Importance of Being Earnest - 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 music has ceased, ALGERNON enters.]
Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?
I didn't think it polite to listen, sir.
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
And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the
cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?
Yes, sir. [Hands them on a salver.]
[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.
Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.
Why is it that at a bachelor's establishment the
servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely
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.
Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that?
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.
[Languidly.] I don't know that I am much interested in
your family life, Lane.
No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never
think of it myself.
Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.
Thank you, sir. [LANE goes out.]
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.
Mr. Ernest Worthing.
[LANE goes out.]
How are you, my dear Ernest? What brings you up to town?
Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one
anywhere? Eating as usual, I see, Algy!
[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?
[Sitting down on the sofa.] In the country.
What on earth do you do there?
[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.
And who are the people you amuse?
[Airily.] Oh, neighbours, neighbours.
Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?
Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.
How immensely you must amuse them! [Goes over and takes
sandwich.] By the way, Shropshire is your county, is it
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?
Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.
How perfectly delightful!
Yes, that is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta
won't quite approve of your being here.
May I ask why?
My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is
perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way
Gwendolen flirts with you.
I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town
expressly to propose to her.
I thought you had come up for pleasure? . . . I call
How utterly unromantic you are!
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
I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court
was specially invented for people whose memories are so
Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject.
Divorces are made in Heaven - [JACK puts out his hand to
take a sandwich. ALGERNON at once interferes.] Please
don't touch the cucumber sandwiches. They are ordered
specially for Aunt Augusta. [Takes one and eats it.]
Well, you have been eating them all the time.
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.
[Advancing to table and helping himself.] And very good
bread and butter it is too.
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.
Why on earth do you say that?
Well, in the first place girls never marry the men they
flirt with. Girls don't think it right.
Oh, that is nonsense!
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.
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.]
Cecily! What on earth do you mean? What do you mean,
Algy, by Cecily! I don't know any one of the name of
Bring me that cigarette case Mr. Worthing left in the
smoking-room the last time he dined here.
Yes, sir. [LANE goes out.]
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.
Well, I wish you would offer one. I happen to be more
than usually hard up.
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 it at once. LANE goes out.]
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Well, if you want to know, Cecily happens to be my aunt.
Yes. Charming old lady she is, too. Lives at Tunbridge
Wells. Just give it back to me, Algy.
[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
[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.]
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
It isn't Ernest; it's Jack.
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.]
Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country,
and the cigarette case was given to me in the country.
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.
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,
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.
Bunburyist? What on earth do you mean by a Bunburyist?
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.
Well, produce my cigarette case first.
Here it is. [Hands cigarette case.] Now produce your
explanation, and pray make it improbable. [Sits on
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.
Where in that place in the country, by the way?
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.
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?
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.
The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life
would be very tedious if it were either, and modern
literature a complete impossibility!
That wouldn't be at all a bad thing.
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.
What on earth do you mean?
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.
I haven't asked you to dine with me anywhere to-night.
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.
You had much better dine with your Aunt Augusta.
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.
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.
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.
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
Then your wife will. You don't seem to realise, that in
married life three is company and two is none.
[Sententiously.] That, my dear young friend, is the
theory that the corrupt French Drama has been
propounding for the last fifty years.
Yes; and that the happy English home has proved in half
For heaven's sake, don't try to be cynical. It's
perfectly easy to be cynical.
My dear fellow, it isn't easy to be anything nowadays.
There's such a lot of beastly competition about. [The
sound of an electric 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
I suppose so, if you want to.
Yes, but you must be serious about it. I hate people who
are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.
Lady Bracknell and Miss Fairfax.
[ALGERNON goes forward to meet them. Enter LADY
BRACKNELL and GWENDOLEN.]
Good afternoon, dear Algernon, I hope you are behaving
I'm feeling very well, Aunt Augusta.
That's not quite the same thing. In fact the two things
rarely go together. [Sees JACK and bows to him with icy
[To GWENDOLEN.] Dear me, you are smart!
I am always smart! Am I not, Mr. Worthing?
You're quite perfect, Miss Fairfax.
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
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.
Certainly, Aunt Augusta. [Goes over to tea-table.]
Won't you come and sit here, Gwendolen?
Thanks, mamma, I'm quite comfortable where I am.
[Picking up empty plate in horror.] Good heavens! Lane!
Why are there no cucumber sandwiches? I ordered them
[Gravely.] There were no cucumbers in the market this
morning, sir. I went down twice.
No, sir. Not even for ready money.
That will do, Lane, thank you.
Thank you, sir. [Goes out.]
I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being
no cucumbers, not even for ready money.
It really makes no matter, Algernon. I had some crumpets
with Lady Harbury, who seems to me to be living entirely
for pleasure now.
I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief.
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.
I am afraid, Aunt Augusta, I shall have to give up the
pleasure of dining with you to-night after all.
[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.
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. [Exchanges glances with JACK.] They seem to think
I should be with him.
It is very strange. This Mr. Bunbury seems to suffer
from curiously bad health.
Yes; poor Bunbury is a dreadful invalid.
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.
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.
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.
[LADY BRACKNELL and ALGERNON go into the music-room,
GWENDOLEN remains behind.]
Charming day it has been, Miss Fairfax.
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.
I do mean something else.
I thought so. In fact, I am never wrong.
And I would like to be allowed to take advantage of Lady
Bracknell's temporary absence . . .
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.
[Nervously.] Miss Fairfax, ever since I met you I have
admired you more than any girl . . . I have ever met
since . . . I met you.
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 at her 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.
You really love me, Gwendolen?
Darling! You don't know how happy you've made me.
My own Ernest!
But you don't really mean to say that you couldn't love
me if my name wasn't Ernest?
But your name is Ernest.
Yes, I know it is. But supposing it was something else?
Do you mean to say you couldn't love me then?
[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.
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.
It suits you perfectly. It is a divine name. It has a
music of its own. It produces vibrations.
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.
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
Gwendolen, I must get christened at once - I mean we
must get married at once. There is no time to be lost.
Married, Mr. Worthing?
[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.
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.
Well . . . may I propose to you now?
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.
Yes, Mr. Worthing, what have you got to say to me?
You know what I have got to say to you.
Yes, but you don't say it.
Gwendolen, will you marry me? [Goes on his knees.]
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.
My own one, I have never loved any one in the world but
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.]
Mr. Worthing! Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent
posture. It is most indecorous.
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.
Finished what, may I ask?
I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma. [They rise
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.
In the carriage, Gwendolen! [GWENDOLEN goes to the door.
She and JACK blow kisses to each other behind LADY
BRACKNELL'S back. LADY BRACKNELL looks vaguely about as
if she could not understand what the noise was. Finally
turns round.] Gwendolen, the carriage!
Yes, mamma. [Goes out, looking back at JACK.]
[Sitting down.] You can take a seat, Mr. Worthing.
[Looks in her pocket for note-book and pencil.]
Thank you, Lady Bracknell, I prefer standing.
[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
Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.
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?
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?
[After some hesitation.] I know nothing, 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
Between seven and eight thousand a year.
[Makes a note in her book.] In land, or in investments?
In investments, chiefly.
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.
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.
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.
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 Bloxham? I don't know her.
Oh, she goes about very little. She is a lady
considerably advanced in years.
Ah, nowadays that is no guarantee of respectability of
character. What number in Belgrave Square?
[Shaking her head.] The unfashionable side. I thought
there was something. However, that could easily be
Do you mean the fashion, or the side?
[Sternly.] Both, if necessary, I presume. What are your
Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal
Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in
the evening, at any rate. Now to minor matters. Are your
I have lost both my parents.
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
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.
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
Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class
ticket for this seaside resort find you?
[Gravely.] In a hand-bag.
[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.
In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas, Cardew
come across this ordinary hand-bag?
In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to
him in mistake for his own.
The cloak-room at Victoria Station?
Yes. The Brighton line.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
Good morning! [ALGERNON, from the other room, strikes up
the Wedding March. Jack looks perfectly furious, and
goes to the door.] For goodness' sake don't play that
ghastly tune, Algy. How idiotic you are!
[The music stops and ALGERNON enters cheerily.]
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.
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.
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.
Oh, that is nonsense!
Well, I won't argue about the matter. You always want to
argue about things.
That is exactly what things were originally made for.
Upon my word, if I thought that, I'd shoot myself . . .
[A pause.] You don't think there is any chance of
Gwendolen becoming like her mother in about a hundred
and fifty years, do you, Algy?
All women become like their mothers. That is their
tragedy. No man does. That's his.
Is that clever?
It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any
observation in civilised life should be.
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.
I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk
The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.
By the way, did you tell Gwendolen the truth about your
being Ernest in town, and Jack in the country?
[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!
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
Oh, that is nonsense.
What about your brother? What about the profligate
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?
Yes, but it's hereditary, my dear fellow. It's a sort of
thing that runs in families. You had much better say a
You are sure a severe chill isn't hereditary, or
anything of that kind?
Of course it isn't!
Very well, then. My poor brother Ernest to carried off
suddenly, in Paris, by a severe chill. That gets rid of
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?
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
I would rather like to see Cecily.
I will take very good care you never do. She is
excessively pretty, and she is only just eighteen.
Have you told Gwendolen yet that you have an excessively
pretty ward who is only just eighteen?
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
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?
[Irritably.] Oh! It always is nearly seven.
Well, I'm hungry.
I never knew you when you weren't . . .
What shall we do after dinner? Go to a theatre?
Oh no! I loathe listening.
Well, let us go to the Club?
Oh, no! I hate talking.
Well, we might trot round to the Empire at ten?
Oh, no! I can't bear looking at things. It is so silly.
Well, what shall we do?
It is awfully hard work doing nothing. However, I don't
mind hard work where there is no definite object of any
[Enter GWENDOLEN. LANE goes out.]
Gwendolen, upon my word!
Algy, kindly turn your back. I have something very
particular to say to Mr. Worthing.
Really, Gwendolen, I don't think I can allow this at
Algy, you always adopt a strictly immoral attitude
towards life. You are not quite old enough to do that.
[ALGERNON retires to the fireplace.]
My own darling!
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.
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?
The Manor House, Woolton, Hertfordshire.
[ALGERNON, who has been carefully listening, smiles to
himself, and writes the address on his shirt-cuff. Then
picks up the Railway Guide.]
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
My own one!
How long do you remain in town?
Good! Algy, you may turn round now.
Thanks, I've turned round already.
You may also ring the bell.
You will let me see you to your carriage, my own
[To LANE, who now enters.] I will see Miss Fairfax out.
Yes, sir. [JACK and GWENDOLEN go off.]
[LANE presents several letters on a salver to ALGERNON.
It is to be surmised that they are bills, as ALGERNON,
after looking at the envelopes, tears them up.]
A glass of sherry, Lane.
To-morrow, Lane, I'm going Bunburying.
I shall probably not be back till Monday. You can put up
my dress clothes, my smoking jacket, and all the Bunbury
suits . . .
Yes, sir. [Handing sherry.]
I hope to-morrow will be a fine day, Lane.
It never is, sir.
Lane, you're a perfect pessimist.
I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.
[Enter JACK. LANE goes off.]
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?
Oh, I'm a little anxious about poor Bunbury, that in
If you don't take care, your friend Bunbury will get you
into a serious scrape some day.
I love scrapes. They are the only things that are never
Oh, that's nonsense, Algy. You never talk anything but
Nobody ever does.
[JACK looks indignantly at him, and leaves the room.
ALGERNON lights a cigarette, reads his shirt-cuff, and