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 Discussed

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 798

Algernon (Algy) Moncrief

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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.

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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

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Latest answer posted February 26, 2016, 5:16 am (UTC)

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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

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.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 639

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.''

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.

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

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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