The Importance of Being Earnest

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Town and Country Symbol Analysis

Town and Country  Symbol Icon
In The Importance of Being Earnest one’s residence is a key signifier of one’s social standing and sophistication. Lady Bracknell’s keen interest in Jack’s address exemplifies this alignment between class, fashion, and residence. She finds Jack’s house in town to be “unfashionable,” and his country estate to be neither a “profit or a pleasure,” but sufficient, as “it gives one position.” Just as Lady Bracknell judges Jack’s class upon the value of his real estate, Gwendolen evaluates Cecily’s tastes based upon her upbringing in the country. Gwendolen, a fashionable urbanite, makes several oblique remarks about country girl Cecily’s lack of taste: “I had no idea there was anything approaching good taste in the more remote country districts…Personally I cannot understand how anybody manages to exist in the country—if anybody who is anybody does.” While Gwendolen views Cecily as a country-bumpkin-nobody for her rural roots, Cecily associates city living with vulgarity and aristocratic snobbishness: “I believe most London houses are extremely vulgar…I believe the aristocracy are suffering very much.” Through Gwendolen and Cecily’s attitudes about country and city life, Wilde upsets the characters’ alignment of the city with sophistication and the country with poor taste. Instead, he suggests that town and country, alike are paradoxical places—the city is urbane, but it is also “vulgar;” and while the country lacks taste it also affords one “position” in society. Wilde also suggests that town and country are a means of fantasy and escape. Jack escapes to the city, under false pretenses, to avoid his obligations to Cecily in the country, while Algernon similarly escapes to the country to avoid his social obligations to his aunt and cousin.

Town and Country Quotes in The Importance of Being Earnest

The The Importance of Being Earnest quotes below all refer to the symbol of Town and Country . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction  Theme Icon
). 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

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. 

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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. 

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Town and Country Symbol Timeline in The Importance of Being Earnest

The timeline below shows where the symbol Town and Country appears in The Importance of Being Earnest. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Part 1
The Pursuit of Marriage  Theme Icon
Cash, Class, and Character Theme Icon
...the arrival of Algernon’s friend, Mr. Ernest Worthing (Jack) who has been away in the country. Seeing the tea service, Jack asks Algernon whom he is expecting. Upon learning that Algernon... (full context)
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction  Theme Icon
...reluctantly confesses that his name is actually Jack and that he goes by “Ernest” in town and “Jack” in the country. (full context)
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction  Theme Icon
Name and Identity  Theme Icon
...is a practiced “Bunburyist.” Algernon demands to know why Jack goes by one name in town and the other in the country. (full context)
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction  Theme Icon
Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality  Theme Icon
...fortune and made him guardian to his granddaughter, Miss Cecily Cardew, who lives on a country estate. Jack explains that he leads a double life because his responsibilities to Cecily requires... (full context)
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction  Theme Icon
Name and Identity  Theme Icon
Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality  Theme Icon
...whose maladies are a ready excuse for Algernon whenever he chooses to go into the country. While Jack finds “Bunbury” to be an “absurd name,” Algernon cautions his friend against doing... (full context)
Act 1, Part 2
The Pursuit of Marriage  Theme Icon
Cash, Class, and Character Theme Icon
...Jack replies that he is bachelor of twenty-nine with a sizable income, a fashionable London townhouse in Belgrave Square, and property in the country, all of which appears to appease Lady... (full context)
Men and Women in Love  Theme Icon
...So that she can write to him, Gwendolen asks Jack for his address in the country, which Algernon slyly writes down on his shirt cuff. (full context)
Act 2, Part 2
The Art of Deception: Fact v. Fiction  Theme Icon
...he is staying for week, but Jack asserts that “Ernest” has been called back to town and instructs Merriman to order a dog-cart to take “his brother” back to the train... (full context)
Cash, Class, and Character Theme Icon
...Gwendolen refuses Cecily’s offer of sugar and cake, while making snide remarks about Cecily’s tasteless country upbringing. Cecily responds, dumping healthy doses of both into Gwendolen’s cup and onto her plate,... (full context)
Act 3, Part 1
Name and Identity  Theme Icon
Hypocrisy, Folly, and Victorian Morality  Theme Icon
Men and Women in Love  Theme Icon
...arrives. Having bribed Gwendolen’s maid into disclosing her whereabouts, Lady Bracknell has followed Gwendolen from town to prevent her from seeing Jack and is appalled to see the couple together. (full context)