The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

The Importance of Being Earnest book cover
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At a Glance

  • Algernon "Algy" Moncrief, an idle gentleman who has invented a friend named Bunbury, whom he visits whenever life in the city grows dull.
  • Jack Worthing, Algernon's best friend, who was left in a handbag as a baby and discovered by Mr. Cardew, who raised him.
  • Cecily Cardew, Jack's ward, with whom Algernon falls in love.
  • Gwendolen Fairfax, Algernon's cousin and Jack's fiancé, who refuses to marry anyone who isn't named Ernest.
  • Miss Prism, Cecily's tutor, who absentmindedly left Jack in her handbag in Victoria Station when she was his nurse.
  • Lady Bracknell, Algernon's aunt, a domineering bore.
  • Reverend Chasuble, who performs the wedding ceremonies.

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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

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...

(The entire section is 1,437 words.)