What do we learn about Lady Bracknell's character in Act I in the play The Importance of Being Earnest?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lady Augusta Bracknell represents the upper class of Victorian society, upholding conventions (although she herself is not conventional), judgmental, realistic, unsentimental, and pragmatic.

When Lady Bracknell enters a scene, she immediately measures people and, with her prestige, she demands of others certain behaviors. For instance, she demands that her nephew Algernon attend her dinner, and he informs his aunt that his friend Bunbury is very ill and he needs to be with him. Peremptorily, she replies,

...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....ask Mr. Bunbury, from me, to be kind enough not to have a relapse on Saturday.

Later, she enters and finds Jack Worthing lying on a couch. Immediately, she demands that he rise from such an "indecorous" position. When her daughter Gwendolen tells her that Mr. Worthing and she are engaged, Lady Bracknell retorts, "Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone... I, or your father... will inform you of the fact." Then, she pulls out a notebook of prestigious names that she has pragmatically recorded and informs Jack that he is

"...not down on my list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has."

Further, she interrogates Worthing about his place of birth and his parentage. When Jack replies that he has lost his parents and was "found" in a handbag at Victoria Station, Lady Blackwell is appalled. She demands that he "acquire some relations as soon as possible and make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent...." Also, she forbids any communication between Gwendolen and him, since he is unworthy of her daughter.    

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The Importance of Being Earnest

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