Jack. Charming day it has been, Miss Fairfax.
Gwendolen. Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me so nervous.
Jack. I do mean something else.
Gwendolen. I thought so. In fact, I am never wrong.
Jack. And I would like to be allowed to take advantage of Lady Bracknell’s temporary absence…
Gwendolen. I would certainly advise you to do so. Mamma has a way of coming back suddenly into a room that I have often had to speak to her about.
Jack. [Nervously.] Miss Fairfax, ever since I met you I have admired you more than any girl… I have ever met since… I met you.
Gwendolen. Yes, I am quite well aware of the fact. And I often wish that in public, at any rate, you had been more demonstrative. For me you have always had an irresistible fascination. Even before I met you I was far from indifferent to you. [Jack looks at her in amazement.] We live, as I hope you know, Mr Worthing, in an age of ideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the more expensive monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial pulpits, I am told; and my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.
Jack. You really love me, Gwendolen?
Jack. Darling! You don’t know how happy you’ve made me.
Gwendolen. My own Ernest!
Jack. But you don’t really mean to say that you couldn’t love me if my name wasn’t Ernest?
Gwendolen. But your name is Ernest.
Jack. Yes, I know it is. But supposing it was something else? Do you mean to say you couldn’t love me then?
Gwendolen. [Glibly.] Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them.
Jack. Personally, darling, to speak quite candidly, I don’t much care about the name of Ernest… I don’t think the name suits me at all.
Gwendolen. It suits you perfectly. It is a divine name. It has a music of its own. It produces vibrations.
Jack. Well, really, Gwendolen, I must say that I think there are lots of other much nicer names. I think Jack, for instance, a charming name.
Gwendolen. Jack?… No, there is very little music in the name Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations… I have known several Jacks, and they all, without exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is married to a man called John. She would probably never be allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment’s solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest
Jack. Gwendolen, I must get christened at once—I mean we must get married at once. There is no time to be lost.
Gwendolen. Married, Mr. Worthing?
Jack. [Astounded.] Well… surely. You know that I love you, and you led me to believe, Miss Fairfax, that you were not absolutely indifferent to me.
Gwendolen. I adore you. But you haven’t proposed to me yet. Nothing has been said at all about marriage. The subject has not even been touched on.
Jack. Well… may I propose to you now?
Gwendolen. I think it would be an admirable opportunity. And to spare you any possible disappointment, Mr. Worthing, I think it only fair to tell you quite frankly before-hand that I am fully determined to accept you.
Gwendolen. Yes, Mr. Worthing, what have you got to say to me?
Jack. You know what I have got to say to you.
Gwendolen. Yes, but you don’t say it.
Jack. Gwendolen, will you marry me? [Goes on his knees.]
Gwendolen. Of course I will, darling. How long you have been about it! I am afraid you have had very little experience in how to propose.
Jack. My own one, I have never loved any one in the world but you.
Gwendolen. Yes, but men often propose for practice. I know my brother Gerald does. All my girl-friends tell me so. What wonderfully blue eyes you have, Ernest! They are quite, quite, blue. I hope you will always look at me just like that, especially when there are other people present. [Enter Lady Bracknell.]
Lady Bracknell. Mr. Worthing! Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent posture. It is most indecorous.
Gwendolen. Mamma! [He tries to rise; she restrains him.] I must beg you to retire. This is no place for you. Besides, Mr. Worthing has not quite finished yet.
Lady Bracknell. Finished what, may I ask?
Gwendolen. I am engaged to Mr. Worthing, mamma. [They rise together.]
Lady Bracknell. Pardon me, you are not engaged to any one. When you do become engaged to some one, I, or your father, should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she could be allowed to arrange for herself… And now I have a few questions to put to you, Mr. Worthing. While I am making these inquiries, you, Gwendolen, will wait for me below in the carriage.
Gwendolen. [Reproachfully.] Mamma!
Lady Bracknell. In the carriage, Gwendolen! [Gwendolen goes to the door. She and Jack blow kisses to each other behind Lady Bracknell’s back. Lady Bracknell looks vaguely about as if she could not understand what the noise was. Finally turns round.] Gwendolen, the carriage!
Gwendolen. Yes, mamma. [Goes out, looking back at Jack.]
Lady Bracknell. [Sitting down.] You can take a seat, Mr. Worthing.
[Looks in her pocket for note-book and pencil.]
Jack. Thank you, Lady Bracknell, I prefer standing.
Lady Bracknell. [Pencil and note-book in hand.] I feel bound to tell you that you are not down on my list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has. We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready to enter your name, should your answers be what a really affectionate mother requires. Do you smoke?
Jack. Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.
Lady Bracknell. I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is. How old are you?
Lady Bracknell. A very good age to be married at. I have always been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?
Jack. [After some hesitation.] I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.
Lady Bracknell. I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. What is your income?
Jack. Between seven and eight thousand a year.
Lady Bracknell. [Makes a note in her book.] In land, or in investments?
Jack. In investments, chiefly.
Lady Bracknell. That is satisfactory. What between the duties expected of one during one’s lifetime, and the duties exacted from one after one’s death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure. It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it up. That’s all that can be said about land.
Jack. I have a country house with some land, of course, attached to it, about fifteen hundred acres, I believe; but I don’t depend on that for my real income. In fact, as far as I can make out, the poachers are the only people who make anything out of it.
Lady Bracknell. A country house! How many bedrooms? Well, that point can be cleared up afterwards. You have a town house, I hope? A girl with a simple, unspoiled nature, like Gwendolen, could hardly be expected to reside in the country.
Jack. Well, I own a house in Belgrave Square, but it is let by the year to Lady Bloxham. Of course, I can get it back whenever I like, at six months’ notice.
Lady Bracknell. Lady Bloxham? I don’t know her.
Jack. Oh, she goes about very little. She is a lady considerably advanced in years.
Lady Bracknell. Ah, nowadays that is no guarantee of respectability of character. What number in Belgrave Square?
Lady Bracknell. [Shaking her head.] The unfashionable side. I thought there was something. However, that could easily be altered.
Jack. Do you mean the fashion, or the side?
Lady Bracknell. [Sternly.] Both, if necessary, I presume. What are your polities?
Jack. Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal Unionist.
Lady Bracknell. Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening, at any rate. Now to minor matters. Are your parents living?
Jack. I have lost both my parents.
Lady Bracknell. To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?
Jack. I am afraid I really don’t know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me… I don’t actually know who I am by birth. I was… well, I was found.
Lady Bracknell. Found!
Jack. The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.
Lady Bracknell. Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?
Jack. [Gravely.] In a hand-bag.
Lady Bracknell. A hand-bag?
Jack. [Very seriously.] Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag—a somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it—an ordinary hand-bag in fact.
Lady Bracknell. In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas, Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?
Jack. In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him in mistake for his own.
Lady Bracknell. The cloak-room at Victoria Station?
Jack. Yes. The Brighton line.
Lady Bracknell. The line is immaterial. Mr. Worthing, I confess I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to? As for the particular locality in which the hand-bag was found, a cloak-room at a railway station might serve to conceal a social indiscretion—has probably, indeed, been used for that purpose before now-but it could hardly be regarded as an assured basis for a recognised position in good society.
Jack. May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I need hardly say I would do anything in the world to ensure Gwendolen’s happiness.
Lady Bracknell. I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.
Jack. Well, I don’t see how I could possibly manage to do that. I can produce the hand-bag at any moment. It is in my dressing-room at home. I really think that should satisfy you, Lady Bracknell.
Lady Bracknell. Me, sir! What has it to do with me? 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? Good morning, Mr. Worthing!
[Lady Bracknell sweeps out in majestic indignation.]
Jack. Good morning! [Algernon, from the other room, strikes up the Wedding March. Jack looks perfectly furious, and goes to the door.] For goodness’ sake don’t play that ghastly tune, Algy. How idiotic you are!
[The music stops and Algernon enters cheerily.]
Algernon. Didn’t it go off all right, old boy? You don’t mean to say Gwendolen refused you? I know it is a way she has. She is always refusing people. I think it is most ill-natured of her.
Jack. Oh, Gwendolen is as right as a trivet. As far as she is concerned, we are engaged. Her mother is perfectly unbearable. Never met such a Gorgon… I don’t really know what a Gorgon is like, but I am quite sure that Lady Bracknell is one. In any case, she is a monster, without being a myth, which is rather unfair… I beg your pardon, Algy, I suppose I shouldn’t talk about your own aunt in that way before you.
Algernon. My dear boy, I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.
Jack. Oh, that is nonsense!
Algernon. It isn’t!
Jack. Well, I won’t argue about the matter. You always want to argue about things.
Algernon. That is exactly what things were originally made for.
Jack. Upon my word, if I thought that, I’d shoot myself… [A pause.] You don’t think there is any chance of Gwendolen becoming like her mother in about a hundred and fifty years, do you, Algy?
Algernon. All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.
Jack. Is that clever?
Algernon. It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any observation in civilised life should be.
Jack. I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.
Algernon. We have.
Jack. I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk about?
Algernon. The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.
Jack. What fools!
Algernon. By the way, did you tell Gwendolen the truth about your being Ernest in town, and Jack in the country?
Jack. [In a very patronising manner.] My dear fellow, the truth isn’t quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl. What extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!
Algernon. The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to some one else, if she is plain.
Jack. Oh, that is nonsense.
Algernon. What about your brother? What about the profligate Ernest?
Jack. Oh, before the end of the week I shall have got rid of him. I’ll say he died in Paris of apoplexy. Lots of people die of apoplexy, quite suddenly, don’t they?
Algernon. Yes, but it’s hereditary, my dear fellow. It’s a sort of thing that runs in families. You had much better say a severe chill.
Jack. You are sure a severe chill isn’t hereditary, or anything of that kind?
Algernon. Of course it isn’t!
Jack. Very well, then. My poor brother Ernest to carried off suddenly, in Paris, by a severe chill. That gets rid of him.
Algernon. But I thought you said that… Miss Cardew was a little too much interested in your poor brother Ernest? Won’t she feel his loss a good deal?
Jack. Oh, that is all right. Cecily is not a silly romantic girl, I am glad to say. She has got a capital appetite, goes long walks, and pays no attention at all to her lessons.
Algernon. I would rather like to see Cecily.
Jack. I will take very good care you never do. She is excessively pretty, and she is only just eighteen.
Algernon. Have you told Gwendolen yet that you have an excessively pretty ward who is only just eighteen?
Jack. Oh! one doesn’t blurt these things out to people. Cecily and Gwendolen are perfectly certain to be extremely great friends. I’ll bet you anything you like that half an hour after they have met, they will be calling each other sister.
Algernon. Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first. Now, my dear boy, if we want to get a good table at Willis’s, we really must go and dress. Do you know it is nearly seven?
Jack. [Irritably.] Oh! It always is nearly seven.
Algernon. Well, I’m hungry.
Jack. I never knew you when you weren’t…
Algernon. What shall we do after dinner? Go to a theatre?
Jack. Oh no! I loathe listening.
Algernon. Well, let us go to the Club?
Jack. Oh, no! I hate talking.
Algernon. Well, we might trot round to the Empire at ten?
Jack. Oh, no! I can’t bear looking at things. It is so silly.
Algernon. Well, what shall we do?
Algernon. It is awfully hard work doing nothing. However, I don’t mind hard work where there is no definite object of any kind.
Lane. Miss Fairfax.
[Enter Gwendolen. Lane goes out.]
Algernon. Gwendolen, upon my word!
Gwendolen. Algy, kindly turn your back. I have something very particular to say to Mr. Worthing.
Algernon. Really, Gwendolen, I don’t think I can allow this at all.
Gwendolen. Algy, you always adopt a strictly immoral attitude towards life. You are not quite old enough to do that. [Algernon retires to the fireplace.]
Jack. My own darling!
Gwendolen. Ernest, we may never be married. From the expression on mamma’s face I fear we never shall. Few parents nowadays pay any regard to what their children say to them. The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out. Whatever influence I ever had over mamma, I lost at the age of three. But although she may prevent us from becoming man and wife, and I may marry some one else, and marry often, nothing that she can possibly do can alter my eternal devotion to you.
Jack. Dear Gwendolen!
Gwendolen. The story of your romantic origin, as related to me by mamma, with unpleasing comments, has naturally stirred the deeper fibres of my nature. Your Christian name has an irresistible fascination. The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me. Your town address at the Albany I have. What is your address in the country?
Jack. The Manor House, Woolton, Hertfordshire.
[Algernon, who has been carefully listening, smiles to himself, and writes the address on his shirt-cuff. Then picks up the Railway Guide.]
Gwendolen. There is a good postal service, I suppose? It may be necessary to do something desperate. That of course will require serious consideration. I will communicate with you daily.
Jack. My own one!
Gwendolen. How long do you remain in town?
Jack. Till Monday.
Gwendolen. Good! Algy, you may turn round now.
Algernon. Thanks, I’ve turned round already.
Gwendolen. You may also ring the bell.
Jack. You will let me see you to your carriage, my own darling?
Jack. [To Lane, who now enters.] I will see Miss Fairfax out.
Lane. Yes, sir. [Jack and Gwendolen go off.]
[Lane presents several letters on a salver to Algernon. It is to be surmised that they are bills, as Algernon, after looking at the envelopes, tears them up.]
Algernon. A glass of sherry, Lane.
Lane. Yes, sir.
Algernon. To-morrow, Lane, I’m going Bunburying.
Lane. Yes, sir.
Algernon. I shall probably not be back till Monday. You can put up my dress clothes, my smoking jacket, and all the Bunbury suits…
Lane. Yes, sir. [Handing sherry.]
Algernon. I hope to-morrow will be a fine day, Lane.
Lane. It never is, sir.
Algernon. Lane, you’re a perfect pessimist.
Lane. I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.
[Enter Jack. Lane goes off.]
Jack. There’s a sensible, intellectual girl! the only girl I ever cared for in my life. [Algernon is laughing immoderately.] What on earth are you so amused at?
Algernon. Oh, I’m a little anxious about poor Bunbury, that is all.
Jack. If you don’t take care, your friend Bunbury will get you into a serious scrape some day.
Algernon. I love scrapes. They are the only things that are never serious.
Jack. Oh, that’s nonsense, Algy. You never talk anything but nonsense.
Algernon. Nobody ever does.
[Jack looks indignantly at him, and leaves the room. Algernon lights a cigarette, reads his shirt-cuff, and smiles.]