Part 2 out of 2
Cecily. Isn't Mr. Worthing in his library?
Merriman. Mr. Worthing went over in the direction of the Rectory
some time ago.
Cecily. Pray ask the lady to come out here; Mr. Worthing is sure to
be back soon. And you can bring tea.
Merriman. Yes, Miss. [Goes out.]
Cecily. Miss Fairfax! I suppose one of the many good elderly women
who are associated with Uncle Jack in some of his philanthropic work
in London. I don't quite like women who are interested in
philanthropic work. I think it is so forward of them.
Merriman. Miss Fairfax.
Cecily. [Advancing to meet her.] Pray let me introduce myself to
you. My name is Cecily Cardew.
Gwendolen. Cecily Cardew? [Moving to her and shaking hands.] What
a very sweet name! Something tells me that we are going to be great
friends. I like you already more than I can say. My first
impressions of people are never wrong.
Cecily. How nice of you to like me so much after we have known each
other such a comparatively short time. Pray sit down.
Gwendolen. [Still standing up.] I may call you Cecily, may I not?
Cecily. With pleasure!
Gwendolen. And you will always call me Gwendolen, won't you?
Cecily. If you wish.
Gwendolen. Then that is all quite settled, is it not?
Cecily. I hope so. [A pause. They both sit down together.]
Gwendolen. Perhaps this might be a favourable opportunity for my
mentioning who I am. My father is Lord Bracknell. You have never
heard of papa, I suppose?
Cecily. I don't think so.
Gwendolen. Outside the family circle, papa, I am glad to say, is
entirely unknown. I think that is quite as it should be. The home
seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once
a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully
effeminate, does he not? And I don't like that. It makes men so
very attractive. Cecily, mamma, whose views on education are
remarkably strict, has brought me up to be extremely short-sighted;
it is part of her system; so do you mind my looking at you through
Cecily. Oh! not at all, Gwendolen. I am very fond of being looked
Gwendolen. [After examining Cecily carefully through a lorgnette.]
You are here on a short visit, I suppose.
Cecily. Oh no! I live here.
Gwendolen. [Severely.] Really? Your mother, no doubt, or some
female relative of advanced years, resides here also?
Cecily. Oh no! I have no mother, nor, in fact, any relations.
Cecily. My dear guardian, with the assistance of Miss Prism, has
the arduous task of looking after me.
Gwendolen. Your guardian?
Cecily. Yes, I am Mr. Worthing's ward.
Gwendolen. Oh! It is strange he never mentioned to me that he had
a ward. How secretive of him! He grows more interesting hourly. I
am not sure, however, that the news inspires me with feelings of
unmixed delight. [Rising and going to her.] I am very fond of you,
Cecily; I have liked you ever since I met you! But I am bound to
state that now that I know that you are Mr. Worthing's ward, I
cannot help expressing a wish you were--well, just a little older
than you seem to be--and not quite so very alluring in appearance.
In fact, if I may speak candidly -
Cecily. Pray do! I think that whenever one has anything unpleasant
to say, one should always be quite candid.
Gwendolen. Well, to speak with perfect candour, Cecily, I wish that
you were fully forty-two, and more than usually plain for your age.
Ernest has a strong upright nature. He is the very soul of truth
and honour. Disloyalty would be as impossible to him as deception.
But even men of the noblest possible moral character are extremely
susceptible to the influence of the physical charms of others.
Modern, no less than Ancient History, supplies us with many most
painful examples of what I refer to. If it were not so, indeed,
History would be quite unreadable.
Cecily. I beg your pardon, Gwendolen, did you say Ernest?
Cecily. Oh, but it is not Mr. Ernest Worthing who is my guardian.
It is his brother--his elder brother.
Gwendolen. [Sitting down again.] Ernest never mentioned to me that
he had a brother.
Cecily. I am sorry to say they have not been on good terms for a
Gwendolen. Ah! that accounts for it. And now that I think of it I
have never heard any man mention his brother. The subject seems
distasteful to most men. Cecily, you have lifted a load from my
mind. I was growing almost anxious. It would have been terrible if
any cloud had come across a friendship like ours, would it not? Of
course you are quite, quite sure that it is not Mr. Ernest Worthing
who is your guardian?
Cecily. Quite sure. [A pause.] In fact, I am going to be his.
Gwendolen. [Inquiringly.] I beg your pardon?
Cecily. [Rather shy and confidingly.] Dearest Gwendolen, there is
no reason why I should make a secret of it to you. Our little
county newspaper is sure to chronicle the fact next week. Mr.
Ernest Worthing and I are engaged to be married.
Gwendolen. [Quite politely, rising.] My darling Cecily, I think
there must be some slight error. Mr. Ernest Worthing is engaged to
me. The announcement will appear in the Morning Post on Saturday at
Cecily. [Very politely, rising.] I am afraid you must be under
some misconception. Ernest proposed to me exactly ten minutes ago.
Gwendolen. [Examines diary through her lorgnettte carefully.] It
is certainly very curious, for he asked me to be his wife yesterday
afternoon at 5.30. If you would care to verify the incident, pray
do so. [Produces diary of her own.] I never travel without my
diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the
train. I am so sorry, dear Cecily, if it is any disappointment to
you, but I am afraid I have the prior claim.
Cecily. It would distress me more than I can tell you, dear
Gwendolen, if it caused you any mental or physical anguish, but I
feel bound to point out that since Ernest proposed to you he clearly
has changed his mind.
Gwendolen. [Meditatively.] If the poor fellow has been entrapped
into any foolish promise I shall consider it my duty to rescue him
at once, and with a firm hand.
Cecily. [Thoughtfully and sadly.] Whatever unfortunate
entanglement my dear boy may have got into, I will never reproach
him with it after we are married.
Gwendolen. Do you allude to me, Miss Cardew, as an entanglement?
You are presumptuous. On an occasion of this kind it becomes more
than a moral duty to speak one's mind. It becomes a pleasure.
Cecily. Do you suggest, Miss Fairfax, that I entrapped Ernest into
an engagement? How dare you? This is no time for wearing the
shallow mask of manners. When I see a spade I call it a spade.
Gwendolen. [Satirically.] I am glad to say that I have never seen
a spade. It is obvious that our social spheres have been widely
[Enter Merriman, followed by the footman. He carries a salver,
table cloth, and plate stand. Cecily is about to retort. The
presence of the servants exercises a restraining influence, under
which both girls chafe.]
Merriman. Shall I lay tea here as usual, Miss?
Cecily. [Sternly, in a calm voice.] Yes, as usual. [Merriman
begins to clear table and lay cloth. A long pause. Cecily and
Gwendolen glare at each other.]
Gwendolen. Are there many interesting walks in the vicinity, Miss
Cecily. Oh! yes! a great many. From the top of one of the hills
quite close one can see five counties.
Gwendolen. Five counties! I don't think I should like that; I hate
Cecily. [Sweetly.] I suppose that is why you live in town?
[Gwendolen bites her lip, and beats her foot nervously with her
Gwendolen. [Looking round.] Quite a well-kept garden this is, Miss
Cecily. So glad you like it, Miss Fairfax.
Gwendolen. I had no idea there were any flowers in the country.
Cecily. Oh, flowers are as common here, Miss Fairfax, as people are
Gwendolen. Personally I cannot understand how anybody manages to
exist in the country, if anybody who is anybody does. The country
always bores me to death.
Cecily. Ah! This is what the newspapers call agricultural
depression, is it not? I believe the aristocracy are suffering very
much from it just at present. It is almost an epidemic amongst
them, I have been told. May I offer you some tea, Miss Fairfax?
Gwendolen. [With elaborate politeness.] Thank you. [Aside.]
Detestable girl! But I require tea!
Cecily. [Sweetly.] Sugar?
Gwendolen. [Superciliously.] No, thank you. Sugar is not
fashionable any more. [Cecily looks angrily at her, takes up the
tongs and puts four lumps of sugar into the cup.]
Cecily. [Severely.] Cake or bread and butter?
Gwendolen. [In a bored manner.] Bread and butter, please. Cake is
rarely seen at the best houses nowadays.
Cecily. [Cuts a very large slice of cake, and puts it on the tray.]
Hand that to Miss Fairfax.
[Merriman does so, and goes out with footman. Gwendolen drinks the
tea and makes a grimace. Puts down cup at once, reaches out her
hand to the bread and butter, looks at it, and finds it is cake.
Rises in indignation.]
Gwendolen. You have filled my tea with lumps of sugar, and though I
asked most distinctly for bread and butter, you have given me cake.
I am known for the gentleness of my disposition, and the
extraordinary sweetness of my nature, but I warn you, Miss Cardew,
you may go too far.
Cecily. [Rising.] To save my poor, innocent, trusting boy from the
machinations of any other girl there are no lengths to which I would
Gwendolen. From the moment I saw you I distrusted you. I felt that
you were false and deceitful. I am never deceived in such matters.
My first impressions of people are invariably right.
Cecily. It seems to me, Miss Fairfax, that I am trespassing on your
valuable time. No doubt you have many other calls of a similar
character to make in the neighbourhood.
Gwendolen. [Catching sight of him.] Ernest! My own Ernest!
Jack. Gwendolen! Darling! [Offers to kiss her.]
Gwendolen. [Draws back.] A moment! May I ask if you are engaged
to be married to this young lady? [Points to Cecily.]
Jack. [Laughing.] To dear little Cecily! Of course not! What
could have put such an idea into your pretty little head?
Gwendolen. Thank you. You may! [Offers her cheek.]
Cecily. [Very sweetly.] I knew there must be some
misunderstanding, Miss Fairfax. The gentleman whose arm is at
present round your waist is my guardian, Mr. John Worthing.
Gwendolen. I beg your pardon?
Cecily. This is Uncle Jack.
Gwendolen. [Receding.] Jack! Oh!
Cecily. Here is Ernest.
Algernon. [Goes straight over to Cecily without noticing any one
else.] My own love! [Offers to kiss her.]
Cecily. [Drawing back.] A moment, Ernest! May I ask you--are you
engaged to be married to this young lady?
Algernon. [Looking round.] To what young lady? Good heavens!
Cecily. Yes! to good heavens, Gwendolen, I mean to Gwendolen.
Algernon. [Laughing.] Of course not! What could have put such an
idea into your pretty little head?
Cecily. Thank you. [Presenting her cheek to be kissed.] You may.
[Algernon kisses her.]
Gwendolen. I felt there was some slight error, Miss Cardew. The
gentleman who is now embracing you is my cousin, Mr. Algernon
Cecily. [Breaking away from Algernon.] Algernon Moncrieff! Oh!
[The two girls move towards each other and put their arms round each
other's waists protection.]
Cecily. Are you called Algernon?
Algernon. I cannot deny it.
Gwendolen. Is your name really John?
Jack. [Standing rather proudly.] I could deny it if I liked. I
could deny anything if I liked. But my name certainly is John. It
has been John for years.
Cecily. [To Gwendolen.] A gross deception has been practised on
both of us.
Gwendolen. My poor wounded Cecily!
Cecily. My sweet wronged Gwendolen!
Gwendolen. [Slowly and seriously.] You will call me sister, will
you not? [They embrace. Jack and Algernon groan and walk up and
Cecily. [Rather brightly.] There is just one question I would like
to be allowed to ask my guardian.
Gwendolen. An admirable idea! Mr. Worthing, there is just one
question I would like to be permitted to put to you. Where is your
brother Ernest? We are both engaged to be married to your brother
Ernest, so it is a matter of some importance to us to know where
your brother Ernest is at present.
Jack. [Slowly and hesitatingly.] Gwendolen--Cecily--it is very
painful for me to be forced to speak the truth. It is the first
time in my life that I have ever been reduced to such a painful
position, and I am really quite inexperienced in doing anything of
the kind. However, I will tell you quite frankly that I have no
brother Ernest. I have no brother at all. I never had a brother in
my life, and I certainly have not the smallest intention of ever
having one in the future.
Cecily. [Surprised.] No brother at all?
Jack. [Cheerily.] None!
Gwendolen. [Severely.] Had you never a brother of any kind?
Jack. [Pleasantly.] Never. Not even of an kind.
Gwendolen. I am afraid it is quite clear, Cecily, that neither of
us is engaged to be married to any one.
Cecily. It is not a very pleasant position for a young girl
suddenly to find herself in. Is it?
Gwendolen. Let us go into the house. They will hardly venture to
come after us there.
Cecily. No, men are so cowardly, aren't they?
[They retire into the house with scornful looks.]
Jack. This ghastly state of things is what you call Bunburying, I
Algernon. Yes, and a perfectly wonderful Bunbury it is. The most
wonderful Bunbury I have ever had in my life.
Jack. Well, you've no right whatsoever to Bunbury here.
Algernon. That is absurd. One has a right to Bunbury anywhere one
chooses. Every serious Bunburyist knows that.
Jack. Serious Bunburyist! Good heavens!
Algernon. Well, one must be serious about something, if one wants
to have any amusement in life. I happen to be serious about
Bunburying. What on earth you are serious about I haven't got the
remotest idea. About everything, I should fancy. You have such an
absolutely trivial nature.
Jack. Well, the only small satisfaction I have in the whole of this
wretched business is that your friend Bunbury is quite exploded.
You won't be able to run down to the country quite so often as you
used to do, dear Algy. And a very good thing too.
Algernon. Your brother is a little off colour, isn't he, dear Jack?
You won't be able to disappear to London quite so frequently as your
wicked custom was. And not a bad thing either.
Jack. As for your conduct towards Miss Cardew, I must say that your
taking in a sweet, simple, innocent girl like that is quite
inexcusable. To say nothing of the fact that she is my ward.
Algernon. I can see no possible defence at all for your deceiving a
brilliant, clever, thoroughly experienced young lady like Miss
Fairfax. To say nothing of the fact that she is my cousin.
Jack. I wanted to be engaged to Gwendolen, that is all. I love
Algernon. Well, I simply wanted to be engaged to Cecily. I adore
Jack. There is certainly no chance of your marrying Miss Cardew.
Algernon. I don't think there is much likelihood, Jack, of you and
Miss Fairfax being united.
Jack. Well, that is no business of yours.
Algernon. If it was my business, I wouldn't talk about it. [Begins
to eat muffins.] It is very vulgar to talk about one's business.
Only people like stock-brokers do that, and then merely at dinner
Jack. How can you sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in
this horrible trouble, I can't make out. You seem to me to be
Algernon. Well, I can't eat muffins in an agitated manner. The
butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat
muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.
Jack. I say it's perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all,
under the circumstances.
Algernon. When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that
consoles me. Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as any one
who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except
food and drink. At the present moment I am eating muffins because I
am unhappy. Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins. [Rising.]
Jack. [Rising.] Well, that is no reason why you should eat them
all in that greedy way. [Takes muffins from Algernon.]
Algernon. [Offering tea-cake.] I wish you would have tea-cake
instead. I don't like tea-cake.
Jack. Good heavens! I suppose a man may eat his own muffins in his
Algernon. But you have just said it was perfectly heartless to eat
Jack. I said it was perfectly heartless of you, under the
circumstances. That is a very different thing.
Algernon. That may be. But the muffins are the same. [He seizes
the muffin-dish from Jack.]
Jack. Algy, I wish to goodness you would go.
Algernon. You can't possibly ask me to go without having some
dinner. It's absurd. I never go without my dinner. No one ever
does, except vegetarians and people like that. Besides I have just
made arrangements with Dr. Chasuble to be christened at a quarter to
six under the name of Ernest.
Jack. My dear fellow, the sooner you give up that nonsense the
better. I made arrangements this morning with Dr. Chasuble to be
christened myself at 5.30, and I naturally will take the name of
Ernest. Gwendolen would wish it. We can't both be christened
Ernest. It's absurd. Besides, I have a perfect right to be
christened if I like. There is no evidence at all that I have ever
been christened by anybody. I should think it extremely probable I
never was, and so does Dr. Chasuble. It is entirely different in
your case. You have been christened already.
Algernon. Yes, but I have not been christened for years.
Jack. Yes, but you have been christened. That is the important
Algernon. Quite so. So I know my constitution can stand it. If
you are not quite sure about your ever having been christened, I
must say I think it rather dangerous your venturing on it now. It
might make you very unwell. You can hardly have forgotten that some
one very closely connected with you was very nearly carried off this
week in Paris by a severe chill.
Jack. Yes, but you said yourself that a severe chill was not
Algernon. It usen't to be, I know--but I daresay it is now.
Science is always making wonderful improvements in things.
Jack. [Picking up the muffin-dish.] Oh, that is nonsense; you are
always talking nonsense.
Algernon. Jack, you are at the muffins again! I wish you wouldn't.
There are only two left. [Takes them.] I told you I was
particularly fond of muffins.
Jack. But I hate tea-cake.
Algernon. Why on earth then do you allow tea-cake to be served up
for your guests? What ideas you have of hospitality!
Jack. Algernon! I have already told you to go. I don't want you
here. Why don't you go!
Algernon. I haven't quite finished my tea yet! and there is still
one muffin left. [Jack groans, and sinks into a chair. Algernon
still continues eating.]
Morning-room at the Manor House.
[Gwendolen and Cecily are at the window, looking out into the
Gwendolen. The fact that they did not follow us at once into the
house, as any one else would have done, seems to me to show that
they have some sense of shame left.
Cecily. They have been eating muffins. That looks like repentance.
Gwendolen. [After a pause.] They don't seem to notice us at all.
Couldn't you cough?
Cecily. But I haven't got a cough.
Gwendolen. They're looking at us. What effrontery!
Cecily. They're approaching. That's very forward of them.
Gwendolen. Let us preserve a dignified silence.
Cecily. Certainly. It's the only thing to do now. [Enter Jack
followed by Algernon. They whistle some dreadful popular air from a
Gwendolen. This dignified silence seems to produce an unpleasant
Cecily. A most distasteful one.
Gwendolen. But we will not be the first to speak.
Cecily. Certainly not.
Gwendolen. Mr. Worthing, I have something very particular to ask
you. Much depends on your reply.
Cecily. Gwendolen, your common sense is invaluable. Mr. Moncrieff,
kindly answer me the following question. Why did you pretend to be
my guardian's brother?
Algernon. In order that I might have an opportunity of meeting you.
Cecily. [To Gwendolen.] That certainly seems a satisfactory
explanation, does it not?
Gwendolen. Yes, dear, if you can believe him.
Cecily. I don't. But that does not affect the wonderful beauty of
Gwendolen. True. In matters of grave importance, style, not
sincerity is the vital thing. Mr. Worthing, what explanation can
you offer to me for pretending to have a brother? Was it in order
that you might have an opportunity of coming up to town to see me as
often as possible?
Jack. Can you doubt it, Miss Fairfax?
Gwendolen. I have the gravest doubts upon the subject. But I
intend to crush them. This is not the moment for German scepticism.
[Moving to Cecily.] Their explanations appear to be quite
satisfactory, especially Mr. Worthing's. That seems to me to have
the stamp of truth upon it.
Cecily. I am more than content with what Mr. Moncrieff said. His
voice alone inspires one with absolute credulity.
Gwendolen. Then you think we should forgive them?
Cecily. Yes. I mean no.
Gwendolen. True! I had forgotten. There are principles at stake
that one cannot surrender. Which of us should tell them? The task
is not a pleasant one.
Cecily. Could we not both speak at the same time?
Gwendolen. An excellent idea! I nearly always speak at the same
time as other people. Will you take the time from me?
Cecily. Certainly. [Gwendolen beats time with uplifted finger.]
Gwendolen and Cecily [Speaking together.] Your Christian names are
still an insuperable barrier. That is all!
Jack and Algernon [Speaking together.] Our Christian names! Is
that all? But we are going to be christened this afternoon.
Gwendolen. [To Jack.] For my sake you are prepared to do this
Jack. I am.
Cecily. [To Algernon.] To please me you are ready to face this
Algernon. I am!
Gwendolen. How absurd to talk of the equality of the sexes! Where
questions of self-sacrifice are concerned, men are infinitely beyond
Jack. We are. [Clasps hands with Algernon.]
Cecily. They have moments of physical courage of which we women
know absolutely nothing.
Gwendolen. [To Jack.] Darling!
Algernon. [To Cecily.] Darling! [They fall into each other's
[Enter Merriman. When he enters he coughs loudly, seeing the
Merriman. Ahem! Ahem! Lady Bracknell!
Jack. Good heavens!
[Enter Lady Bracknell. The couples separate in alarm. Exit
Lady Bracknell. Gwendolen! What does this mean?
Gwendolen. Merely that I am engaged to be married to Mr. Worthing,
Lady Bracknell. Come here. Sit down. Sit down immediately.
Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, of
physical weakness in the old. [Turns to Jack.] Apprised, sir, of
my daughter's sudden flight by her trusty maid, whose confidence I
purchased by means of a small coin, I followed her at once by a
luggage train. Her unhappy father is, I am glad to say, under the
impression that she is attending a more than usually lengthy lecture
by the University Extension Scheme on the Influence of a permanent
income on Thought. I do not propose to undeceive him. Indeed I
have never undeceived him on any question. I would consider it
wrong. But of course, you will clearly understand that all
communication between yourself and my daughter must cease
immediately from this moment. On this point, as indeed on all
points, I am firm.
Jack. I am engaged to be married to Gwendolen Lady Bracknell!
Lady Bracknell. You are nothing of the kind, sir. And now, as
regards Algernon! . . . Algernon!
Algernon. Yes, Aunt Augusta.
Lady Bracknell. May I ask if it is in this house that your invalid
friend Mr. Bunbury resides?
Algernon. [Stammering.] Oh! No! Bunbury doesn't live here.
Bunbury is somewhere else at present. In fact, Bunbury is dead,
Lady Bracknell. Dead! When did Mr. Bunbury die? His death must
have been extremely sudden.
Algernon. [Airily.] Oh! I killed Bunbury this afternoon. I mean
poor Bunbury died this afternoon.
Lady Bracknell. What did he die of?
Algernon. Bunbury? Oh, he was quite exploded.
Lady Bracknell. Exploded! Was he the victim of a revolutionary
outrage? I was not aware that Mr. Bunbury was interested in social
legislation. If so, he is well punished for his morbidity.
Algernon. My dear Aunt Augusta, I mean he was found out! The
doctors found out that Bunbury could not live, that is what I mean--
so Bunbury died.
Lady Bracknell. He seems to have had great confidence in the
opinion of his physicians. I am glad, however, that he made up his
mind at the last to some definite course of action, and acted under
proper medical advice. And now that we have finally got rid of this
Mr. Bunbury, may I ask, Mr. Worthing, who is that young person whose
hand my nephew Algernon is now holding in what seems to me a
peculiarly unnecessary manner?
Jack. That lady is Miss Cecily Cardew, my ward. [Lady Bracknell
bows coldly to Cecily.]
Algernon. I am engaged to be married to Cecily, Aunt Augusta.
Lady Bracknell. I beg your pardon?
Cecily. Mr. Moncrieff and I are engaged to be married, Lady
Lady Bracknell. [With a shiver, crossing to the sofa and sitting
down.] I do not know whether there is anything peculiarly exciting
in the air of this particular part of Hertfordshire, but the number
of engagements that go on seems to me considerably above the proper
average that statistics have laid down for our guidance. I think
some preliminary inquiry on my part would not be out of place. Mr.
Worthing, is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the larger
railway stations in London? I merely desire information. Until
yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or persons
whose origin was a Terminus. [Jack looks perfectly furious, but
Jack. [In a clear, cold voice.] Miss Cardew is the grand-daughter
of the late Mr. Thomas Cardew of 149 Belgrave Square, S.W.; Gervase
Park, Dorking, Surrey; and the Sporran, Fifeshire, N.B.
Lady Bracknell. That sounds not unsatisfactory. Three addresses
always inspire confidence, even in tradesmen. But what proof have I
of their authenticity?
Jack. I have carefully preserved the Court Guides of the period.
They are open to your inspection, Lady Bracknell.
Lady Bracknell. [Grimly.] I have known strange errors in that
Jack. Miss Cardew's family solicitors are Messrs. Markby, Markby,
Lady Bracknell. Markby, Markby, and Markby? A firm of the very
highest position in their profession. Indeed I am told that one of
the Mr. Markby's is occasionally to be seen at dinner parties. So
far I am satisfied.
Jack. [Very irritably.] How extremely kind of you, Lady Bracknell!
I have also in my possession, you will be pleased to hear,
certificates of Miss Cardew's birth, baptism, whooping cough,
registration, vaccination, confirmation, and the measles; both the
German and the English variety.
Lady Bracknell. Ah! A life crowded with incident, I see; though
perhaps somewhat too exciting for a young girl. I am not myself in
favour of premature experiences. [Rises, looks at her watch.]
Gwendolen! the time approaches for our departure. We have not a
moment to lose. As a matter of form, Mr. Worthing, I had better ask
you if Miss Cardew has any little fortune?
Jack. Oh! about a hundred and thirty thousand pounds in the Funds.
That is all. Goodbye, Lady Bracknell. So pleased to have seen you.
Lady Bracknell. [Sitting down again.] A moment, Mr. Worthing. A
hundred and thirty thousand pounds! And in the Funds! Miss Cardew
seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her.
Few girls of the present day have any really solid qualities, any of
the qualities that last, and improve with time. We live, I regret
to say, in an age of surfaces. [To Cecily.] Come over here, dear.
[Cecily goes across.] Pretty child! your dress is sadly simple, and
your hair seems almost as Nature might have left it. But we can
soon alter all that. A thoroughly experienced French maid produces
a really marvellous result in a very brief space of time. I
remember recommending one to young Lady Lancing, and after three
months her own husband did not know her.
Jack. And after six months nobody knew her.
Lady Bracknell. [Glares at Jack for a few moments. Then bends,
with a practised smile, to Cecily.] Kindly turn round, sweet child.
[Cecily turns completely round.] No, the side view is what I want.
[Cecily presents her profile.] Yes, quite as I expected. There are
distinct social possibilities in your profile. The two weak points
in our age are its want of principle and its want of profile. The
chin a little higher, dear. Style largely depends on the way the
chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at present. Algernon!
Algernon. Yes, Aunt Augusta!
Lady Bracknell. There are distinct social possibilities in Miss
Algernon. Cecily is the sweetest, dearest, prettiest girl in the
whole world. And I don't care twopence about social possibilities.
Lady Bracknell. Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon.
Only people who can't get into it do that. [To Cecily.] Dear
child, of course you know that Algernon has nothing but his debts to
depend upon. But I do not approve of mercenary marriages. When I
married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind. But I never
dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way. Well, I
suppose I must give my consent.
Algernon. Thank you, Aunt Augusta.
Lady Bracknell. Cecily, you may kiss me!
Cecily. [Kisses her.] Thank you, Lady Bracknell.
Lady Bracknell. You may also address me as Aunt Augusta for the
Cecily. Thank you, Aunt Augusta.
Lady Bracknell. The marriage, I think, had better take place quite
Algernon. Thank you, Aunt Augusta.
Cecily. Thank you, Aunt Augusta.
Lady Bracknell. To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long
engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each
other's character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.
Jack. I beg your pardon for interrupting you, Lady Bracknell, but
this engagement is quite out of the question. I am Miss Cardew's
guardian, and she cannot marry without my consent until she comes of
age. That consent I absolutely decline to give.
Lady Bracknell. Upon what grounds may I ask? Algernon is an
extremely, I may almost say an ostentatiously, eligible young man.
He has nothing, but he looks everything. What more can one desire?
Jack. It pains me very much to have to speak frankly to you, Lady
Bracknell, about your nephew, but the fact is that I do not approve
at all of his moral character. I suspect him of being untruthful.
[Algernon and Cecily look at him in indignant amazement.]
Lady Bracknell. Untruthful! My nephew Algernon? Impossible! He
is an Oxonian.
Jack. I fear there can be no possible doubt about the matter. This
afternoon during my temporary absence in London on an important
question of romance, he obtained admission to my house by means of
the false pretence of being my brother. Under an assumed name he
drank, I've just been informed by my butler, an entire pint bottle
of my Perrier-Jouet, Brut, '89; wine I was specially reserving for
myself. Continuing his disgraceful deception, he succeeded in the
course of the afternoon in alienating the affections of my only
ward. He subsequently stayed to tea, and devoured every single
muffin. And what makes his conduct all the more heartless is, that
he was perfectly well aware from the first that I have no brother,
that I never had a brother, and that I don't intend to have a
brother, not even of any kind. I distinctly told him so myself
Lady Bracknell. Ahem! Mr. Worthing, after careful consideration I
have decided entirely to overlook my nephew's conduct to you.
Jack. That is very generous of you, Lady Bracknell. My own
decision, however, is unalterable. I decline to give my consent.
Lady Bracknell. [To Cecily.] Come here, sweet child. [Cecily goes
over.] How old are you, dear?
Cecily. Well, I am really only eighteen, but I always admit to
twenty when I go to evening parties.
Lady Bracknell. You are perfectly right in making some slight
alteration. Indeed, no woman should ever be quite accurate about
her age. It looks so calculating . . . [In a meditative manner.]
Eighteen, but admitting to twenty at evening parties. Well, it will
not be very long before you are of age and free from the restraints
of tutelage. So I don't think your guardian's consent is, after
all, a matter of any importance.
Jack. Pray excuse me, Lady Bracknell, for interrupting you again,
but it is only fair to tell you that according to the terms of her
grandfather's will Miss Cardew does not come legally of age till she
Lady Bracknell. That does not seem to me to be a grave objection.
Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of
women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice,
remained thirty-five for years. Lady Dumbleton is an instance in
point. To my own knowledge she has been thirty-five ever since she
arrived at the age of forty, which was many years ago now. I see no
reason why our dear Cecily should not be even still more attractive
at the age you mention than she is at present. There will be a
large accumulation of property.
Cecily. Algy, could you wait for me till I was thirty-five?
Algernon. Of course I could, Cecily. You know I could.
Cecily. Yes, I felt it instinctively, but I couldn't wait all that
time. I hate waiting even five minutes for anybody. It always
makes me rather cross. I am not punctual myself, I know, but I do
like punctuality in others, and waiting, even to be married, is
quite out of the question.
Algernon. Then what is to be done, Cecily?
Cecily. I don't know, Mr. Moncrieff.
Lady Bracknell. My dear Mr. Worthing, as Miss Cardew states
positively that she cannot wait till she is thirty-five--a remark
which I am bound to say seems to me to show a somewhat impatient
nature--I would beg of you to reconsider your decision.
Jack. But my dear Lady Bracknell, the matter is entirely in your
own hands. The moment you consent to my marriage with Gwendolen, I
will most gladly allow your nephew to form an alliance with my ward.
Lady Bracknell. [Rising and drawing herself up.] You must be quite
aware that what you propose is out of the question.
Jack. Then a passionate celibacy is all that any of us can look
Lady Bracknell. That is not the destiny I propose for Gwendolen.
Algernon, of course, can choose for himself. [Pulls out her watch.]
Come, dear, [Gwendolen rises] we have already missed five, if not
six, trains. To miss any more might expose us to comment on the
[Enter Dr. Chasuble.]
Chasuble. Everything is quite ready for the christenings.
Lady Bracknell. The christenings, sir! Is not that somewhat
Chasuble. [Looking rather puzzled, and pointing to Jack and
Algernon.] Both these gentlemen have expressed a desire for
Lady Bracknell. At their age? The idea is grotesque and
irreligious! Algernon, I forbid you to be baptized. I will not
hear of such excesses. Lord Bracknell would be highly displeased if
he learned that that was the way in which you wasted your time and
Chasuble. Am I to understand then that there are to be no
christenings at all this afternoon?
Jack. I don't think that, as things are now, it would be of much
practical value to either of us, Dr. Chasuble.
Chasuble. I am grieved to hear such sentiments from you, Mr.
Worthing. They savour of the heretical views of the Anabaptists,
views that I have completely refuted in four of my unpublished
sermons. However, as your present mood seems to be one peculiarly
secular, I will return to the church at once. Indeed, I have just
been informed by the pew-opener that for the last hour and a half
Miss Prism has been waiting for me in the vestry.
Lady Bracknell. [Starting.] Miss Prism! Did I bear you mention a
Chasuble. Yes, Lady Bracknell. I am on my way to join her.
Lady Bracknell. Pray allow me to detain you for a moment. This
matter may prove to be one of vital importance to Lord Bracknell and
myself. Is this Miss Prism a female of repellent aspect, remotely
connected with education?
Chasuble. [Somewhat indignantly.] She is the most cultivated of
ladies, and the very picture of respectability.
Lady Bracknell. It is obviously the same person. May I ask what
position she holds in your household?
Chasuble. [Severely.] I am a celibate, madam.
Jack. [Interposing.] Miss Prism, Lady Bracknell, has been for the
last three years Miss Cardew's esteemed governess and valued
Lady Bracknell. In spite of what I hear of her, I must see her at
once. Let her be sent for.
Chasuble. [Looking off.] She approaches; she is nigh.
[Enter Miss Prism hurriedly.]
Miss Prism. I was told you expected me in the vestry, dear Canon.
I have been waiting for you there for an hour and three-quarters.
[Catches sight of Lady Bracknell, who has fixed her with a stony
glare. Miss Prism grows pale and quails. She looks anxiously round
as if desirous to escape.]
Lady Bracknell. [In a severe, judicial voice.] Prism! [Miss Prism
bows her head in shame.] Come here, Prism! [Miss Prism approaches
in a humble manner.] Prism! Where is that baby? [General
consternation. The Canon starts back in horror. Algernon and Jack
pretend to be anxious to shield Cecily and Gwendolen from hearing
the details of a terrible public scandal.] Twenty-eight years ago,
Prism, you left Lord Bracknell's house, Number 104, Upper Grosvenor
Street, in charge of a perambulator that contained a baby of the
male sex. You never returned. A few weeks later, through the
elaborate investigations of the Metropolitan police, the
perambulator was discovered at midnight, standing by itself in a
remote corner of Bayswater. It contained the manuscript of a three-
volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality. [Miss
Prism starts in involuntary indignation.] But the baby was not
there! [Every one looks at Miss Prism.] Prism! Where is that
baby? [A pause.]
Miss Prism. Lady Bracknell, I admit with shame that I do not know.
I only wish I did. The plain facts of the case are these. On the
morning of the day you mention, a day that is for ever branded on my
memory, I prepared as usual to take the baby out in its
perambulator. I had also with me a somewhat old, but capacious
hand-bag in which I had intended to place the manuscript of a work
of fiction that I had written during my few unoccupied hours. In a
moment of mental abstraction, for which I never can forgive myself,
I deposited the manuscript in the basinette, and placed the baby in
Jack. [Who has been listening attentively.] But where did you
deposit the hand-bag?
Miss Prism. Do not ask me, Mr. Worthing.
Jack. Miss Prism, this is a matter of no small importance to me. I
insist on knowing where you deposited the hand-bag that contained
Miss Prism. I left it in the cloak-room of one of the larger
railway stations in London.
Jack. What railway station?
Miss Prism. [Quite crushed.] Victoria. The Brighton line. [Sinks
into a chair.]
Jack. I must retire to my room for a moment. Gwendolen, wait here
Gwendolen. If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my
life. [Exit Jack in great excitement.]
Chasuble. What do you think this means, Lady Bracknell?
Lady Bracknell. I dare not even suspect, Dr. Chasuble. I need
hardly tell you that in families of high position strange
coincidences are not supposed to occur. They are hardly considered
[Noises heard overhead as if some one was throwing trunks about.
Every one looks up.]
Cecily. Uncle Jack seems strangely agitated.
Chasuble. Your guardian has a very emotional nature.
Lady Bracknell. This noise is extremely unpleasant. It sounds as
if he was having an argument. I dislike arguments of any kind.
They are always vulgar, and often convincing.
Chasuble. [Looking up.] It has stopped now. [The noise is
Lady Bracknell. I wish he would arrive at some conclusion.
Gwendolen. This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last. [Enter
Jack with a hand-bag of black leather in his hand.]
Jack. [Rushing over to Miss Prism.] Is this the hand-bag, Miss
Prism? Examine it carefully before you speak. The happiness of
more than one life depends on your answer.
Miss Prism. [Calmly.] It seems to be mine. Yes, here is the
injury it received through the upsetting of a Gower Street omnibus
in younger and happier days. Here is the stain on the lining caused
by the explosion of a temperance beverage, an incident that occurred
at Leamington. And here, on the lock, are my initials. I had
forgotten that in an extravagant mood I had had them placed there.
The bag is undoubtedly mine. I am delighted to have it so
unexpectedly restored to me. It has been a great inconvenience
being without it all these years.
Jack. [In a pathetic voice.] Miss Prism, more is restored to you
than this hand-bag. I was the baby you placed in it.
Miss Prism. [Amazed.] You?
Jack. [Embracing her.] Yes . . . mother!
Miss Prism. [Recoiling in indignant astonishment.] Mr. Worthing!
I am unmarried!
Jack. Unmarried! I do not deny that is a serious blow. But after
all, who has the right to cast a stone against one who has suffered?
Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should there be one
law for men, and another for women? Mother, I forgive you. [Tries
to embrace her again.]
Miss Prism. [Still more indignant.] Mr. Worthing, there is some
error. [Pointing to Lady Bracknell.] There is the lady who can
tell you who you really are.
Jack. [After a pause.] Lady Bracknell, I hate to seem inquisitive,
but would you kindly inform me who I am?
Lady Bracknell. I am afraid that the news I have to give you will
not altogether please you. You are the son of my poor sister, Mrs.
Moncrieff, and consequently Algernon's elder brother.
Jack. Algy's elder brother! Then I have a brother after all. I
knew I had a brother! I always said I had a brother! Cecily,--how
could you have ever doubted that I had a brother? [Seizes hold of
Algernon.] Dr. Chasuble, my unfortunate brother. Miss Prism, my
unfortunate brother. Gwendolen, my unfortunate brother. Algy, you
young scoundrel, you will have to treat me with more respect in the
future. You have never behaved to me like a brother in all your
Algernon. Well, not till to-day, old boy, I admit. I did my best,
however, though I was out of practice.
Gwendolen. [To Jack.] My own! But what own are you? What is your
Christian name, now that you have become some one else?
Jack. Good heavens! . . . I had quite forgotten that point. Your
decision on the subject of my name is irrevocable, I suppose?
Gwendolen. I never change, except in my affections.
Cecily. What a noble nature you have, Gwendolen!
Jack. Then the question had better be cleared up at once. Aunt
Augusta, a moment. At the time when Miss Prism left me in the hand-
bag, had I been christened already?
Lady Bracknell. Every luxury that money could buy, including
christening, had been lavished on you by your fond and doting
Jack. Then I was christened! That is settled. Now, what name was
I given? Let me know the worst.
Lady Bracknell. Being the eldest son you were naturally christened
after your father.
Jack. [Irritably.] Yes, but what was my father's Christian name?
Lady Bracknell. [Meditatively.] I cannot at the present moment
recall what the General's Christian name was. But I have no doubt
he had one. He was eccentric, I admit. But only in later years.
And that was the result of the Indian climate, and marriage, and
indigestion, and other things of that kind.
Jack. Algy! Can't you recollect what our father's Christian name
Algernon. My dear boy, we were never even on speaking terms. He
died before I was a year old.
Jack. His name would appear in the Army Lists of the period, I
suppose, Aunt Augusta?
Lady Bracknell. The General was essentially a man of peace, except
in his domestic life. But I have no doubt his name would appear in
any military directory.
Jack. The Army Lists of the last forty years are here. These
delightful records should have been my constant study. [Rushes to
bookcase and tears the books out.] M. Generals . . . Mallam,
Maxbohm, Magley, what ghastly names they have--Markby, Migsby,
Mobbs, Moncrieff! Lieutenant 1840, Captain, Lieutenant-Colonel,
Colonel, General 1869, Christian names, Ernest John. [Puts book
very quietly down and speaks quite calmly.] I always told you,
Gwendolen, my name was Ernest, didn't I? Well, it is Ernest after
all. I mean it naturally is Ernest.
Lady Bracknell. Yes, I remember now that the General was called
Ernest, I knew I had some particular reason for disliking the name.
Gwendolen. Ernest! My own Ernest! I felt from the first that you
could have no other name!
Jack. Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out
suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the
truth. Can you forgive me?
Gwendolen. I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.
Jack. My own one!
Chasuble. [To Miss Prism.] Laetitia! [Embraces her]
Miss Prism. [Enthusiastically.] Frederick! At last!
Algernon. Cecily! [Embraces her.] At last!
Jack. Gwendolen! [Embraces her.] At last!
Lady Bracknell. My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of
Jack. On the contrary, Aunt Augusta, I've now realised for the
first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.