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The Importance of Being Earnest
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Act I

Morning-room in Algernon's flat in Half-Moon Street. The room is
luxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of a piano is
heard in the adjoining room.
[LANE is arranging afternoon tea on the table, and after the musichas ceased, ALGERNON enters.]
ALGERNON. Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?
LANE. I didn't think it polite to listen, sir.
ALGERNON. I'm sorry for that, for your sake. I don't play
accurately - any one can play accurately - but I play with
wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment
is my forte. I keep science for Life.
LANE. Yes, sir.
ALGERNON. And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the
cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?
LANE. Yes, sir.[Hands them on a salver.]
ALGERNON.[Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.]
Oh! . . . by the way, Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday
night, when Lord Shoreman and Mr. Worthing were dining with me,
eight bottles of champagne are entered as having been consumed.
LANE. Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.
ALGERNON. Why is it that at a bachelor's establishment the
servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for
information.
LANE. I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I
have often observed that in married households the champagne is
rarely of a first-rate brand.
ALGERNON. Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?
LANE. I believe it IS a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very
little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been
married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding
between myself and a young person.
ALGERNON.[Languidly.]I don't know that I am much interested in
your family life, Lane.
LANE. No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never
think of it myself.
ALGERNON. Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.
LANE. Thank you, sir.[LANE goes out.]
ALGERNON. Lanes views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if
the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the
use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of
moral responsibility.
[Enter LANE.]
LANE. Mr. Ernest Worthing.
[Enter JACK.]
[LANE goes out.]
ALGERNON. How are you, my dear Ernest? What brings you up to
town?
JACK. Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one
anywhere? Eating as usual, I see, Algy!
ALGERNON.[Stiffly.]I believe it is customary in good society to
take some slight refreshment at five o'clock. Where have you been
since last Thursday?
JACK.[Sitting down on the sofa.]In the country.
ALGERNON. What on earth do you do there?
JACK.[Pulling off his gloves.]When one is in town one amuses
oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It
is excessively boring.
ALGERNON. And who are the people you amuse?
JACK.[Airily.]Oh, neighbours, neighbours.
ALGERNON. Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?
JACK. Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.
ALGERNON. How immensely you must amuse them![Goes over and takessandwich.]By the way, Shropshire is your county, is it not?
JACK. Eh? Shropshire? Yes, of course. Hallo! Why all these
cups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in
one so young? Who is coming to tea?
ALGERNON. Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.
JACK. How perfectly delightful!
ALGERNON. Yes, that is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta
won't quite approve of your being here.
JACK. May I ask why?
ALGERNON. My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is
perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way Gwendolen
flirts with you.
JACK. I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town
expressly to propose to her.
ALGERNON. I thought you had come up for pleasure? . . . I call
that business.
JACK. How utterly unromantic you are!
ALGERNON. I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It
is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic
about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually
is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence
of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I'll certainly
try to forget the fact.
JACK. I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court
was specially invented for people whose memories are so curiously
constituted.
ALGERNON. Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject.
Divorces are made in Heaven -[JACK puts out his hand to take asandwich. ALGERNON at once interferes.]Please don't touch the
cucumber sandwiches. They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta.
[Takes one and eats it.]
JACK. Well, you have been eating them all the time.
ALGERNON. That is quite a different matter. She is my aunt.
[Takes plate from below.] Have some bread and butter. The bread
and butter is for Gwendolen. Gwendolen is devoted to bread and
butter.
JACK.[Advancing to table and helping himself.]And very good
bread and butter it is too.
ALGERNON. Well, my dear fellow, you need not eat as if you were
going to eat it all. You behave as if you were married to her
already. You are not married to her already, and I don't think you
ever will be.
JACK. Why on earth do you say that?
ALGERNON. Well, in the first place girls never marry the men they
flirt with. Girls don't think it right.
JACK. Oh, that is nonsense!
ALGERNON. It isn't. It is a great truth. It accounts for the
extraordinary number of bachelors that one sees all over the place.
In the second place, I don't give my consent.
JACK. Your consent!
ALGERNON. My dear fellow, Gwendolen is my first cousin. And
before I allow you to marry her, you will have to clear up the
whole question of Cecily.[Rings bell.]
JACK. Cecily! What on earth do you mean? What do you mean, Algy,
by Cecily! I don't know any one of the name of Cecily.
[Enter LANE.]
ALGERNON. Bring me that cigarette case Mr. Worthing left in the
smoking-room the last time he dined here.
LANE. Yes, sir.[LANE goes out.]
JACK. Do you mean to say you have had my cigarette case all this
time? I wish to goodness you had let me know. I have been writing
frantic letters to Scotland Yard about it. I was very nearly
offering a large reward.
ALGERNON. Well, I wish you would offer one. I happen to be more
than usually hard up.
JACK. There is no good offering a large reward now that the thing
is found.
[Enter LANE with the cigarette case on a salver. ALGERNON takes itat once. LANE goes out.]
ALGERNON. I think that is rather mean of you, Ernest, I must say.
[Opens case and examines it.] However, it makes no matter, for,
now that I look at the inscription inside, I find that the thing
isn't yours after all.
JACK. Of course it's mine.[Moving to him.]You have seen me
with it a hundred times, and you have no right whatsoever to read
what is written inside. It is a very ungentlemanly thing to read a
private cigarette case.
ALGERNON. Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what
one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern
culture depends on what one shouldn't read.
JACK. I am quite aware of the fact, and I don't propose to discuss
modern culture. It isn't the sort of thing one should talk of in
private. I simply want my cigarette case back.
ALGERNON. Yes; but this isn't your cigarette case. This cigarette
case is a present from some one of the name of Cecily, and you said
you didn't know any one of that name.
JACK. Well, if you want to know, Cecily happens to be my aunt.
ALGERNON. Your aunt!
JACK. Yes. Charming old lady she is, too. Lives at Tunbridge
Wells. Just give it back to me, Algy.
ALGERNON.[Retreating to back of sofa.]But why does she call
herself little Cecily if she is your aunt and lives at Tunbridge
Wells?[Reading.]'From little Cecily with her fondest love.'
JACK.[Moving to sofa and kneeling upon it.]My dear fellow, what
on earth is there in that? Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not
tall. That is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to
decide for herself. You seem to think that every aunt should be
exactly like your aunt! That is absurd! For Heaven's sake give me
back my cigarette case.[Follows ALGERNON round the room.]
ALGERNON. Yes. But why does your aunt call you her uncle? 'From
little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.'
There is no objection, I admit, to an aunt being a small aunt, but
why an aunt, no matter what her size may be, should call her own
nephew her uncle, I can't quite make out. Besides, your name isn't
Jack at all; it is Ernest.
JACK. It isn't Ernest; it's Jack.
ALGERNON. You have always told me it was Ernest. I have
introduced you to every one as Ernest. You answer to the name of
Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most
earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectly
absurd your saying that your name isn't Ernest. It's on your
cards. Here is one of them.[Taking it from case.]'Mr. Ernest
Worthing, B. 4, The Albany.' I'll keep this as a proof that your
name is Ernest if ever you attempt to deny it to me, or to
Gwendolen, or to any one else.[Puts the card in his pocket.]
JACK. Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country, and
the cigarette case was given to me in the country.
ALGERNON. Yes, but that does not account for the fact that your
small Aunt Cecily, who lives at Tunbridge Wells, calls you her dear
uncle. Come, old boy, you had much better have the thing out at
once.
JACK. My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It
is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn't a dentist. It
produces a false impression,
ALGERNON. Well, that is exactly what dentists always do. Now, go
on! Tell me the whole thing. I may mention that I have always
suspected you of being a confirmed and secret Bunburyist; and I am
quite sure of it now.
JACK. Bunburyist? What on earth do you mean by a Bunburyist?
ALGERNON. I'll reveal to you the meaning of that incomparable
expression as soon as you are kind enough to inform me why you are
Ernest in town and Jack in the country.
JACK. Well, produce my cigarette case first.
ALGERNON. Here it is.[Hands cigarette case.]Now produce your
explanation, and pray make it improbable.[Sits on sofa.]
JACK. My dear fellow, there is nothing improbable about my
explanation at all. In fact it's perfectly ordinary. Old Mr.
Thomas Cardew, who adopted me when I was a little boy, made me in
his will guardian to his grand-daughter, Miss Cecily Cardew.
Cecily, who addresses me as her uncle from motives of respect that
you could not possibly appreciate, lives at my place in the country
under the charge of her admirable governess, Miss Prism.
ALGERNON. Where in that place in the country, by the way?
JACK. That is nothing to you, dear boy. You are not going to be
invited . . . I may tell you candidly that the place is not in
Shropshire.
ALGERNON. I suspected that, my dear fellow! I have Bunburyed all
over Shropshire on two separate occasions. Now, go on. Why are
you Ernest in town and Jack in the country?
JACK. My dear Algy, I don't know whether you will be able to
understand my real motives. You are hardly serious enough. When
one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very
high moral tone on all subjects. It's one's duty to do so. And as
a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either
one's health or one's happiness, in order to get up to town I have
always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest,
who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes.
That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.
ALGERNON. The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life
would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a
complete impossibility!
JACK. That wouldn't be at all a bad thing.
ALGERNON. Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow.
Don't try it. You should leave that to people who haven't been at
a University. They do it so well in the daily papers. What you
really are is a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were a
Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I know.
JACK. What on earth do you mean?
ALGERNON. You have invented a very useful younger brother called
Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often
as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid
called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the
country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If it
wasn't for Bunbury's extraordinary bad health, for instance, I
wouldn't be able to dine with you at Willis's to-night, for I have
been really engaged to Aunt Augusta for more than a week.
JACK. I haven't asked you to dine with me anywhere to-night.
ALGERNON. I know. You are absurdly careless about sending out
invitations. It is very foolish of you. Nothing annoys people so
much as not receiving invitations.
JACK. You had much better dine with your Aunt Augusta.
ALGERNON. I haven't the smallest intention of doing anything of
the kind. To begin with, I dined there on Monday, and once a week
is quite enough to dine with one's own relations. In the second
place, whenever I do dine there I am always treated as a member of
the family, and sent down with either no woman at all, or two. In
the third place, I know perfectly well whom she will place me next
to, to-night. She will place me next Mary Farquhar, who always
flirts with her own husband across the dinner-table. That is not
very pleasant. Indeed, it is not even decent . . . and that sort
of thing is enormously on the increase. The amount of women in
London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous.
It looks so bad. It in simply washing one's clean linen in public.
Besides, now that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist I
naturally want to talk to you about Bunburying. I want to tell you
the rules.
JACK. I'm not a Bunburyist at all. If Gwendolen accepts me, I am
going to kill my brother, indeed I think I'll kill him in any case.
Cecily is a little too much interested in him. It is rather a
bore. So I am going to get rid of Ernest. And I strongly advise
you to do the same with Mr . . . with your invalid friend who has
the absurd name.
ALGERNON. Nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you
ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will
be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing
Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.
JACK. That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like
Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I
would marry, I certainly won't want to know Bunbury.
ALGERNON. Then your wife will. You don't seem to realise, that in
married life three is company and two is none.
JACK.[Sententiously.]That, my dear young friend, is the theory
that the corrupt French Drama has been propounding for the last
fifty years.
ALGERNON. Yes; and that the happy English home has proved in half
the time.
JACK. For heaven's sake, don't try to be cynical. It's perfectly
easy to be cynical.
ALGERNON. My dear fellow, it isn't easy to be anything nowadays.
There's such a lot of beastly competition about.[The sound of anelectric bell is heard.]Ah! that must be Aunt Augusta. Only
relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner. Now,
if I get her out of the way for ten minutes, so that you can have
an opportunity for proposing to Gwendolen, may I dine with you to-
night at Willis's?
JACK. I suppose so, if you want to.
ALGERNON. Yes, but you must be serious about it. I hate people
who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.
[Enter LANE.]
Lady Bracknell and Miss Fairfax.:
[ALGERNON goes forward to meet them. Enter LADY BRACKNELL andGWENDOLEN.]
LADY BRACKNELL. Good afternoon, dear Algernon, I hope you are
behaving very well.
ALGERNON. I'm feeling very well, Aunt Augusta.
LADY BRACKNELL. That's not quite the same thing. In fact the two
things rarely go together.[Sees JACK and bows to him with icycoldness.]
ALGERNON.[To GWENDOLEN.]Dear me, you are smart!
GWENDOLEN. I am always smart! Am I not, Mr. Worthing?
JACK. You're quite perfect, Miss Fairfax.
GWENDOLEN. Oh! I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for
developments, and I intend to develop in many directions.
[GWENDOLEN and JACK sit down together in the corner.]
LADY BRACKNELL. I'm sorry if we are a little late, Algernon, but I
was obliged to call on dear Lady Harbury. I hadn't been there
since her poor husband's death. I never saw a woman so altered;
she looks quite twenty years younger. And now I'll have a cup of
tea, and one of those nice cucumber sandwiches you promised me.
ALGERNON. Certainly, Aunt Augusta.[Goes over to tea-table.]
LADY BRACKNELL. Won't you come and sit here, Gwendolen?
GWENDOLEN. Thanks, mamma, I'm quite comfortable where I am.
ALGERNON.[Picking up empty plate in horror.]Good heavens!
Lane! Why are there no cucumber sandwiches? I ordered them
specially.
LANE.[Gravely.]There were no cucumbers in the market this
morning, sir. I went down twice.
ALGERNON. No cucumbers!
LANE. No, sir. Not even for ready money.
ALGERNON. That will do, Lane, thank you.
LANE. Thank you, sir.[Goes out.]
ALGERNON. I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being
no cucumbers, not even for ready money.
LADY BRACKNELL. It really makes no matter, Algernon. I had some
crumpets with Lady Harbury, who seems to me to be living entirely
for pleasure now.
ALGERNON. I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief.
LADY BRACKNELL. It certainly has changed its colour. From what
cause I, of course, cannot say.[ALGERNON crosses and hands tea.]
Thank you. I've quite a treat for you to-night, Algernon. I am
going to send you down with Mary Farquhar. She is such a nice
woman, and so attentive to her husband. It's delightful to watch
them.
ALGERNON. I am afraid, Aunt Augusta, I shall have to give up the
pleasure of dining with you to-night after all.
LADY BRACKNELL.[Frowning.]I hope not, Algernon. It would put
my table completely out. Your uncle would have to dine upstairs.
Fortunately he is accustomed to that.
ALGERNON. It is a great bore, and, I need hardly say, a terrible
disappointment to me, but the fact is I have just had a telegram to
say that my poor friend Bunbury is very ill again.[Exchangesglances with JACK.]They seem to think I should be with him.
LADY BRACKNELL. It is very strange. This Mr. Bunbury seems to
suffer from curiously bad health.
ALGERNON. Yes; poor Bunbury is a dreadful invalid.
LADY BRACKNELL. Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is
high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to
live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd.
Nor do I in any way approve of the modern sympathy with invalids.
I consider it morbid. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to be
encouraged in others. Health is the primary duty of life. I am
always telling that to your poor uncle, but he never seems to take
much notice . . . as far as any improvement in his ailment goes. I
should be much obliged if you would ask Mr. Bunbury, from me, to be
kind enough not to have a relapse on Saturday, for I rely on you to
arrange my music for me. It is my last reception, and one wants
something that will encourage conversation, particularly at the end
of the season when every one has practically said whatever they had
to say, which, in most cases, was probably not much.
ALGERNON. I'll speak to Bunbury, Aunt Augusta, if he is still
conscious, and I think I can promise you he'll be all right by
Saturday. Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if
one plays good music, people don't listen, and if one plays bad
music people don't talk. But I'll ran over the programme I've
drawn out, if you will kindly come into the next room for a moment.
LADY BRACKNELL. Thank you, Algernon. It is very thoughtful of
you.[Rising, and following ALGERNON.]I'm sure the programme
will be delightful, after a few expurgations. French songs I
cannot possibly allow. People always seem to think that they are
improper, and either look shocked, which is vulgar, or laugh, which
is worse. But German sounds a thoroughly respectable language, and
indeed, I believe is so. Gwendolen, you will accompany me.
GWENDOLEN. Certainly, mamma.
[LADY BRACKNELL and ALGERNON go into the music-room, GWENDOLENremains behind.]
JACK. Charming day it has been, Miss Fairfax.
GWENDOLEN. Pray don't talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing.
Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite
certain that they mean something else. And that makes me so
nervous.
JACK. I do mean something else.
GWENDOLEN. I thought so. In fact, I am never wrong.
JACK. And I would like to be allowed to take advantage of Lady
Bracknell's temporary absence . . .
GWENDOLEN. I would certainly advise you to do so. Mamma has a way
of coming back suddenly into a room that I have often had to speak
to her about.
JACK.[Nervously.]Miss Fairfax, ever since I met you I have
admired you more than any girl . . . I have ever met since . . . I
met you.
GWENDOLEN. Yes, I am quite well aware of the fact. And I often
wish that in public, at any rate, you had been more demonstrative.
For me you have always had an irresistible fascination. Even
before I met you I was far from indifferent to you.[JACK looks ather in amazement.]We live, as I hope you know, Mr Worthing, in an
age of ideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the more
expensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial
pulpits, I am told; and my ideal has always been to love some one
of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that
inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned
to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to
love you.
JACK. You really love me, Gwendolen?
GWENDOLEN. Passionately!
JACK. Darling! You don't know how happy you've made me.
GWENDOLEN. My own Ernest!
JACK. But you don't really mean to say that you couldn't love me
if my name wasn't Ernest?
GWENDOLEN. But your name is Ernest.
JACK. Yes, I know it is. But supposing it was something else? Do
you mean to say you couldn't love me then?
GWENDOLEN.[Glibly.]Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical
speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very
little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we
know them.
JACK. Personally, darling, to speak quite candidly, I don't much
care about the name of Ernest . . . I don't think the name suits me
at all.
GWENDOLEN. It suits you perfectly. It is a divine name. It has a
music of its own. It produces vibrations.
JACK. Well, really, Gwendolen, I must say that I think there are
lots of other much nicer names. I think Jack, for instance, a
charming name.
GWENDOLEN. Jack? . . . No, there is very little music in the name
Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces
absolutely no vibrations . . . I have known several Jacks, and they
all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides,
Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who
is married to a man called John. She would probably never be
allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment's
solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest
JACK. Gwendolen, I must get christened at once - I mean we must
get married at once. There is no time to be lost.
GWENDOLEN. Married, Mr. Worthing?
JACK.[Astounded.]Well . . . surely. You know that I love you,
and you led me to believe, Miss Fairfax, that you were not
absolutely indifferent to me.
GWENDOLEN. I adore you. But you haven't proposed to me yet.
Nothing has been said at all about marriage. The subject has not
even been touched on.
JACK. Well . . . may I propose to you now?
GWENDOLEN. I think it would be an admirable opportunity. And to
spare you any possible disappointment, Mr. Worthing, I think it
only fair to tell you quite frankly before-hand that I am fully
determined to accept you.
JACK. Gwendolen!
GWENDOLEN. Yes, Mr. Worthing, what have you got to say to me?
JACK. You know what I have got to say to you.
GWENDOLEN. Yes, but you don't say it.
JACK. Gwendolen, will you marry me?[Goes on his knees.]
GWENDOLEN. Of course I will, darling. How long you have been
about it! I am afraid you have had very little experience in how
to propose.
JACK. My own one, I have never loved any one in the world but you.
GWENDOLEN. Yes, but men often propose for practice. I know my
brother Gerald does. All my girl-friends tell me so. What
wonderfully blue eyes you have, Ernest! They are quite, quite,
blue. I hope you will always look at me just like that, especially
when there are other people present.[Enter LADY BRACKNELL.]
LADY BRACKNELL. Mr. Worthing! Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent
posture. It is most indecorous.
GWENDOLEN. Mamma![He tries to rise; she restrains him.]I must
beg you to retire. This is no place for you. Besides, Mr.
Worthing has not quite finished yet.
LADY BRACKNELL. Finished what, may I ask?
GWENDOLEN. I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma.[They risetogether.]
LADY BRACKNELL. Pardon me, you are not engaged to any one. When
you do become engaged to some one, I, or your father, should his
health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement
should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant,
as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be
allowed to arrange for herself . . . And now I have a few questions
to put to you, Mr. Worthing. While I am making these inquiries,
you, Gwendolen, will wait for me below in the carriage.
GWENDOLEN.[Reproachfully.]Mamma!
LADY BRACKNELL. In the carriage, Gwendolen![GWENDOLEN goes tothe door. She and JACK blow kisses to each other behind LADYBRACKNELL'S back. LADY BRACKNELL looks vaguely about as if shecould not understand what the noise was. Finally turns round.]
Gwendolen, the carriage!
GWENDOLEN. Yes, mamma.[Goes out, looking back at JACK.]
LADY BRACKNELL.[Sitting down.]You can take a seat, Mr.
Worthing.
[Looks in her pocket for note-book and pencil.]
JACK. Thank you, Lady Bracknell, I prefer standing.
LADY BRACKNELL.[Pencil and note-book in hand.]I feel bound to
tell you that you are not down on my list of eligible young men,
although I have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has.
We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready to enter your
name, should your answers be what a really affectionate mother
requires. Do you smoke?
JACK. Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.
LADY BRACKNELL. I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an
occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London
as it is. How old are you?
JACK. Twenty-nine.
LADY BRACKNELL. A very good age to be married at. I have always
been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know
either everything or nothing. Which do you know?
JACK.[After some hesitation.]I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.
LADY BRACKNELL. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of
anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a
delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole
theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in
England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If
it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and
probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. What is
your income?
JACK. Between seven and eight thousand a year.
LADY BRACKNELL.[Makes a note in her book.]In land, or in
investments?
JACK. In investments, chiefly.
LADY BRACKNELL. That is satisfactory. What between the duties
expected of one during one's lifetime, and the duties exacted from
one after one's death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a
pleasure. It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it
up. That's all that can be said about land.
JACK. I have a country house with some land, of course, attached
to it, about fifteen hundred acres, I believe; but I don't depend
on that for my real income. In fact, as far as I can make out, the
poachers are the only people who make anything out of it.
LADY BRACKNELL. A country house! How many bedrooms? Well, that
point can be cleared up afterwards. You have a town house, I hope?
A girl with a simple, unspoiled nature, like Gwendolen, could
hardly be expected to reside in the country.
JACK. Well, I own a house in Belgrave Square, but it is let by the
year to Lady Bloxham. Of course, I can get it back whenever I
like, at six months' notice.
LADY BRACKNELL. Lady Bloxham? I don't know her.
JACK. Oh, she goes about very little. She is a lady considerably
advanced in years.
LADY BRACKNELL. Ah, nowadays that is no guarantee of
respectability of character. What number in Belgrave Square?
JACK. 149.
LADY BRACKNELL.[Shaking her head.]The unfashionable side. I
thought there was something. However, that could easily be
altered.
JACK. Do you mean the fashion, or the side?
LADY BRACKNELL.[Sternly.]Both, if necessary, I presume. What
are your polities?
JACK. Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal
Unionist.
LADY BRACKNELL. Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or
come in the evening, at any rate. Now to minor matters. Are your
parents living?
JACK. I have lost both my parents.
LADY BRACKNELL. To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded
as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Who was
your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born
in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did he
rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?
JACK. I am afraid I really don't know. The fact is, Lady
Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the
truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me . . . I don't
actually know who I am by birth. I was . . . well, I was found.
LADY BRACKNELL. Found!
JACK. The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very
charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name
of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for
Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex.
It is a seaside resort.
LADY BRACKNELL. Where did the charitable gentleman who had a
first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?
JACK.[Gravely.]In a hand-bag.
LADY BRACKNELL. A hand-bag?
JACK.[Very seriously.]Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag
- a somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it - an
ordinary hand-bag in fact.
LADY BRACKNELL. In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas,
Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?
JACK. In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him
in mistake for his own.
LADY BRACKNELL. The cloak-room at Victoria Station?
JACK. Yes. The Brighton line.
LADY BRACKNELL. The line is immaterial. Mr. Worthing, I confess I
feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be
born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or
not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies
of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French
Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement
led to? As for the particular locality in which the hand-bag was
found, a cloak-room at a railway station might serve to conceal a
social indiscretion - has probably, indeed, been used for that
purpose before now-but it could hardly be regarded as an assured
basis for a recognised position in good society.
JACK. May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I need
hardly say I would do anything in the world to ensure Gwendolen's
happiness.
LADY BRACKNELL. I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try
and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a
definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex,
before the season is quite over.
JACK. Well, I don't see how I could possibly manage to do that. I
can produce the hand-bag at any moment. It is in my dressing-room
at home. I really think that should satisfy you, Lady Bracknell.
LADY BRACKNELL. Me, sir! What has it to do with me? You can
hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing
our only daughter - a girl brought up with the utmost care - to
marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel? Good
morning, Mr. Worthing!
[LADY BRACKNELL sweeps out in majestic indignation.]
JACK. Good morning![ALGERNON, from the other room, strikes upthe Wedding March. Jack looks perfectly furious, and goes to thedoor.]For goodness' sake don't play that ghastly tune, Algy. How
idiotic you are!
[The music stops and ALGERNON enters cheerily.]
ALGERNON. Didn't it go off all right, old boy? You don't mean to
say Gwendolen refused you? I know it is a way she has. She is
always refusing people. I think it is most ill-natured of her.
JACK. Oh, Gwendolen is as right as a trivet. As far as she is
concerned, we are engaged. Her mother is perfectly unbearable.
Never met such a Gorgon . . . I don't really know what a Gorgon is
like, but I am quite sure that Lady Bracknell is one. In any case,
she is a monster, without being a myth, which is rather unfair . .
. I beg your pardon, Algy, I suppose I shouldn't talk about your
own aunt in that way before you.
ALGERNON. My dear boy, I love hearing my relations abused. It is
the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations
are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven't got the remotest
knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to
die.
JACK. Oh, that is nonsense!
ALGERNON. It isn't!
JACK. Well, I won't argue about the matter. You always want to
argue about things.
ALGERNON. That is exactly what things were originally made for.
JACK. Upon my word, if I thought that, I'd shoot myself . . .[Apause.]You don't think there is any chance of Gwendolen becoming
like her mother in about a hundred and fifty years, do you, Algy?
ALGERNON. All women become like their mothers. That is their
tragedy. No man does. That's his.
JACK. Is that clever?
ALGERNON. It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any
observation in civilised life should be.
JACK. I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever
nowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people.
The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to
goodness we had a few fools left.
ALGERNON. We have.
JACK. I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk
about?
ALGERNON. The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.
JACK. What fools!
ALGERNON. By the way, did you tell Gwendolen the truth about your
being Ernest in town, and Jack in the country?
JACK.[In a very patronising manner.]My dear fellow, the truth
isn't quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined
girl. What extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave to
a woman!
ALGERNON. The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to
her, if she is pretty, and to some one else, if she is plain.
JACK. Oh, that is nonsense.
ALGERNON. What about your brother? What about the profligate
Ernest?
JACK. Oh, before the end of the week I shall have got rid of him.
I'll say he died in Paris of apoplexy. Lots of people die of
apoplexy, quite suddenly, don't they?
ALGERNON. Yes, but it's hereditary, my dear fellow. It's a sort
of thing that runs in families. You had much better say a severe
chill.
JACK. You are sure a severe chill isn't hereditary, or anything of
that kind?
ALGERNON. Of course it isn't!
JACK. Very well, then. My poor brother Ernest to carried off
suddenly, in Paris, by a severe chill. That gets rid of him.
ALGERNON. But I thought you said that . . . Miss Cardew was a
little too much interested in your poor brother Ernest? Won't she
feel his loss a good deal?
JACK. Oh, that is all right. Cecily is not a silly romantic girl,
I am glad to say. She has got a capital appetite, goes long walks,
and pays no attention at all to her lessons.
ALGERNON. I would rather like to see Cecily.
JACK. I will take very good care you never do. She is excessively
pretty, and she is only just eighteen.
ALGERNON. Have you told Gwendolen yet that you have an excessively
pretty ward who is only just eighteen?
JACK. Oh! one doesn't blurt these things out to people. Cecily
and Gwendolen are perfectly certain to be extremely great friends.
I'll bet you anything you like that half an hour after they have
met, they will be calling each other sister.
ALGERNON. Women only do that when they have called each other a
lot of other things first. Now, my dear boy, if we want to get a
good table at Willis's, we really must go and dress. Do you know
it is nearly seven?
JACK.[Irritably.]Oh! It always is nearly seven.
ALGERNON. Well, I'm hungry.
JACK. I never knew you when you weren't . . .
ALGERNON. What shall we do after dinner? Go to a theatre?
JACK. Oh no! I loathe listening.
ALGERNON. Well, let us go to the Club?
JACK. Oh, no! I hate talking.
ALGERNON. Well, we might trot round to the Empire at ten?
JACK. Oh, no! I can't bear looking at things. It is so silly.
ALGERNON. Well, what shall we do?
JACK. Nothing!
ALGERNON. It is awfully hard work doing nothing. However, I don't
mind hard work where there is no definite object of any kind.
[Enter LANE.]
LANE. Miss Fairfax.
[Enter GWENDOLEN. LANE goes out.]
ALGERNON. Gwendolen, upon my word!
GWENDOLEN. Algy, kindly turn your back. I have something very
particular to say to Mr. Worthing.
ALGERNON. Really, Gwendolen, I don't think I can allow this at
all.
GWENDOLEN. Algy, you always adopt a strictly immoral attitude
towards life. You are not quite old enough to do that.[ALGERNONretires to the fireplace.]
JACK. My own darling!
GWENDOLEN. Ernest, we may never be married. From the expression
on mamma's face I fear we never shall. Few parents nowadays pay
any regard to what their children say to them. The old-fashioned
respect for the young is fast dying out. Whatever influence I ever
had over mamma, I lost at the age of three. But although she may
prevent us from becoming man and wife, and I may marry some one
else, and marry often, nothing that she can possibly do can alter
my eternal devotion to you.
JACK. Dear Gwendolen!
GWENDOLEN. The story of your romantic origin, as related to me by
mamma, with unpleasing comments, has naturally stirred the deeper
fibres of my nature. Your Christian name has an irresistible
fascination. The simplicity of your character makes you
exquisitely incomprehensible to me. Your town address at the
Albany I have. What is your address in the country?
JACK. The Manor House, Woolton, Hertfordshire.
[ALGERNON, who has been carefully listening, smiles to himself, andwrites the address on his shirt-cuff. Then picks up the RailwayGuide.]
GWENDOLEN. There is a good postal service, I suppose? It may be
necessary to do something desperate. That of course will require
serious consideration. I will communicate with you daily.
JACK. My own one!
GWENDOLEN. How long do you remain in town?
JACK. Till Monday.
GWENDOLEN. Good! Algy, you may turn round now.
ALGERNON. Thanks, I've turned round already.
GWENDOLEN. You may also ring the bell.
JACK. You will let me see you to your carriage, my own darling?
GWENDOLEN. Certainly.
JACK.[To LANE, who now enters.]I will see Miss Fairfax out.
LANE. Yes, sir.[JACK and GWENDOLEN go off.]
[LANE presents several letters on a salver to ALGERNON. It is tobe surmised that they are bills, as ALGERNON, after looking at theenvelopes, tears them up.]
ALGERNON. A glass of sherry, Lane.
LANE. Yes, sir.
ALGERNON. To-morrow, Lane, I'm going Bunburying.
LANE. Yes, sir.
ALGERNON. I shall probably not be back till Monday. You can put
up my dress clothes, my smoking jacket, and all the Bunbury suits .
. .
LANE. Yes, sir.[Handing sherry.]
ALGERNON. I hope to-morrow will be a fine day, Lane.
LANE. It never is, sir.
ALGERNON. Lane, you're a perfect pessimist.
LANE. I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.
[Enter JACK. LANE goes off.]
JACK. There's a sensible, intellectual girl! the only girl I ever
cared for in my life.[ALGERNON is laughing immoderately.]What
on earth are you so amused at?
ALGERNON. Oh, I'm a little anxious about poor Bunbury, that in
all.
JACK. If you don't take care, your friend Bunbury will get you
into a serious scrape some day.
ALGERNON. I love scrapes. They are the only things that are never
serious.
JACK. Oh, that's nonsense, Algy. You never talk anything but
nonsense.
ALGERNON. Nobody ever does.
[JACK looks indignantly at him, and leaves the room. ALGERNONlights a cigarette, reads his shirt-cuff, and smiles.]
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