The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)
The Importance of
by Oscar Wilde (1854
Type of Work:
Comic, farcical play
London, and a country house in Hertfordshire,
England; the 1890s
Jack Worthing, gentleman of the Manor
House; also known as "Ernest"
Celcily Cardew, Worthing's pretty young
Miss Prism, Cecily's governess
Algernon Moncrieff, Worthing's friend
Lady Augusta Braknell, Algernon's aunt
Gwendolen Fairfax, Lady Bracknell's daughter
The Reverend Canon Chasublc, Rector of
While Algernon Moncrieff and his manservant
prepared for a visit froi-n his aunt, the formidable Lady Bracknell, their
conversation turned to the question of marriage. Observing the servant's
somewhat lax views on the subject, Algernon declared, "Really, if the lower
orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?"
This chat was interrupted by the unexpected
arrival of Algernon's friend, Ernest Worthing Worthing was pleased to hear
that Lady Bracknell - and her beautiful daughter Gwendoleii - would be
appearing for tea. But Algernon warned, "I am afraid Aunt Augusta won't
quite approve of your bein here." Mildly insulted, Ernest demanded to know
why. "My dear fellow," Algernon answered, "the way you flirt with Gwendolen
is perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way Gwendolen flirts
with you." At this point Worthing announced that he intended to propose
marriage to Gweiidolen, but was taken aback by Algernon's response: "I
doii't give my consent." Worthing, would first have to explain a certain
"Cecily" in his life. As evidence of this relationship, he produced a cigarette
case left behind by Worthing on an earlier visit - devotedly inscribed
from "Cecily" to her loving "Uncle Jack."
"Well," admitted Worthing, "my name is
Ernest in town and Jack in the country." It happened, he said, that Cecily
was his ward, who lived in his country home under the watchful eyes of
a sterii governess, Miss Prism. But to escape the stuffy constraints of
country living, Jack had invented an alter ego: " . . . In order to get
up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name
of Ernest, who lives in Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes."
Thus, Jack was often "called away" to the city to "rescue" irrepressible
Smiling, Algernon now confessed that he
too was a "Bunburyist," a friend of the equally fictitious "Bunbury," a"permanent invalid," whom he visited whenever he chose to get away.
When Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen arrived,
Algernon took his aunt aside, leaving "Ernest" and Gwendolen alone. "Miss
Fairfax," Worthing stammered, "ever since I met you I have admired you
more than any girl - I have ever met since - I met you." Gwendoleii admitted
to returning these warm feelings, in part because "my ideal has always
been to love someone of the name of Ernest." Would she still love him,
asked Jack, if his name were, say, "Jack"? "There is very little music
in the name Jack," observed Gweildolen. Before more could be said, Jack
knelt and asked her to marry him. At that moment Lady Bracknell entered,
and the couple announced their engagement. Highly displeased, Lady Bracknell
requested a private conference with Mr. Worthing, in which she asked about
his income, his politics, and, finally, his parentage. "I don't actually
know who I am by birth," lack explained; as a baby he had been found in
a handbag in the coalroom of the train station. Lady Bracknell was shocked.
Neither she nor her husband, she huffed, could allow Gwendolen to "marry
into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel."
Now Jack considered his predicament. At
least, he decided, he could deal with the complication of Ernest. His imaginary
brother must soon "dic" of a severe chill. Deep in these new intrigues,
Meanwhile, Algernon, his curiosity piqued
by jack's mysterious young ward, decided he must meet this Cecily.
At the Manor in Hertfordshire, Miss Prism
and Cecily were talking in the garden. Cecily expressed the hope that Jack
would soon allow his reprobate brother Ernest to visit: "We might have
a good influence over him." Miss Prism discouraged this idea, but just
a few moments after she had left for a stroll with her own admirer, Dr.
Chasuble, the local minister, the butler announced the arrival of Mr. Ernest
Worthing, and in walked Algernon Moncrieff, posing as Jack's deliciously
wicked - and non-existent brother. After some chit-chat and over a bite
to eat, "Ernest" (Algy) implored his "cousin" to "reform him."
Soon Miss Prism and the Reverend returned,
just in time to be greeted by Jack Worthing, who arrived with tears of
grief and the news that