TEXT THREE

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

By Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), a well-known English playwright, novelist, and poet, was the son-of an Irish surgeon. He began his education at Trinity College, Dublin, and graduated from Oxford. Still in Oxford O. Wilde became known as the apostle of the decadent doctrine of "Art for Art's sake". The decadent writers are known to have asserted the Superiority of beauty and pleasure over everything. O. Wilde gained his popularity in the genre of comedies of manners. His plays are full of witty paradoxes and dynamism and are always based on some entertaining plot.

"The Importance of Being Earnest" (1895) is one of his best plays. The style of the comedy is artistically artificial and at the same time amusing. It is the choice of words and the combination of phrases that give it a special flavour. Some of the characters are undisguised caricatures of the representatives of the aristocracy. But on the whole Wilde's satire was neither biting nor social in its essence and he never really rebelled against the class he belonged to.

FIRST ACT

(Extract)

Jack: Charming day it has been, Miss Fairfax.

Gwendolen: Pray don't talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk tome 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)1: 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 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

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in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, 1 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 2 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 3 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?

Gwendo1en: 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 beforehand 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.

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Jack: Gwendolen, will you marry me? (Goes on his knees.)

Gwendо1en: Of course I will, darling. How long you have been about itl I am afraid you have had 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 LadyBracknell.)

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 rise together.)

Lady Bracknell: Pardon me, you are not engaged to any one. When you do become engaged to some one, J, 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 J 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: 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.

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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. 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 politics?

Jack: Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal Unionist. 5

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: Both? ... That seems like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of somewealth. 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

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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 handbag-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. 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 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.)

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Commentary

1. The words in brackets are stage directions. They may contain detailed descriptions of the setting and of the characters' appearance. With the help of stage directions the playwright comments on the behaviour or the inner state of his characters and expresses his own point of view.

2. Note a vast difference in the vocabulary used by the characters. Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen use many learned (bookish) words such as "metaphysical speculation", "reside in the country". These words harmonize with the images of aristocracy and at the same time produce a humorous effect because the characters discuss the most trivial things. It's all the more evident as contrasted with Jack's colloquial language. The individualization of each character's language helps the author to depict personages.

3. Advantage, notorious, fascination, reference are words of French origin. They belong to learned words and their abundant use contributes to the humorous effect. Note the most frequently used suffixes in the above words.

4. Grosvenor Square [′grouvnə]: a fashionable district in the West End of London, adjoining Hyde Park

5. Liberal Unionist: a member of the party which in 1886 broke away from Liberal Party and existed independently up to 1906, when it joined the Conservatives

6. the purple of commerce (metaphor): the upper part of bourgeoisie

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