Compare and contrast Wilde’s presentation of Lord Illingworth and Hardy’s presentation of Alec. Say how far you agree with the view that Lord Illingworth is presented more sympathetically.

The character of Lord Illingworth in Oscar Wilde’s A Woman Of No Importance shares many similarities with Alec in Thomas Hardy’s novel, Tess Of The D’Urbervilles: both as respective villains with manipulative natures; both part of the ‘nouveaux riche’; both responsible for the downfall of a woman’s purity and social standing. Through appearance, values and (a lack of) integrity, as well as exertion of power, Wilde and Hardy portray two similar characters in different ways.

Firstly, the initial presentations of these two villains is significant. It is important to note that Wilde executes this in a much different manner to Hardy, seeing as A Woman Of No Importance takes a different form to Tess - a play versus a novel. As such, the audience’s first impressions of Lord Illingworth are formed through the dialogue of other characters, before Illingworth himself actually speaks.
In Act One, Wilde employs dramatic irony, in which Lady Stutfield states, ‘The world says that Lord Illingworth is very, very wicked’, unaware that he has just entered. It is this statement, in conjunction with Illingworth’s witty response, ‘This world and I are on excellent terms’, that forms the first introduction of the villain, from which the character will develop.
The use of the word “wicked’ to describe Lord Illingworth is significant in its contrast to the character’s wit and charm, which Wilde uses to create complexity in the character, whose intentions and history are disguised behind a playful exterior. Stutfield’s repetition of the word “very” reinforces this fact. The hyperbolic aspect of ‘The world’ emphasises the extent of Illingworth’s villainous reputation, as well as imply a sense of corruption amongst the upper class who accept and welcome Illingworth despite his obvious renown....