The Importance of Being Earnest

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The Importance of Being Earnest Quotes

Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Importance of Being Earnest published in 1990.
Act 1, Part 1 Quotes

Lane’s views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.”

Related Characters: Algernon Moncrieff (speaker), Lane
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Lane comments to Algernon that he was once married, as the consequence of a "misunderstanding" between himself and a "young person." In this quote, Algernon is appalled at Lane's "lax" views on marriage.

Though a hedonistic bachelor himself, Algernon's views on marriage reflect those of the aristocratic class in Victorian society. Marriages were often arranged between families, as it was considered important to preserve upper class pedigrees within these unions. To Algernon, Lane's lackadaisical approach to marriage represents the "immoral" ways in which he believes members of the lower class engage in unions. Coming from Algernon, this statement is hypocritical, since he himself often acts fairly immoral—he lives luxuriously, and often beyond his means, despite being a member of a wealthy aristocratic family. His tone in this quote is also condescending and classist. Though he is young and careless with his actions and money, he believes that his pedigree is enough to know what is best for those with less money and education. 


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Jack: I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.

Algernon: I thought you had come up for pleasure?...I call that business.

Related Characters: Jack (speaker), Algernon Moncrieff (speaker), Gwendolen Fairfax
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Jack visits Algernon shortly before Lady Bracknell, Algernon's aunt, and Gwendolen, Algernon's cousin, stop by for tea. He does so with the intent to have a moment alone with Gwendolen in order to propose to her. 

In this quote, Algernon quips that he calls a marriage proposal "business" due to the complicated marriage arrangements between members of the aristocratic class during Victorian England. Marriages, frequently arranged between families to preserve what were essentially sociopolitical ties, were often more akin to business contracts than to unions of love. This exchange is exemplary of the relationship between Jack and Algernon. Jack is more sincere and responsible than Algernon, and Algernon is more often careless, condescending, and flippant. Jack is also much more of a romantic, and was adopted into the aristocratic class—he does not have a recorded pedigree (that he yet knows of) and therefore feels less pressure to seek out a marriage for reasons other than love. However, Gwendolen's aunt does expect her to marry a fellow member of the aristocracy, and definitely views marriage as more of a business arrangement rather than a sign of love. It is due to this expectation that Jack's lack of a pedigree will come to be a problem. 

I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If I ever get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact.

Related Characters: Algernon Moncrieff (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Jack accuses Algernon of being "unromantic" when he refers to a marriage proposal as "business." In this quote, Algernon asserts that while love can be romantic, proposals and marriage are, by their very nature, not romantic. In Victorian society, marriages were designed to continue and create economic and social ties between elite families. It was well-known that these matches were often made for convenience, not for love. Romance was seen as illicit, fleeting, and frivolous, whereas arranged marriages were more enduring in terms of financial and social capital. Algernon notes that if he ever gets married, he will try to "forget" the banalities of the contract, since he would prefer to enjoy the thrill of romantic relationships in his bachelorhood. 

I have introduced you to everyone as Ernest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectly absurd your saying that your name isn't Ernest.

Related Characters: Algernon Moncrieff (speaker), Jack
Related Symbols: Ernest
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Jack reveals to Algernon that he goes by the name of Ernest in the city, and the name of Jack in the country. In this quote, Algernon relies heavily on the homophones of "Ernest," the name, and "earnest," the adjective connoting one who is honest and sincere to a fault, to tease Jack about his two identities of Ernest and Jack. Jack is older than Algernon and often acts as if he is more responsible, so Algernon is gleeful to find his friend caught in a lie, particularly one in which he pretends to be someone whose name sounds the same as a word that means "honest." The extent of this glee can be discerned by the number of times that Algernon repeats the name, digging deeper into Jack's feelings of shame. Wilde uses the wordplay of Ernest/earnest throughout the play to question the role of true sincerity in Victorian England, a society that prided itself on a strict code of conduct, stringent morals, and a "stiff upper lip." 

Jack: When one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone…And as a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either one’s health or one’s happiness if carried to excess, in order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger borther of the anem of Ernest…who gets into the most dreadful scrapes. The, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.

Algernon: The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility.

Related Characters: Jack (speaker), Algernon Moncrieff (speaker)
Related Symbols: Town and Country , Orphans and Wards
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Further explaining the extent of his two identities, Jack reveals to Algernon that he is the guardian of a ward named Cecily, who lives in the country and refers to him as her "Uncle Jack." 

In this quote, Jack explains to Algernon that as a guardian, he must maintain a "high moral tone." In order to enjoy the antics of bachelorhood in the city, he invented a younger brother named Ernest, so that the repercussions of his actions would not be traced to Jack the serious guardian. Like Algernon's condemnation of Lane's marriage views, the tension between Jack's beliefs and his actions reveal the hypocrisy of the young and wealthy. Both young men do whatever they please, and get away with it, because they have the influence and means to ensure that their less-than-proper antics are not linked to their upper-class identities—and indeed, their hypocrisy is seen as almost entirely comic.

In Algernon's response, he quips that the truth to Jack's story cannot possibly be as simple as he makes it sound. Jack's two identities mean that he must maintain addresses in both the city and the country, and ensure that no one finds out the truth. Such a feat would not be possible if Jack was not adopted by a wealthy and connected family at birth. However, Algernon also notes that the drama regarding the prospect of people finding out is what keeps life interesting, and it is the same drama that makes works of fiction like novels or plays intriguing to watch and read. Here, Wilde characteristically winks at the audience to comment on the very nature and dramatic tension of his own work. 

I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose.

Related Characters: Algernon Moncrieff (speaker)
Related Symbols: Town and Country , Bunbury
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

After Jack admits that he is Jack in the country and Ernest in the city, Algernon reveals that he, too, uses a made-up identity to escape to the country: he pretends that he has a friend named "Bunbury" who is very ill and lives outside of the city. Whenever Algernon feels that life in the city has become unbearable, he pretends to have received news that Bunbury is on death's doorstop, and that he must be by his side at once. He brands Jack's practice of inventing a brother named Ernest as "Bunburying." As bachelor members of the upper class, both Jack and Algernon want to do things that are considered "immoral" but fear social repercussions if found out by their families and peers. This leads to a "do as I say, not as I do" attitude that renders them both hypocritical in many of their actions. It is only due to their wealth and status in society that they are able to maintain such extravagant lifestyles—really, two each—and not get caught. Of course, their servants, such as Lane, whom they look down upon as "immoral" people, are well aware of the ironic gap between their views about society and the ways in which they actually act. 

Act 1, Part 2 Quotes

Even before I met you I was far from indifferent to you…my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence.

Related Characters: Gwendolen Fairfax (speaker), Jack
Related Symbols: Ernest
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

When Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell finally arrive for tea, Algernon invents a reason to pull Lady Bracknell into the next room in order to give Jack and Gwendolen private time for the proposal. In this quote, Gwendolen reciprocates Jack's declarations of love. The irony in this quote is of course that Jack's name is not really Ernest—Ernest is the caddish brother that Jack has invented in order to get up to whatever he pleases in the city. Thus, Jack is suddenly forced to wonder if Gwendolen loves him for who he truly is, or if she only loves him because his name is Ernest. Wilde uses Gwen's ridiculous whim of loving someone by the name of Ernest to parody the various reasons why members of the Victorian upper class got married—usually because of wealth or family ties (i.e., one's name). Here, Wilde uses the notion of loving someone simply because they were given a certain name at birth to comment on how this method of choosing a partner may be just as wise as choosing a partner based on what family they were born into. 

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune…to lose both seems like carelessness.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Jack
Related Symbols: Orphans and Wards
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

After walking in on Jack proposing to Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell sends Algernon and Gwendolen out of the room in order to interrogate Jack as to his suitability as a husband for her daughter. 

In this quote, Lady Bracknell is appalled when Jack states he has "lost" both of his parents. As a baby, Jack was found in a handbag in a cloak room in Victoria station and adopted by a wealthy aristocrat, Mr. Thomas Cardew. As the epitome of high Victorian society, Lady Bracknell directly associates someone's birth and familial pedigree with their character. Therefore, she immediately characterizes Jack as someone who is "careless" because of his lack of recorded parentage, even though this is, of course, not his fault. Throughout the play, Lady Bracknell continues to make similarly ridiculous statements that she herself takes utterly seriously. Wilde uses the character of Lady Bracknell to represent Victorian elitists who held themselves and the people around them to what they believed to be high moral standards—the irony being that these moral standards were both created and fulfilled only to impress the high society around them. 

You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter—a girl brought up with the utmost care—to marry into a cloak-room and form an alliance with a parcel.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Jack, Gwendolen Fairfax, Lord Bracknell
Related Symbols: Jack’s Handbag, The Coatroom at Victoria Station and The Brighton Line
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

As Lady Bracknell further presses Jack about his history, he admits that he was found by his adopted father in a cloak room at Victoria Station. Though already wealthy and aristocratic, Lady Bracknell is always seeking out ways in which her family can climb higher on the social ladder. One of the quickest ways of gaining socioeconomic capital was for a son or daughter to marry into a family of equal or higher social status. Thus, Lady Bracknell clearly hopes to marry Gwendolen into a highly esteemed family—not to "form an alliance with a parcel." To Lady Bracknell, someone's character is directly related to their birth. Jack, therefore, is in her eyes not a product of the wealthy Cardews, with whom he was raised, but of a handbag and the Brighton line at Victoria station. 

Act 2, Part 1 Quotes

The good end happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

Related Characters: Miss Prism (speaker)
Related Symbols: Miss Prism’s Three-volume-novel
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Prism tells Cecily that she once wrote a novel, but lost the manuscript a long time ago. In this quote, she succinctly explains what happened in the novel. This statement is partly humorous because in claiming that "the good end happily, and the bad unhappily" is a rule of fiction, it's suggested that this rule must be mostly untrue in real life—where indeed, one's fate seems unrelated to one's morality. Wilde here also pokes fun at the ways in which strict Victorian society rules often invaded other aspects of cultural life, such as works of literature. These rules on practiced morality largely stemmed from the Church, so when Miss Prism states that the "good end happily, and the bad unhappily," she refers to the idea that those who sin are punished, and those who behave responsibly are rewarded. Though both characters like Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism take the rules of Victorian morality very seriously, Miss Prism is prompted more so by religion and in the name of being proper, while Lady Bracknell's views are influenced by society and aristocracy. 

Were I fortunate enough to be Miss Prism’s pupil, I would hang upon her lips.

Related Characters: Dr. Chasuble (speaker), Miss Prism
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

While Cecily and Miss Prism are talking, Dr. Chasuble, the rector, comes by to say hello. He is the clergyman in charge of the local parish on the estate. Though Miss Prism's job as Cecily's governess and Dr. Chasuble's work in the parish rarely intersect, the two are often seen together because they maintain a fairly obvious flirtation. The two bookish characters, however, have both resigned themselves to spinsterhood, and have not made their relationship public for fear of impropriety. In this quote, Dr. Chasuble fails to catch himself before making a suggestive remark about Miss Prism. In an attempt to encourage Cecily to pay attention to her studies, he foolishly makes a statement about "hanging upon" Miss Prism's lips. He means to say he would hang upon her words, but his attraction to her causes him to fumble and comically misspeak. 

If you are not [wicked], then you have certainly been deceiving us all in a very inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.

Related Characters: Cecily Cardew (speaker), Algernon Moncrieff
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

When Algernon and Cecily find themselves alone in the garden, they strike up an immediate flirtation. Both characters are clever and charming, and attempt to both one-up and impress the other with their wit. In this quote, Cecily tells Algernon (whom she believes to be Ernest, Jack's immoral brother) that she would be disappointed if he turned out to be a good person rather than the "bad" one she has heard so many stories about. This statement is an instance of dramatic irony, in which the audience knows that Algernon is pretending to be someone who technically doesn't exist, and is in this moment living a "double life." In a way, however, by assuring Cecily that he is in fact the "bad" Ernest, Algernon is partly telling the truth about his own hypocrisy—he acts rather foolishly in the city, and pretends to have a dying friend in order to escape to the country. However, he is mostly just lying, because Ernest does not even exist; his antics are really those of Cecily's "responsible" guardian Jack. Here, Wilde further exposes the ridiculous rules of Victorian society, in which it is perhaps better to be truthful about living a life of sin than to be lying and to actually be a person of upstanding morals. 

Cecily: Miss Prism says that all good looks are a snare.

Algernon: They are a snare that every sensible man would like to be caught in.

Cecily: Oh! I don’t think I would care to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about.

Related Characters: Algernon Moncrieff (speaker), Cecily Cardew (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
As Cecily and Algernon continue their flirtation, Cecily frequently cites things that Miss Prism has told her to be true. In this quote, Cecily says that she would not like to catch a "sensible man" because she doesn't think she would have anything to talk to him about. In this statement, Cecily references that fact that in Victorian society, propriety was, especially to young people, associated with being bland and boring. A sensible man—the kind of man whom Cecily fears she is destined to marry—is therefore a person whom people like Miss Prism approve of, and so is boring to the point of having nothing of interest to converse about. In her sheltered life in the country, Cecily rarely had the chance to meet people who were not her relatives or hired to instruct her. Therefore, she becomes smitten with the idea of the improper Ernest, whom she heard about from Jack. To Cecily, Ernest represents freedom and adventure, things she has read about in books and in stories but has yet to really experience. 

You are too much alone, dear Dr. Chasuble. You should get married. A misanthrope. I can understand—a womanthrope never!

Related Characters: Miss Prism (speaker), Dr. Chasuble
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Dr. Chasuble has committed to remaining celibate according to his interpretation of the Bible, Miss Prism continues to suggest that she is a worthy candidate as a wife. Though she never explicitly states that she wants to marry Dr. Chasuble, she frequently flirts with him and tells him that he should get married. As both Dr. Chasuble and Miss Prism are well-educated people, their flirtation is humorous because of the high level of diction they use in their banter. In this quote, Miss Prism notes that she can understand people who hate other people (misanthropes) but she cannot understand why anyone would feel an aversion to women (what she terms a "womanthrope"). In Victorian society, women were considered the "fair sex," a designation that ultimately meant that women were idolized and idealized, but also objectified and essentially used as pawns in the marriage game. In the context of Oscar Wilde's life, this joke may also be a reference to the fact that he was secretly gay, an identity that was illegal in England during the period. He was eventually jailed for several years when his sexual orientation came to light, and many of his critiques of marriage and heterosexual romance in the play may be due in part to Victorian society's abhorrence of anything that was outside of the perceived norm.

Miss Prism: And you do not seem to realize, dear Doctor, that by persistently remaining single, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation. Men should be more careful; this very celibacy leads weaker vessels astray.

Dr. Chausible: But is a man not equally attractive when married?

Miss Prism: No married man is ever attractive except to his wife.

Related Characters: Miss Prism (speaker), Dr. Chasuble (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Alone and continuing their conversation from their walk around the estate, Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble discuss marriage. Both are spinsters: Miss Prism because she is a governess, and Dr. Chasuble because of his religious beliefs. In the society of the period, a woman was looked down upon for not marrying after a certain age. Miss Prism refers to Dr. Chasuble as a "public temptation" because his eligibility as a bachelor makes him "tempting" to women who are still single past typical the marriageable age. She hints that she is interested in marrying him, and that she would continue to be attracted to him, even after they are married. Her quip about no married man being attractive, except to the woman he is married to, is a joke both about how the strictness of Victorian romance means infidelity is considered appalling, and how men tended to let themselves go after they were finally wed, and were thus only attractive to the women they were married to and supporting financially. In Victorian society, a bachelor like Dr. Chasuble retained the same status as a married man, whereas a spinster like Miss Prism was stigmatized for remaining single. 

[Christening is], I regret to say, one of the Rector's most constant duties in this parish. I have often spoken to the poorer classes on the subject. But they don't seem to know what thrift is.

Related Characters: Miss Prism (speaker), Dr. Chasuble
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Separately, and unbeknownst to the other, Jack and Algernon have both asked Dr. Chasuble to christen them "Ernest" so as to satisfy the respective wishes of Cecily and Gwendolen.

Though not a member of the aristocracy, Miss Prism's moral beliefs mirror those of the elite in Victorian society. This is due to her role as a governess for a wealthy family, and her attempt to indoctrinate Cecily with these views. Though she is not a member of the upper class, her employment means that she is not of the "lower" and poorer laboring class, like people who worked in factories in London. The lower classes were stereotypically associated with immoral practices, such as alcoholism and having too many children. In this quote, Miss Prism chastises the poorer classes in the country for producing too many children, thus rendering more mouths to feed and stretching the families' already meager incomes even further. It is due to these large families that Dr. Chasuble often performs christenings. 

Act 2, Part 2 Quotes

My duty as a gentleman has never interfered with my pleasures in the smallest degree.

Related Characters: Algernon Moncrieff (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Jack is furious with Algernon for arriving in the country and pretending to be Ernest when Jack has just announced to everyone that Ernest has died. Jack calls a carriage to send Algernon back to town, telling him he must go back to complete his "gentlemanly duties." In this quote, Algernon states that despite his duties in town as a member of the aristocracy, he's never had any problem doing as he pleases. This is in large part due to his "Bunburying" and his wealth—if he had to hold a consistent job, of course, he would not be able to escape to the countryside whenever he pleased. Men of wealth and influence like Jack and Algernon can essentially do whatever they wish and never have to worry about their actions having repercussions.

The home seems to me to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not? And I don't like that. It makes men so very attractive.

Related Characters: Gwendolen Fairfax (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Determined to become engaged to Jack (whom she thinks is named Ernest) despite her mother's wishes, Gwendolen arrives at the country estate unannounced. When she meets Cecily, she is very put-off by the young, beautiful woman living in the home of the man she hopes to marry. The two women speak to each other in tones that are very polite on the surface, though the content of their conversation is rather disparaging of the other person.

In this quote, Gwendolen is referring to her father, Lord Bracknell, of whom Cecily has no knowledge. Here, Gwendolen claims that she prefers it that way, since this means that he often remains in the home and not in the public eye. Upper-class aristocratic families such as the Bracknells were wealthy to the point that work was not a necessity, thus allowing both parents to live a life of total leisure. If the fathers did work at all, it was as a member of Parliament or through investments, finance, or real estate. The lower classes, of course, needed to work outside of the home in order to provide for their families. Thus, Gwendolen's upbringing means she is attracted to men who are "domestic," meaning that they are not worn from labor and attend to duties in the home instead. She asserts that it should be women who socialize outside of the home—a progressive moment in which Wilde challenges (although humorously and ironically) traditional Victorian gender roles using a strong female character.

Act 3, Part 1 Quotes

Your Christian names are still an insuperable barrier. That is all!

Related Characters: Gwendolen Fairfax (speaker), Cecily Cardew (speaker), Jack, Algernon Moncrieff
Related Symbols: Ernest
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite the their first tense conversation, Gwendolen and Cecily become fast friends when they discover that they have both been duped by men who claim to have the name "Ernest." Gwendolen has always wanted to love someone by the name of Ernest, while Cecily has fallen in love with the idea of the rebellious Ernest who lives in the city. When Gwendolen discovers that her Ernest's real name is Jack, and Cecily discovers that Algernon is Jack's friend, not his crazy brother Ernest, the girls both call off their engagements. Just like Lady Bracknell's dismissal of Jack because of his lack of a proper lineage, so Gwendolen and Cecily have their own seemingly random stipulation for a potential partner—the "Christian" name of Ernest—and they initially refuse to settle otherwise. This quote is spoken simultaneously by both women to comment on how quickly two women can become fast friends when they discover they have been manipulated by men, and to underscore the improbable and comic melodrama the action of the play has come to at this point. 

Mr. Worthing, is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the larger railway stations in London? I merely desire information. Until yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or persons whose origin was a Terminus.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Jack, Cecily Cardew
Related Symbols: The Coatroom at Victoria Station and The Brighton Line
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

When Lady Bracknell discovers that Algernon is engaged to Cecily, she demands to know her lineage. Since Algernon is her nephew, anyone that he marries is associated with her, too, and she does not want to mar her social capital with relatives who marry below their stature. Lady Bracknell speaks extremely condescendingly to everyone around her, as her status and social-climbing sensibilities mean that she is constantly trying to impress people with her aristocracy and wealth. Wilde writes many witty, self-defeating lines for Lady Bracknell, as she is the character who most obviously parodies the worst tendencies of the aristocratic class in Victorian society. Her question as to whether Cecily is associated with any of the "larger railway stations" is very dry satire regarding what Lady Bracknell previously learned about Jack being found in the cloakroom as a baby. For Lady Bracknell, allowing anyone in her family to marry into such appalling lineage would be "the end"—hence her scathing comment about someone whose "origin," or lineage, is a "Terminus," or a train terminal. 

Few girls of the present day have any really solid qualities, any of the qualities that last, and surfaces…There are distinct social possibilities in your profile. The two weak points in our age are its want of principle and its want of profile.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Cecily Cardew
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jack tells Lady Bracknell of Cecily's large trust fund, available to her when she comes of age, Lady Bracknell immediately becomes more interested in the prospect of Algernon marrying the young girl. In this quote, she inspects Cecily's face, suddenly very taken with the girl (of course, the audience knows that this change of opinion is because she now knows that Cecily is rich). Here, the "lasting qualities" that Lady Bracknell alludes to are not looks, as she hopes to imply, but money. She pretends to have taken interest in Cecily because of her sudden astonishment with her beauty, but the "profile" she is really intrigued by is her socioeconomic profile, not her chin. In the last sentence of the quote, Wilde's signature witty puns come into play with the phrase "want of profile," which at "face" value means "lack of a chin," but here really means "lack of proper social and financial status." Finally, Lady Bracknell has found someone whose beauty is surpassed only by her bank account—a partner she wholly approves of for her bachelor nephew. 

But I do not approve of mercenary marriages. When I married Lord Bracknell, I had no fortune of any kind. But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker), Lord Bracknell
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite being an aggressive social climber, Lady Bracknell pretends to look down upon marriages that are made to raise social status. This represents her consistently flaky and hypocritical nature, in which she tailors her morals to her own needs. In this case, she has just discovered that Cecily has a large trust fund, and is therefore (in her opinion) a suitable marriage candidate for Algernon. Lady Bracknell, never one to lose the chance to make a snide remark, states that Algernon has "nothing but his debts to depend on." Despite his aristocratic status and familial wealth, Algernon handles his personal finances badly and is often in debt. Though initially Lady Bracknell thought Cecily was the one who was attempting to "climb" by becoming engaged to Algernon, she here states that it would be Algernon who would gain socioeconomic status by marrying Cecily, the wealthier party. This is an example of Lady Bracknell tailoring her views to whatever leads to the most gain in a certain situation. Though she looks down upon the poorer classes, she notes that she herself had no fortune before marrying into the aristocracy. In a further example of her hypocrisy, she made sure to marry upwards in order to ensure that she could enjoy the leisurely life of the extremely wealthy and connected—those with enough status to look down upon those who must make "mercenary marriages." 

To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other's character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.

Related Characters: Lady Bracknell (speaker)
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

Jack tells the people in the room that Cecily's trust states that she does not "come of age" until she is 35. This shocks Algernon, who had hoped that she would be free to marry as she pleased much sooner than that. In this quote, Lady Bracknell quips that she would not be in favor of a long engagement because she fears the two partners would realize that they are emotionally incompatible, despite being the "correct" socioeconomic match based on the standards of Victorian society. In traditions of arranged marriages, it was believed that familial compatibility would create a more successful union than would romantic love, which was fleeting and far less enduring than social status and class. 

Act 3, Part 2 Quotes

Unmarried! I do not deny that is a serious blow. But after all, who has the right to cast a stone against one who has suffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should there be one law for men and another for women?

Related Characters: Jack (speaker), Miss Prism
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jack finds out that the handbag he was found in in Victoria Station was Miss Prism's, he jumps to the conclusion that she is his mother. She denies his assumption by stating that she is unmarried. Without waiting for further information, Jack jumps to yet another conclusion: that Miss Prism gave birth to him out of wedlock, and continued to deny her maternal connection to him in order to avoid the stigma of being an unwed mother (which was quite significant in the Victorian era). However, what she means to actually say is that she, a highly moral woman, could not possibly be his mother because she is unmarried, and would never have a child out of wedlock. In this quote, Jack attempts to gallantly defend the woman he believes to be his mother, and in doing so, puts forth a progressive argument for equality between the sexes—explicitly pointing out the double standard that forgives men for having extramarital affairs, but condemns women for doing the same. The irony of this statement, of course, is that Jack does not think that his actions warrant the same repentance as do those of an unmarried woman with a child.  

Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth.

Related Characters: Jack (speaker), Gwendolen Fairfax
Related Symbols: Ernest
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jack finds his birth father's name in the Army list, he realizes that he has indeed been truthful when calling himself Ernest in the city—he is actually named Ernest Moncrieff Jr. In this quote, Jack is responding to Gwendolen's delight at discovering that Jack's name really is Ernest, as she believed it to be when she fell in love with him. Jack, however, is almost disappointed at the fact that he is really named Ernest, because he felt very clever in creating the identity of a sinful brother who lived in the city. As men of wealth and leisure, Algernon and Jack essentially do and say whatever they like without fear of repercussions, particularly thanks to their double identities in the city and country. Jack is shocked to realize that, when he believed himself to be lying in the city, he was really telling the truth in both the city and country—in aristocratic society he is technically the son of Ernest Moncrieff and is, by christening, Ernest Moncrieff Jr., while in the country he is John Worthing, the adopted son of Thomas Cardew. Regardless of his location or identity, or whether or not he was aware of it, Jack has been telling the truth all along—he is both Ernest and the most earnest of the characters. 

I’ve now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest.

Related Characters: Jack (speaker)
Related Symbols: Ernest
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

It is only in the very last line of the play that the title of the work is spoken. Wilde's characteristic wit and wordplay, particularly on the interplay between the name "Ernest" and the word "earnest," endures until the very end of the drama. Though the word is written out as "Earnest," to an audience member watching the production, it is not clear whether Jack is saying "Ernest" the name or "earnest" the word, which means to be sincere and truthful.

Jack's own wit as a character likely means that he, too, is intending to make this pun, showing that he now understands the importance of being Ernest—his true Christian name and the name of his birth father—and earnest—being honest and confessing the truth to Gwendolen, meaning that he now knows who his family is.

In Wilde's play, which provides a scathing critique of Victorian society and romance through painfully polite yet daringly clever dialogue, all the lovers end up together, and in class-affirming unions as well. Of course, in Wilde's experience, this rarely ever happens—usually unions for love were scorned in favor of arranged marriages. Thus, if the happy engagements between Algernon/Cecily and Gwendolen/Jack feel too good to be true, that is because for Wilde (and the rest of Victorian society who first saw the play), they are—marriages for both love and class were rarely made at the time. But, as Miss Prism declared must be the case in fiction, the "good ended happily"—once Jack and Algernon tell the truth, they are rewarded with their loves. 

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