Guy uses the pseudonym Earnest to woo lady. Second guy, guy’s friend and lady’s cousin, uses the same pseudonym to woo second lady, guy’s ward. The ladies fall in love… but with the name Earnest. Hilarity ensues.
That is the outline of Oscar Wilde’s rib-tickling satire “The Importance of Being Earnest”. Crammed with nonsensical, but only seemingly, conventions and piercing wit, it’s a rapturous and riotous read.
Here are some highlights:
Algernon: Divorces are made in Heaven.
Algernon: Well, in the first place, girls never marry the men they flirt with.
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.
Algernon: Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don’t try it. You should leave that to people who haven’t been at a University.
Algernon: In married life, three is company and two is none.
Jack: That is the theory that the corrupt French Drama has been propounding for the last fifty years.
Algernon: Yes; and that the happy English home has proved in half the time.
Algernon: I am feeling very well, Aunt Augusta.
Lady Bracknell: That’s not quite the same thing. In fact, the two things rarely go together.
Algernon: If one plays good music, people don’t listen, and if one plays bad music, people don’t talk.
Gwendolen: I hope you will always look at me like that, especially when there are other people present.
Lady Bracknell: Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.
Algernon: Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven’t got the remotest idea of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.
Algernon: It is awfully hard work doing nothing.
Gwendolen: Few parents nowadays pay any regard to what their children say to them. The old fashioned respect for the young is dying out.
Cecily: Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia.
Algernon: Oh well! The accounts I have received of Australia, and the next world, are not particularly encouraging. This world is good enough for me, Cecily.
Algernon: If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated.
Cecily: Oh, yes. Dr. Chusable is a most learned man. He has never written a single book, so you can imagine how much he knows.
Cecily: Pray do! I think that whenever one has anything unpleasant to say, one should always be quite candid.
Algernon: Well, one must be very serious about something, if one wants to have any amusement in life.
Gwendolen: In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.
Lady Bracknell: Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, of physical weakness in the old.
Lady Bracknell: To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out about each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable.
Lady Bracknell: Untruthful! My nephew Algernon? Impossible! He is an Oxonian.
Lady Bracknell: Ahem! Mr. Worthing, after careful consideration I have decided to entirely overlook my nephew’s conduct to you.
Lady Bracknell: London society is full of women of the highest birth who have, of their own free choice, remained thirty-five for years. Lady Dumbleton is an instance in point. To my own knowledge, she has been thirty-five ever since she arrived at the age of forty, which was many years ago.
Gwendolen: This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.
Gwendolen: I never change, except in my affections.
Jack: It is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth.