Illustration of Jack Worthing in a top hat and formal attire, and a concerned expression on his face

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

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The Importance of Being Earnest Characters

The main characters in The Importance of Being Earnest are Algernon Moncrief, Jack Worthing, Cecily Cardew, Gwendolen Fairfax, and Miss Prism.

  • Algernon Moncrief is an idle gentleman who has invented a friend named Bunbury, whom he visits whenever life in the city grows dull.
  • Jack Worthing is Algernon's friend, Gwendolen's suitor, and Cecily's guardian. He has invented a brother named Ernest, whose identity he assumes while in the city.
  • Cecily Cardew is Jack's ward, with whom Algernon falls in love.
  • Gwendolen Fairfax is Algernon's cousin and Jack's fiancé.
  • Miss Prism is Cecily's nurse. She accidentally left Jack at Victoria Station when he was an infant.

Characters

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Algy
See Algernon Moncrieff

Lady Augusta Bracknell
Algernon's aunt and the sister of Jack's mother. She opposes Jack's marriage with her daughter Gwendolen, though relents when she learns that Jack is actually her nephew. More accurately, she wants Algernon to be able to marry the very wealthy Cecily, but that match cannot take place without Jack's permission, which he refuses to give unless Lady Bracknell approves his marriage with Gwendolen. Overall, she is realistic, hard-nosed, and an upholder of convention—though not entirely conventional herself.

Cecily Cardew
Jack's pretty, young ward, whom Algernon woos but who remains determined to marry a man named Earnest. Not quite as naive as she may appear, Cecily keeps a diary, which "is simply a very young girl's record of her own thoughts and impressions and consequently meant for publication." Tutored by Miss Prism, Cecily fails to attend to her studies and marries Algernon at the play's conclusion.

Canon Frederick Chasuble
Canon Chasuble is the rather foolish, pedantic Rector attracted to Miss Prism. Both Jack and Algernon ask Chasuble to christen them Earnest, though no christening actually takes place. As Cecily says, "He has never written a single book, so you can imagine how much he knows.''

Earnest
See John Worthing

Gwendolen Fairfax
Algernon's cousin, with whom Jack—as Earnest—is in love and to whom he proposes marriage. She accepts, believing him to be Algy's friend Earnest. As she explains to Jack, her "ideal has always been to love someone of the name Earnest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence." Her mother, Lady Augusta Bracknell, initially forbids their marriage, because while Jack seems an otherwise eligible bachelor, he cannot identify his parents, as he was found abandoned in a handbag. The play's end, however, establishes Jack's identity; Lady Bracknell grants permission, and the lovers are united.

Lane
The self-deprecating butler who serves Algernon in his London residence.

Merriman
The servant at Jack's country manor house in Hertfordshire.

Algernon Moncrieff
Jack (Earnest) Worthing's friend, Lady Bracknell's nephew, and Gwendolen's cousin. In order to free himself from unwanted social and family responsibilities, Algy has invented an invalid friend, Bunbury, whose ailing health frequently—and conveniently—requires Algernon's attention, enabling him to skip dinners with boring guests and tiresome relatives.

Ostentatiously cynical and constantly hungry, Algernon pretends to be Jack's brother Earnest and visits Jack's ward Cecily Cardew. He falls in love with her and proposes matrimony. Jack refuses his permission for Algernon to marry Cecily unless Lady Bracknell gives her permission for Jack to marry Gwendolen, which, at the play's end, she does. The mystery of Jack's parentage reveals that Jack and Algy are actually brothers.

Miss Laetitia Prism
Cecily's absent-minded governess who is wooed by Chasuble. Formerly, while working for Lady Bracknell, she wrote a novel then lost Jack in the railway station. She "deposited the manuscript in the bassinet, and placed the baby in the handbag," which was lost in the cloak room of Victoria Station.

John Worthing
John "Jack" Worthing (Earnest) begins the play of unknown parentage, an orphaned infant found in a handbag in a cloak room at London's Victoria Station. Discovered and raised by Thomas Cardew, Jack becomes guardian of Cardew's granddaughter, Cecily. Though he calls himself Jack in the country, he identifies himself as Earnest when in the city. In order to excuse himself when he leaves for the city, he tells Cecily that he must get his wicked citified brother, Earnest, out of various scrapes. In time, Cecily becomes infatuated with this imaginary brother Earnest. By the play's end, it is revealed that Miss Prism had left Jack at the station, that Lady Bracknell's sister Mrs. Moncrieff is his mother, and that Jack is Algy's elder brother. Also, significantly, Jack, who has been named after his father General Earnest John Moncrieff, actually is named Earnest.

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