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Importance of Being Earnest, Page 3

Oscar Wilde

  Jack. I am afraid I really don't know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me . . . I don't actually know who I am by birth. I was . . . well, I was found.

  Lady Bracknell. Found!

  Jack. The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex.

  It is a seaside resort.

  Lady Bracknell. Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?

  Jack. [Gravely.] In a hand-bag.

  Lady Bracknell. A hand-bag?

  Jack. [Very seriously.] Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag--

  a somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it--an ordinary hand-bag in fact.

  Lady Bracknell. In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas, Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?

  Jack. In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him in mistake for his own.

  Lady Bracknell. The cloak-room at Victoria Station?

  Jack. Yes. The Brighton line.

  Lady Bracknell. The line is immaterial. Mr. Worthing, I confess I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to? As for the particular locality in which the hand-bag was found, a cloak-room at a railway station might serve to conceal a social indiscretion--has probably, indeed, been used for that purpose before now-but it could hardly be regarded as an assured basis for a recognised position in good society.

  Jack. May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I need hardly say I would do anything in the world to ensure Gwendolen's happiness.

  Lady Bracknell. I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.

  Jack. Well, I don't see how I could possibly manage to do that. I can produce the hand-bag at any moment. It is in my dressing-room at home. I really think that should satisfy you, Lady Bracknell.

  Lady Bracknell. Me, sir! What has it to do with me? You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter--a girl brought up with the utmost care--to marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel? Good morning, Mr.


  [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.]

  Algernon. Didn't it go off all right, old boy? You don't mean to say Gwendolen refused you? I know it is a way she has. She is always refusing people. I think it is most ill-natured of her.

  Jack. Oh, Gwendolen is as right as a trivet. As far as she is concerned, we are engaged. Her mother is perfectly unbearable.

  Never met such a Gorgon . . . I don't really know what a Gorgon is like, but I am quite sure that Lady Bracknell is one. In any case, she is a monster, without being a myth, which is rather unfair . . .

  I beg your pardon, Algy, I suppose I shouldn't talk about your own aunt in that way before you.

  Algernon. My dear boy, I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven't got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.

  Jack. Oh, that is nonsense!

  Algernon. It isn't!

  Jack. Well, I won't argue about the matter. You always want to argue about things.

  Algernon. That is exactly what things were originally made for.

  Jack. Upon my word, if I thought that, I'd shoot myself . . . [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?

  Algernon. All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.

  Jack. Is that clever?

  Algernon. It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any observation in civilised life should be.

  Jack. I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.

  Algernon. We have.

  Jack. I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk about?

  Algernon. The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.

  Jack. What fools!

  Algernon. By the way, did you tell Gwendolen the truth about your being Ernest in town, and Jack in the country?

  Jack. [In a very patronising manner.] My dear fellow, the truth isn't quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl. What extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!

  Algernon. The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to some one else, if she is plain.

  Jack. Oh, that is nonsense.

  Algernon. What about your brother? What about the profligate Ernest?

  Jack. Oh, before the end of the week I shall have got rid of him.

  I'll say he died in Paris of apoplexy. Lots of people die of apoplexy, quite suddenly, don't they?

  Algernon. Yes, but it's hereditary, my dear fellow. It's a sort of thing that runs in families. You had much better say a severe chill.

  Jack. You are sure a severe chill isn't hereditary, or anything of that kind?

  Algernon. Of course it isn't!

  Jack. Very well, then. My poor brother Ernest to carried off suddenly, in Paris, by a severe chill. That gets rid of him.

  Algernon. But I thought you said that . . . Miss Cardew was a little too much interested in your poor brother Ernest? Won't she feel his loss a good deal?

  Jack. Oh, that is all right. Cecily is not a silly romantic girl, I am glad to say. She has got a capital appetite, goes long walks, and pays no attention at all to her lessons.

  Algernon. I would rather like to see Cecily.

  Jack. I will take very good care you never do. She is excessively pretty, and she is only just eighteen.

  Algernon. Have you told Gwendolen yet that you have an excessively pretty ward who is only just eighteen?

  Jack. Oh! one doesn't blurt these things out to people. Cecily and Gwendolen are perfectly certain to be extremely great friends. I'll bet you anything you like that half an hour after they have met, they will be calling each other sister.

  Algernon. Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first. Now, my dear boy, if we want to get a good table at Willis's, we really must go and dress. Do you know it is nearly seven?

  Jack. [Irritably.] Oh! It always is nearly seven.

  Algernon. Well, I'm hungry.

  Jack. I never knew you when you weren't . . .

  Algernon. What shall we do after dinner? Go to a theatre?

  Jack. Oh no! I loathe listening.

  Algernon. Well, let us go to the Club?

  Jack. Oh, no! I hate talking.

  Algernon. Well, we might trot round to the Empire at ten?

  Jack. Oh, no! I can't bear looking at things. It is so silly.

  Algernon. Well, what shall we do?

  Jack. Nothing!

  Algernon. It is awfully hard work doing nothing. However, I don't mind hard work where there is no definite object of any kind.

  [Enter Lane.]

Miss Fairfax.

  [Enter Gwendolen. Lane goes out.]

  Algernon. Gwendolen, upon my word!

  Gwendolen. Algy, kindly turn your back. I have something very particular to say to Mr. Worthing.

  Algernon. Really, Gwendolen, I don't think I can allow this at all.

  Gwendolen. Algy, you always adopt a strictly immoral attitude towards life. You are not quite old enough to do that. [Algernon retires to the fireplace.]

  Jack. My own darling!

  Gwendolen. Ernest, we may never be married. From the expression on mamma's face I fear we never shall. Few parents nowadays pay any regard to what their children say to them. The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out. Whatever influence I ever had over mamma, I lost at the age of three. But although she may prevent us from becoming man and wife, and I may marry some one else, and marry often, nothing that she can possibly do can alter my eternal devotion to you.

  Jack. Dear Gwendolen!

  Gwendolen. The story of your romantic origin, as related to me by mamma, with unpleasing comments, has naturally stirred the deeper fibres of my nature. Your Christian name has an irresistible fascination. The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me. Your town address at the Albany I have.

  What is your address in the country?

  Jack. The Manor House, Woolton, Hertfordshire.

  [Algernon, who has been carefully listening, smiles to himself, and writes the address on his shirt-cuff. Then picks up the Railway Guide.]

  Gwendolen. There is a good postal service, I suppose? It may be necessary to do something desperate. That of course will require serious consideration. I will communicate with you daily.

  Jack. My own one!

  Gwendolen. How long do you remain in town?

  Jack. Till Monday.

  Gwendolen. Good! Algy, you may turn round now.

  Algernon. Thanks, I've turned round already.

  Gwendolen. You may also ring the bell.

  Jack. You will let me see you to your carriage, my own darling?

  Gwendolen. Certainly.

  Jack. [To Lane, who now enters.] I will see Miss Fairfax out.

  Lane. Yes, sir. [Jack and Gwendolen go off.]

  [Lane presents several letters on a salver to Algernon. It is to be surmised that they are bills, as Algernon, after looking at the envelopes, tears them up.]

  Algernon. A glass of sherry, Lane.

  Lane. Yes, sir.

  Algernon. To-morrow, Lane, I'm going Bunburying.

  Lane. Yes, sir.

  Algernon. I shall probably not be back till Monday. You can put up my dress clothes, my smoking jacket, and all the Bunbury suits . . .

  Lane. Yes, sir. [Handing sherry.]

  Algernon. I hope to-morrow will be a fine day, Lane.

  Lane. It never is, sir.

  Algernon. Lane, you're a perfect pessimist.

  Lane. I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.

  [Enter Jack. Lane goes off.]

  Jack. There's a sensible, intellectual girl! the only girl I ever cared for in my life. [Algernon is laughing immoderately.] What on earth are you so amused at?

  Algernon. Oh, I'm a little anxious about poor Bunbury, that is all.

  Jack. If you don't take care, your friend Bunbury will get you into a serious scrape some day.

  Algernon. I love scrapes. They are the only things that are never serious.

  Jack. Oh, that's nonsense, Algy. You never talk anything but nonsense.

  Algernon. Nobody ever does.

  [Jack looks indignantly at him, and leaves the room. Algernon lights a cigarette, reads his shirt-cuff, and smiles.]




  Garden at the Manor House. A flight of grey stone steps leads up to the house. The garden, an old-fashioned one, full of roses. Time of year, July. Basket chairs, and a table covered with books, are set under a large yew-tree.

  [Miss Prism discovered seated at the table. Cecily is at the back watering flowers.]

  Miss Prism. [Calling.] Cecily, Cecily! Surely such a utilitarian occupation as the watering of flowers is rather Moulton's duty than yours? Especially at a moment when intellectual pleasures await you. Your German grammar is on the table. Pray open it at page fifteen. We will repeat yesterday's lesson.

  Cecily. [Coming over very slowly.] But I don't like German. It isn't at all a becoming language. I know perfectly well that I look quite plain after my German lesson.

  Miss Prism. Child, you know how anxious your guardian is that you should improve yourself in every way. He laid particular stress on your German, as he was leaving for town yesterday. Indeed, he always lays stress on your German when he is leaving for town.

  Cecily. Dear Uncle Jack is so very serious! Sometimes he is so serious that I think he cannot be quite well.

  Miss Prism. [Drawing herself up.] Your guardian enjoys the best of health, and his gravity of demeanour is especially to be commended in one so comparatively young as he is. I know no one who has a higher sense of duty and responsibility.

  Cecily. I suppose that is why he often looks a little bored when we three are together.

  Miss Prism. Cecily! I am surprised at you. Mr. Worthing has many troubles in his life. Idle merriment and triviality would be out of place in his conversation. You must remember his constant anxiety about that unfortunate young man his brother.

  Cecily. I wish Uncle Jack would allow that unfortunate young man, his brother, to come down here sometimes. We might have a good influence over him, Miss Prism. I am sure you certainly would. You know German, and geology, and things of that kind influence a man very much. [Cecily begins to write in her diary.]

  Miss Prism. [Shaking her head.] I do not think that even I could produce any effect on a character that according to his own brother's admission is irretrievably weak and vacillating. Indeed I am not sure that I would desire to reclaim him. I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment's notice. As a man sows so let him reap. You must put away your diary, Cecily. I really don't see why you should keep a diary at all.

  Cecily. I keep a diary in order to enter the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn't write them down, I should probably forget all about them.

  Miss Prism. Memory, my dear Cecily, is the diary that we all carry about with us.

  Cecily. Yes, but it usually chronicles the things that have never happened, and couldn't possibly have happened. I believe that Memory is responsible for nearly all the three-volume novels that Mudie sends us.

  Miss Prism. Do not speak slightingly of the three-volume novel, Cecily. I wrote one myself in earlier days.

  Cecily. Did you really, Miss Prism? How wonderfully clever you are! I hope it did not end happily? I don't like novels that end happily. They depress me so much.

  Miss Prism. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

  Cecily. I suppose so. But it seems very unfair. And was your novel ever published?

  Miss Prism. Alas! no. The manuscript unfortunately was abandoned.

  [Cecily starts.] I use the word in the sense of lost or mislaid.

  To your work, child, these speculations are profitless.

  Cecily. [Smiling.] But I see dear Dr. Chasuble coming up through the garden.

  Miss Prism. [Rising and advancing.] Dr. Chasuble! This is indeed a pleasure.

  [Enter Canon Chasuble.]

  Chasuble. And how are we this morning? Miss Prism, you are, I trust, well?

  Cecily. Miss Prism has just been complaining of a slight headache.

  I think it would do her so much good to have a short stroll with you in the Park, Dr. Chasuble.

  Miss Prism. Cecily, I have not mentioned anything about a headache.

  Cecily. No, dear Miss Prism, I know that, but I felt instinctively that you had a headache. Indeed I was thinking about that, and not about my German lesson, when the Rector came in.

>   Chasuble. I hope, Cecily, you are not inattentive.

  Cecily. Oh, I am afraid I am.

  Chasuble. That is strange. Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism's pupil, I would hang upon her lips. [Miss Prism glares.] I spoke metaphorically.--My metaphor was drawn from bees. Ahem! Mr.