Earnest’ bears a euphonious relation to the [gender-variant] term Uranian”—presumably in the sound of its continental equivalents. [1]

Conversely, the actor, Sir Donald Sinden, who both knew and consulted Lord Alfred Douglas and Sir John Gielgud on the point, once wrote to The Times to dispute the suggestion. [2]

However, whether the words Ernest and Earnest are homosexual or merely homophonic, one thing is clear: the the name Ernest itself formed part of a gay literary subtext close to Wilde in the 1890s.

Continue reading Homophones