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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"Truth Is Rarely Pure And Never Simple"

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 299

Context: Writing witty and paradoxical, though rarely profound, came from the pen of the Dublin-born author, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde, and provided a model for Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874–1936) and Bernard Shaw (1856–1950). Much of his humor consists of puns and twisted clichés. The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde's best comedy, is a reworking of French originals with stock characters and situations, but saved from oblivion by its dialogue of affectation and nonsense, relieved by flashes of shrewd wisdom. The title involves a pun. The important characters, Algernon Moncrieff and his friend Jack Worthing, live double lives. Algy has invented a friend, Bunbury, whose failing health requires Algy's absence from London whenever one of Aunt Augusta Bracknell's dull dinners is in the offing. Jack, the guardian of Miss Cecily Cardew, has invented a brother, Ernest, whose name satirizes Victorian earnestness and priggishness, but whose reputation as a reprobate has aroused the interest of Lady Bracknell's daughter, Gwendolen, with whom Jack is in love. In the first act, Jack explains his scheme to Algy:

My dear Algy, I don't know whether you will be able to understand my real motives . . . When one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. . . . And as a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either one's health or one's happiness, in order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother by the name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes. That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.
The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility!

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