Algernon (Algy) Moncrief
Algernon (Algy) Moncrief, a young man of fashion and considerable worldly charm. He is a confirmed Bunburyist; that is, he uses an imaginary sick friend’s name and condition as an excuse to leave London when he finds his aristocratic aunt, Lady Bracknell, too domineering or her dinner parties too dull. He delights in the artificial, the trivial, and the faddish, and he employs them for his own amusement, the only thing about which, as he insists, he is ever serious. Out for a jape, he poses as John Worthing’s fictitious brother Ernest to court his friend’s ward, Cecily Cardew. Although genuinely in love, he never abandons his pose of reckless pretense or his cynically amusing observations on country and city life, manners, fashions, and relatives.
John (Jack) Worthing, J.P.
John (Jack) Worthing, J.P., Algernon Moncrief’s friend, who poses as Ernest to win the hand of Algy’s cousin, the Honorable Gwendolyn Fairfax, Lady Bracknell’s daughter. Also a Bunburyist, he has invented a fictitious brother Ernest, a reprobate who is always getting into scrapes, as an excuse for his frequent visits to London. Jack is serious about most things, especially love. He was a foundling, brought up by a wealthy man who made Jack the guardian of his benefactor’s granddaughter, Cecily Cardew. When Jack proposes to Gwendolyn, he arouses Lady Bracknell’s displeasure because he cannot trace his family tree. All he knows is that he had been found abandoned in a leather bag left at Victoria Station. Finally, his parentage is traced, and he learns that he is the long-lost son of Lady Bracknell’s sister, that Algy is his younger brother, and that his Christian name really is Ernest. This last fact is the most pleasing, for Gwendolyn could not possibly love him under any other name.
Lady Augusta Bracknell
Lady Augusta Bracknell, Algernon Moncrief’s aunt, a strong-willed woman of fashion who lives only by society’s dictates. The hostess at numerous dinner parties to which her nephew is always invited but that he seldom attends, she dominates the lives of all about her in the same compulsive fashion that makes her move only in the best circles. Although Jack Worthing is an eligible young bachelor of means, she rejects his suit of Gwendolyn and advises him to find some acceptable relatives as quickly as possible. Although witty in her pronouncements, she never deviates into good sense about the artificial world she inhabits with other snobs and pretenders. Her sense of social superiority is punctured when she learns that her daughter’s rejected suitor is her own nephew.
The Honorable Gwendolyn Fairfax
The Honorable Gwendolyn Fairfax, Lady Bracknell’s daughter. She is in love with Jack Worthing, whose name she believes to be Ernest. Although she moves in the same conventional snobbish social world as her mother, her outlook is whimsical and rebellious. Determined to marry the man of her choice, she is pleased to discover that Worthing, once his parentage is revealed, can offer her not only the right name and devotion but also family connections and wealth. She accommodates herself to her good fortune.
Cecily Cardew, an eighteen-year-old given to romantic dreams and a diary of fictitious events. She is the ward of Jack Worthing, who had been adopted by her eccentric grandfather. Lovely, determined, and rusticated, she is seemingly without guile, but she is in reality as poised as her newly discovered friend, Gwendolyn Fairfax. As the dupe of her guardian’s story that he has a wicked brother named Ernest in the city, she is charmed and won when that supposed roue, as impersonated by Algy Moncrief, appears in the country. She is also pleased that the man she intends to marry is named Ernest. After learning the truth, she decides that she still loves him, in spite of his having such a name as Algernon.
Miss Letitia Prism
Miss Letitia Prism, the forgetful authoress of a sentimental three-volume romance, the governess of Cecily Cardew and, earlier, of Jack Worthing. Bent on marriage herself, she contrives to keep her charge’s mind on the serious business of learning inconsequentials. In the end, she is revealed as the absent-minded nurse who twenty-eight years earlier had placed the infant Ernest Moncrief in a leather handbag deposited in the cloakroom at Victoria station and the manuscript of her novel in a perambulator.
The Reverend Frederick Chasuble, D.D.
The Reverend Frederick Chasuble, D.D., an Anglican clergyman who is amenable to performing any rite for anyone at any time, in much the same way that he fits one sermon into many contexts. Delightful in his metaphorical allusions, he meets his match in Miss Prism, whose allusions contain direct revelation of matrimonial intent.