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pg 253Editor’s NoteFirst Act

Scene: Morning-room in Algernon's flat in Half-Moon Street. The room is luxuriously and artistically furnished. The sound of a piano is heard in the adjoining room. Lane is arranging afternoon tea on the table and, after the music has ceased, Algernon enters [from music-room]
1

alergnon Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?

2

lane I didn't think it polite to listen, sir.

3

algernon I'm sorry for that, for your sake. I don't play accurate-

4ly—anyone can play accurately—but I play with wonderful ex-

5pression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte.

6I keep science for Life.

7

lane Yes, sir.

8

algernon And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the

9cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?

10

lane Yes, sir. (Hands them on a salver)

11

algernon (inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa) Oh!

12… by the way, Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday

13night, when Lord Shoreham and Mr Worthing were dining

14with me, eight bottles of champagne are entered as having been

15consumed.

16

lane Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.

17

algernon Why is it that at a bachelor's establishment the servants

18invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for information.

19

lane I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I have

20often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely

21of a first-rate brand.

22

algernon Good heavens! Is marriage so demoralizing as that?

23

lane I believe it is a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very little

24experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married

25once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between

26myself and a young person.

27

algernon (languidly) I don't know that I am much interested in

28your family life, Lane.

29

lane No, sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it

30myself.

31

algernon Very natural, I am sure. That will do, Lane, thank you.

32

lane Thank you, sir.

pg 254Lane goes out
33

algernon Lane's views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if

34the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the

35use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of

36moral responsibility.

Enter Lane
37

lane Mr Ernest Worthing.

Enter Jack. Lane goes out
38

algernon How are you, my dear Ernest? What brings you up to

39town?

40

jack Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one anywhere?

41Eating as usual, I see, Algy!

42

algernon (stiffly) I believe it is customary in good society to take

43some slight refreshment at five o'clock. Where have you been

44since last Thursday?

45

jack (sitting down on the sofa) In the country.

46

algernon What on earth do you do there?

47

jack (pulling off his gloves) When one is in town one amuses oneself.

48When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is

49excessively boring.

50

algernon And who are the people you amuse?

51

jack (airily) Oh, neighbours, neighbours.

52

algernon Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?

53

jack Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.

54

algernon How immensely you must amuse them! (Goes over and

55takes sandwich) By the way, Shropshire is your county, is it not?

56

jack Eh? Shropshire? Yes, of course. Hallo! Why all these cups?

57Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in

58one so young? Who is coming to tea?

59

algernon Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.

60

jack How perfectly delightful!

61

algernon Yes, that is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta

62won't quite approve of your being here.

63

jack May I ask why?

64

algernon My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is

65perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way Gwendolen

66flirts with you.

67

jack I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town

68expressly to propose to her.

69

algernon I thought you had come up for pleasure? … I call that

70business.

71

jack How utterly unromantic you are!

pg 25572

algernon I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is

73very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a

74definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I

75believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of

76romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I'll certainly try to

77forget the fact.

78

jack I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was

79specially invented for people whose memories are so curiously

80constituted.

81

algernon Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject. Divorces

82are made in Heaven—(Jack puts out his hand to take a sandwich .

83Algernon at once interferes) Please don't touch the cucumber

84sandwiches. They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta. (Takes one and eats it)

85

jack Well, you have been eating them all the time.

86

algernon That is quite a different matter. She is my aunt. (Takes

87plate from below) Have some bread and butter. The bread and

88butter is for Gwendolen. Gwendolen is devoted to bread and

89butter.

90

jack (advancing to table and helping himself) And very good bread

91and butter it is too.

92

algernon Well, my dear fellow, you need not eat as if you were

93going to eat it all. You behave as if you were married to her

94already. You are not married to her already, and I don't think you

95ever will be.

96

jack Why on earth do you say that?

97

algernon Well, in the first place, girls never marry the men they

98flirt with. Girls don't think it right.

99

jack Oh, that is nonsense!

100

algernon It isn't. It is a great truth. It accounts for the extraordi-

101nary number of bachelors that one sees all over the place. In the

102second place, I don't give my consent.

103

jack Your consent!

104

algernon My dear fellow, Gwendolen is my first cousin. And

105before I allow you to marry her, you will have to clear up the whole

106question of Cecily. (Rings bell)

107

jack Cecily! What on earth do you mean? What do you mean, Algy,

108by Cecily? I don't know anyone of the name of Cecily.

Enter Lane
109

algernon Bring me that cigarette case Mr Worthing left in the

110smoking-room the last time he dined here.

111

lane Yes, sir.

Lane goes out
pg 256112

jack Do you mean to say you have had my cigarette case all this

113time? I wish to goodness you had let me know. I have been writing

114frantic letters to Scotland Yard about it. I was very nearly offering

115a large reward.

116

algernon Well, I wish you would offer one. I happen to be more

117than usually hard up.

118

jack There is no good offering a large reward now that the thing is

119found.

Enter Lane with the cigarette case on a salver. Algernon takes it at once. Lane goes out
120

algernon I think that is rather mean of you, Ernest, I must say.

121(Opens case and examines it) However, it makes no matter, for, now

122that I look at the inscription inside, I find that the thing isn't yours

123after all.

124

jack Of course it's mine. (Moving to him) You have seen me with it

125a hundred times, and you have no right whatsoever to read what

126is written inside. It is a very ungentlemanly thing to read a private

127cigarette case.

128

algernon Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what

129one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern

130culture depends on what one shouldn't read.

131

jack I am quite aware of the fact, and I don't propose to discuss

132modern culture. It isn't the sort of thing one should talk of in

133private. I simply want my cigarette case back.

134

algernon Yes; but this isn't your cigarette case. This cigarette case

135is a present from someone of the name of Cecily, and you said you

136didn't know anyone of that name.

137

jack Well, if you want to know, Cecily happens to be my aunt.

138

algernon Your aunt!

139

jack Yes. Charming old lady she is, too. Lives at Tunbridge Wells.

140Just give it back to me, Algy.

141

algernon (retreating to back of sofa) But why does she call herself

142little Cecily if she is your aunt and lives at Tunbridge Wells?

143(Reading) 'From little Cecily with her fondest love.'

144

jack (moving to sofa and kneeling upon it) My dear fellow, what on

145earth is there in that? Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not

146tall. That is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to

147decide for herself. You seem to think that every aunt should

148be exactly like your aunt! That is absurd! For Heaven's

149sake give me back my cigarette case. (Follows Algernon round the room)

pg 257150

algernon Yes. But why does your aunt call you her uncle? 'From

151little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.' There

152is no objection, I admit, to an aunt being a small aunt, but why an

153aunt, no matter what her size may be, should call her own nephew

154her uncle, I can't quite make out. Besides, your name isn't Jack at

155all; it is Ernest.

156

jack It isn't Ernest; it's Jack.

157

algernon You have always told me it was Ernest. I have intro-

158duced you to every one as Ernest. You answer to the name of

159Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most

160earnest looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectly absurd

161your saying that your name isn't Ernest. It's on your cards. Here

162is one of them. (Taking it from case) 'Mr Ernest Worthing, B.4,

163The Albany.' I'll keep this as a proof that your name is Ernest if

164ever you attempt to deny it to me, or to Gwendolen, or to anyone

165else. (Puts the card in his pocket)

166

jack Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country, and

167the cigarette case was given to me in the country.

168

algernon Yes, but that does not account for the fact that your

169small Aunt Cecily, who lives at Tunbridge Wells, calls you her

170dear uncle. Come, old boy, you had much better have the thing

171out at once.

172

jack My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It is

173very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn't a dentist. It

174produces a false impression.

175

algernon Well, that is exactly what dentists always do. Now, go

176on! Tell me the whole thing. I may mention that I have always

177suspected you of being a confirmed and secret Bunburyist; and I

178am quite sure of it now.

179

jack Bunburyist? What on earth do you mean by a Bunburyist?

180

algernon I'll reveal to you the meaning of that incomparable

181expression as soon as you are kind enough to inform me why you

182are Ernest in town and Jack in the country.

183

jack Well, produce my cigarette case first.

184

algernon Here it is. (Hands cigarette case) Now produce your

185explanation, and pray make it improbable. (Sits on sofa)

186

jack My dear fellow, there is nothing improbable about my expla-

187nation at all. In fact it's perfectly ordinary. Old Mr Thomas

188Cardew, who adopted me when I was a little boy, made me in his

189will guardian to his granddaughter, Miss Cecily Cardew. Cecily,

190who addresses me as her uncle from motives of respect that you

pg 258191could not possibly appreciate, lives at my place in the country

192under the charge of her admirable governess, Miss Prism.

193

algernon Where is that place in the country, by the way?

194

jack That is nothing to you, dear boy. You are not going to be

195invited.… I may tell you candidly that the place is not in

196Shropshire.

197

algernon I suspected that, my dear fellow! I have Bunburyed all

198over Shropshire on two separate occasions. Now, go on. Why are

199you Ernest in town and Jack in the country?

200

jack My dear Algy, I don't know whether you will be able to

201understand my real motives. You are hardly serious enough. When

202one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very

203high moral tone on all subjects. It's one's duty to do so. And as a

204high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either

205one's health or one's happiness, in order to get up to town I have

206always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest,

207who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes.

208That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple.

209

algernon The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life

210would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a

211complete impossibility!

212

jack That wouldn't be at all a bad thing.

213

algernon Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow.

214Don't try it. You should leave that to people who haven't been at

215a University. They do it so well in the daily papers. What you

216really are is a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were a

217Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I

218know.

219

jack What on earth do you mean?

220

algernon You have invented a very useful younger brother called

221Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often

222as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called

223Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country

224whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If it wasn't for

225Bunbury's extraordinary bad health, for instance, I wouldn't be

226able to dine with you at Willis's tonight, for I have been really

227engaged to Aunt Augusta for more than a week.

228

jack I haven't asked you to dine with me anywhere tonight.

229

algernon I know. You are absurdly careless about sending out

230invitations. It is very foolish of you. Nothing annoys people so

231much as not receiving invitations.

pg 259232

jack You had much better dine with your Aunt Augusta.

233

algernon I haven't the smallest intention of doing anything of the

234kind. To begin with, I dined there on Monday, and once a week

235is quite enough to dine with one's own relations. In the second

236place, whenever I do dine there I am always treated as a member

237of the family, and sent down with either no woman at all, or two.

238In the third place, I know perfectly well whom she will place me

239next to, tonight. She will place me next Mary Farquhar, who

240always flirts with her own husband across the dinner-table. That

241is not very pleasant. Indeed, it is not even decent … and that sort

242of thing is enormously on the increase. The amount of women in

243London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous.

244It looks so bad. It is simply washing one's clean linen in public.

245Besides, now that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist I

246naturally want to talk to you about Bunburying. I want to tell you

247the rules.

248

jack I'm not a Bunburyist at all. If Gwendolen accepts me, I am

249going to kill my brother, indeed I think I'll kill him in any case.

250Cecily is a little too much interested in him. It is rather a bore. So

251I am going to get rid of Ernest. And I strongly advise you to do

252the same with Mr … with your invalid friend who has the absurd

253name.

254

algernon Nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you

255ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you

256will be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without

257knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it.

258

jack That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen,

259and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry,

260I certainly won't want to know Bunbury.

261

algernon Then your wife will. You don't seem to realize, that in

262married life three is company and two is none.

263

jack (sententiously) That, my dear young friend, is the theory that

264the corrupt French Drama has been propounding for the last fifty

265years.

266

algernon Yes; and that the happy English home has proved in half

267the time.

268

jack For heaven's sake, don't try to be cynical. It's perfectly easy to

269be cynical.

270

algernon My dear fellow, it isn't easy to be anything nowadays.

271There's such a lot of beastly competition about. (The sound of an

272electric bell is heard) Ah! that must be Aunt Augusta. Only

pg 260273relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner. Now,

274if I get her out of the way for ten minutes, so that you can have

275an opportunity for proposing to Gwendolen, may I dine with you

276tonight at Willis's?

277

jack I suppose so, if you want to.

278

algernon Yes, but you must be serious about it. I hate people who

279are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.

Enter Lane
280

lane Lady Bracknell and Miss Fairfax.

Algernon goes forward to meet them. Enter Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen
281

lady bracknell Good afternoon, dear Algernon, I hope you are

282behaving very well.

283

algernon I'm feeling very well, Aunt Augusta.

284

lady bracknell That's not quite the same thing. In fact the two

285things rarely go together. (Sees Jack and bows to him with icy coldness)

286

algernon (to Gwendolen) Dear me, you are smart!

287

gwendolen I am always smart! Aren't I, Mr Worthing?

288

jack You're quite perfect, Miss Fairfax.

289

gwendolen Oh! I hope I am not that. It would leave no room for

290developments, and I intend to develop in many directions. (Gwendolen and Jack sit down together in the corner)

291

lady bracknell I'm sorry if we are a little late, Algernon, but I

292was obliged to call on dear Lady Harbury. I hadn't been there

293since her poor husband's death. I never saw a woman so altered;

294she looks quite twenty years younger. And now I'll have a cup of

295tea, and one of those nice cucumber sandwiches you promised me.

296

algernon Certainly, Aunt Augusta. (Goes over to tea-table)

297

lady bracknell Won't you come and sit here, Gwendolen?

298

gwendolen Thanks, mamma, I'm quite comfortable where I am.

299

algernon (picking up empty plate in horror) Good heavens! Lane!

300Why are there no cucumber sandwiches? I ordered them spe-

301cially.

302

lane (gravely) There were no cucumbers in the market this morn-

303ing, sir. I went down twice.

304

algernon No cucumbers!

305

lane No, sir. Not even for ready money.

306

algernon That will do, Lane, thank you.

307

lane Thank you, sir.

Goes out
pg 261308

algernon I am greatly distressed, Aunt Augusta, about there being

309no cucumbers, not even for ready money.

310

lady bracknell It really makes no matter, Algernon. I had some

311crumpets with Lady Harbury, who seems to me to be living

312entirely for pleasure now.

313

algernon I hear her hair has turned quite gold from grief.

314

lady bracknell It certainly has changed its colour. From what

315cause I, of course, cannot say. (Algernon crosses and hands tea)

316Thank you. I've quite a treat for you tonight, Algernon. I am going

317to send you down with Mary Farquhar. She is such a nice woman,

318and so attentive to her husband. It's delightful to watch them.

319

algernon I am afraid, Aunt Augusta, I shall have to give up the

320pleasure of dining with you tonight after all.

321

lady bracknell (frowning) I hope not, Algernon. It would put my

322table completely out. Your uncle would have to dine upstairs.

323Fortunately he is accustomed to that.

324

algernon It is a great bore, and, I need hardly say, a terrible

325disappointment to me, but the fact is I have just had a telegram to

326say that my poor friend Bunbury is very ill again. (Exchanges

327glances with Jack) They seem to think I should be with him.

328

lady bracknell It is very strange. This Mr Bunbury seems to

329suffer from curiously bad health.

330

algernon Yes; poor Bunbury is a dreadful invalid.

331

lady bracknell Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high

332time that Mr Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to

333live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd.

334Nor do I in any way approve of the modern sympathy with

335invalids. I consider it morbid. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing

336to be encouraged in others. Health is the primary duty of life. I

337am always telling that to your poor uncle, but he never seems to

338take much notice … as far as any improvement in his ailments

339goes. I should be much obliged if you would ask Mr Bunbury,

340from me, to be kind enough not to have a relapse on Saturday, for

341I rely on you to arrange my music for me. It is my last reception,

342and one wants something that will encourage conversation, par-

343ticularly at the end of the season when everyone has practically said

344whatever they had to say, which, in most cases, was probably not

345much.

346

algernon I'll speak to Bunbury, Aunt Augusta, if he is still

347conscious, and I think I can promise you he'll be all right by

348Saturday. Of course the music is a great difficulty. You see, if one

pg 262349plays good music, people don't listen, and if one plays bad music

350people don't talk. But I'll run over the programme I've drawn out,

351if you will kindly come into the next room for a moment.

352

lady bracknell Thank you, Algernon. It is very thoughtful of

353you. (Rising, and following Algernon) I'm sure the programme will

354be delightful, after a few expurgations. French songs I cannot

355possibly allow. People always seem to think that they are improper,

356and either look shocked, which is vulgar, or laugh, which is worse.

357But German sounds a thoroughly respectable language, and

358indeed I believe is so. Gwendolen, you will accompany me.

359

gwendolen Certainly, mamma.

Lady Bracknell and Algernon go into the music-room, Gwendolen remains behind
360

jack Charming day it has been, Miss Fairfax.

361

gwendolen Pray don't talk to me about the weather, Mr Wor-

362thing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel

363quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me

364so nervous.

365

jack I do mean something else.

366

gwendolen I thought so. In fact, I am never wrong.

367

jack And I would like to be allowed to take advantage of Lady

368Bracknell's temporary absence.…

369

gwendolen I would certainly advise you to do so. Mamma has a

370way of coming back suddenly into a room that I have often had to

371speak to her about.

372

jack (nervously) Miss Fairfax, ever since I met you I have admired

373you more than any girl … I have ever met since … I met you.

374

gwendolen Yes, I am quite aware of the fact. And I often wish that

375in public, at any rate, you had been more demonstrative. For me

376you have always had an irresistible fascination. Even before I met

377you I was far from indifferent to you. (Jack looks at her in

378amazement) We live, as I hope you know, Mr Worthing, in an age

379of ideals. The fact is constantly mentioned in the more expensive

380monthly magazines, and has reached the provincial pulpits I am

381told; and my ideal has always been to love someone of the name

382of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute

383confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he

384had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.

385

jack You really love me, Gwendolen?

386

gwendolen Passionately!

387

jack Darling! You don't know how happy you've made me.

pg 263388

gwendolen My own Ernest!

389

jack But you don't really mean to say that you couldn't love me if

390my name wasn't Ernest?

391

gwendolen But your name is Ernest.

392

jack Yes, I know it is. But supposing it was something else? Do you

393mean to say you couldn't love me then?

394

gwendolen (glibly) Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation,

395and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at

396all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them.

397

jack Personally, darling, to speak quite candidly, I don't much care

398about the name of Ernest.… I don't think the name suits me at

399all.

400

gwendolen It suits you perfectly. It is a divine name. It has music

401of its own. It produces vibrations.

402

jack Well, really, Gwendolen, I must say that I think there are lots

403of other much nicer names. I think Jack, for instance, a charming

404name.

405

gwendolen Jack? … No, there is very little music in the name

406Jack, if any at all, indeed. It does not thrill. It produces absolutely

407no vibrations.… I have known several Jacks, and they all, without

408exception, were more than usually plain. Besides, Jack is a

409notorious domesticity for John! And I pity any woman who is

410married to a man called John. She would probably never be

411allowed to know the entrancing pleasure of a single moment's

412solitude. The only really safe name is Ernest.

413

jack Gwendolen, I must get christened at once—I mean we must

414get married at once. There is no time to be lost.

415

gwendolen Married, Mr Worthing?

416

jack (astounded) Well … surely. You know that I love you, and you

417led me to believe, Miss Fairfax, that you were not absolutely

418indifferent to me.

419

gwendolen I adore you. But you haven't proposed to me yet.

420Nothing has been said at all about marriage. The subject has not

421even been touched on.

422

jack Well … may I propose to you now?

423

gwendolen I think it would be an admirable opportunity. And to

424spare you any possible disappointment, Mr Worthing, I think it

425only fair to tell you quite frankly beforehand that I am fully

426determined to accept you.

427

jack Gwendolen!

428

gwendolen Yes, Mr Worthing, what have you got to say to me?

pg 264429

jack You know what I have got to say to you.

430

gwendolen Yes, but you don't say it.

431

jack Gwendolen, will you marry me? (Goes on his knees)

432

gwendolen Of course I will, darling. How long you have been

433about it! I am afraid you have had very little experience in how to

434propose.

435

jack My own one, I have never loved anyone in the world but you.

436

gwendolen Yes, but men often propose for practice. I know my

437brother Gerald does. All my girl-friends tell me so. What wonder-

438fully blue eyes you have, Ernest! They are quite, quite, blue. I

439hope you will always look at me just like that, especially when

440there are other people present.

Enter Lady Bracknell
441

lady bracknell Mr Worthing! Rise, sir, from this semi-recum-

442bent posture. It is most indecorous.

443

gwendolen Mamma! (He tries to rise; she restrains him) I must beg

444you to retire. This is no place for you. Besides, Mr Worthing has

445not quite finished yet.

446

lady bracknell Finished what, may I ask?

447

gwendolen I am engaged to Mr Worthing, mamma. (They rise together)

448

lady bracknell Pardon me, you are not engaged to anyone.

449When you do become engaged to someone, I, or your father,

450should his health permit him, will inform you of the fact. An

451engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant

452or unpleasant, as the case may be. It is hardly a matter that she

453could be allowed to arrange for herself.… And now I have a few

454questions to put to you, Mr Worthing. While I am making

455these inquiries, you, Gwendolen, will wait for me below in the

456carriage.

457

gwendolen (reproachfully) Mamma!

458

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

459Gwendolen, the carriage!

460

gwendolen Yes, mamma.

Goes out, looking back at Jack
461

lady bracknell (sitting down) You can take a seat, Mr Worthing.

(Looks in her pocket for note-book and pencil)
pg 265462

jack Thank you, Lady Bracknell, I prefer standing.

463

lady bracknell (pencil and note-book in hand) . I feel bound to tell

464you that you are not down on my list of eligible young men,

465although I have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has.

466We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready to enter your

467name, should your answers be what a really affectionate mother

468requires. Do you smoke?

469

jack Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.

470

lady bracknell I am glad to hear it. A man should always have

471an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in

472London as it is. How old are you?

473

jack Twenty-nine.

474

lady bracknell A very good age to be married at. I have always

475been of opinion that a man who desires to get married should know

476either everything or nothing. Which do you know?

477

jack (after some hesitation) I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.

478

lady bracknell I am pleased to hear it. I do not approve of

479anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a

480delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole

481theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in

482England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If

483it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and

484probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square. What is

485your income?

486

jack Between seven and eight thousand a year.

487

lady bracknell (makes a note in her book) In land, or in invest-

488ments?

489

jack In investments, chiefly.

490

lady bracknell That is satisfactory. What between the duties

491expected of one during one's lifetime, and the duties exacted from

492one after one's death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a

493pleasure. It gives one position, and prevents one from keeping it

494up. That's all that can be said about land.

495

jack I have a country house with some land, of course, attached to

496it, about fifteen hundred acres, I believe; but I don't depend on

497that for my real income. In fact, as far as I can make out, the

498poachers are the only people who make anything out of it.

499

lady bracknell A country house! How many bedrooms? Well,

500that point can be cleared up afterwards. You have a town house, I

501hope? A girl with a simple, unspoiled nature, like Gwendolen,

502could hardly be expected to reside in the country.

pg 266503

jack Well, I own a house in Belgrave Square, but it is let by the

504year to Lady Bloxham. Of course, I can get it back whenever I like,

505at six months' notice.

506

lady bracknell Lady Bloxham? I don't know her.

507

jack Oh, she goes about very little. She is a lady considerably

508advanced in years.

509

lady bracknell Ah, nowadays that is no guarantee of respect-

510ability of character. What number in Belgrave Square?

511

jack 149.

512

lady bracknell (shaking her head) The unfashionable side. I

513thought there was something. However, that could easily be

514altered.

515

jack Do you mean the fashion, or the side?

516

lady bracknell (sternly) Both, if necessary, I presume. What are

517your politics?

518

jack Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal Union-

519ist.

520

lady bracknell Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or

521come in the evening, at any rate. Now to minor matters. Are your

522parents living?

523

jack I have lost both my parents.

524

lady bracknell Both? … That seems like carelessness. Who

525was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he

526born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or

527did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?

528

jack I am afraid I really don't know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I

529said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that

530my parents seem to have lost me.… I don't actually know who I

531am by birth. I was … well, I was found.

532

lady bracknell Found!

533

jack The late Mr Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very

534charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name

535of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for

536Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex.

537It is a seaside resort.

538

lady bracknell Where did the charitable gentleman who had a

539first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?

540

jack (gravely) In a hand-bag.

541

lady bracknell A hand-bag?

542

jack (very seriously) Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag—a

pg 267543somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it—an

544ordinary hand-bag in fact.

545

lady bracknell In what locality did this Mr James, or Thomas,

546Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?

547

jack In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him in

548mistake for his own.

549

lady bracknell The cloak-room at Victoria Station?

550

jack Yes. The Brighton line.

551

lady bracknell The line is immaterial. Mr Worthing, I confess

552I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be

553born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or

554not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies

555of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French

556Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate

557movement led to? As for the particular locality in which the

558hand-bag was found, a cloak-room at a railway station might serve

559to conceal a social indiscretion—has probably, indeed, been used

560for that purpose before now—but it could hardly be regarded as

561an assured basis for a recognized position in good society.

562

jack May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I need

563hardly say I would do anything in the world to ensure Gwen-

564dolen's happiness.

565

lady bracknell I would strongly advise you, Mr Worthing, to try

566and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a

567definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex,

568before the season is quite over.

569

jack Well, I don't see how I could possibly manage to do that. I can

570produce the hand-bag at any moment. It is in my dressing-room

571at home. I really think that should satisfy you, Lady Bracknell.

572

lady bracknell Me, sir! What has it to do with me? You can

573hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing

574our only daughter—a girl brought up with the utmost care—to

575marry into a cloak-room, and form an alliance with a parcel? Good

576morning, Mr Worthing!

Lady Bracknell sweeps out in majestic indignation
577

jack Good morning! (Algernon, from the other room, strikes up the

578Wedding March. Jack looks perfectly furious, and goes to the door)

579For goodness' sake don't play that ghastly tune, Algy! How idiotic

580you are!

The music stops and Algernon enters cheerily
pg 268581

algernon Didn't it go off all right, old boy? You don't mean to say

582Gwendolen refused you? I know it is a way she has. She is always

583refusing people. I think it is most ill-natured of her.

584

jack Oh, Gwendolen is as right as a trivet. As far as she is

585concerned, we are engaged. Her mother is perfectly unbearable.

586Never met such a Gorgon. … I don't really know what a Gorgon

587is like, but I am quite sure that Lady Bracknell is one. In any case,

588she is a monster, without being a myth, which is rather unfair.…

589I beg your pardon, Algy, I suppose I shouldn't talk about your own

590aunt in that way before you.

591

algernon My dear boy, I love hearing my relations abused. It is

592the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations

593are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven't got the remotest

594knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to

595die.

596

jack Oh, that is nonsense!

597

algernon It isn't!

598

jack Well, I won't argue about the matter. You always want to argue

599about things.

600

algernon That is exactly what things were originally made for.

601

jack Upon my word, if I thought that, I'd shoot myself.… (A

602pause) You don't think there is any chance of Gwendolen becom-

603ing like her mother in about a hundred and fifty years, do you

604Algy?

605

algernon All women become like their mothers. That is their

606tragedy. No man does. That's his.

607

jack Is that clever?

608

algernon It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any observa-

609tion in civilized life should be.

610

jack I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays.

611You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing

612has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had

613a few fools left.

614

algernon We have.

615

jack I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk about?

616

algernon The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.

617

jack What fools!

618

algernon By the way, did you tell Gwendolen the truth about your

619being Ernest in town, and Jack in the country?

620

jack (in a very patronizing manner) My dear fellow, the truth isn't

621quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice sweet refined girl. What

622extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!

pg 269623

algernon The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to

624her, if she is pretty, and to someone else if she is plain.

625

jack Oh, that is nonsense.

626

algernon What about your brother? What about the profligate

627Ernest?

628

jack Oh, before the end of the week I shall have got rid of him. I'll

629say he died in Paris of apoplexy. Lots of people die of apoplexy,

630quite suddenly, don't they?

631

algernon Yes, but it's hereditary, my dear fellow. It's a sort of

632thing that runs in families. You had much better say a severe chill.

633

jack You are sure a severe chill isn't hereditary, or anything of that

634kind?

635

algernon Of course it isn't!

636

jack Very well, then. My poor brother Ernest is carried off suddenly

637in Paris, by a severe chill. That gets rid of him.

638

algernon But I thought you said that … Miss Cardew was a little

639too much interested in your poor brother Ernest? Won't she feel

640his loss a good deal?

641

jack Oh, that is all right. Cecily is not a silly romantic girl, I am

642glad to say. She has got a capital appetite, goes long walks, and

643pays no attention at all to her lessons.

644

algernon I would rather like to see Cecily.

645

jack I will take very good care you never do. She is excessively

646pretty, and she is only just eighteen.

647

algernon Have you told Gwendolen yet that you have an excess-

648ively pretty ward who is only just eighteen?

649

jack Oh! one doesn't blurt these things out to people. Cecily and

650Gwendolen are perfectly certain to be extremely great friends. I'll

651bet you anything you like that half an hour after they have met,

652they will be calling each other sister.

653

algernon Women only do that when they have called each other a

654lot of other things first. Now, my dear boy, if we want to get a

655good table at Willis's, we really must go and dress. Do you know

656it is nearly seven?

657

jack (irritably) Oh! it always is nearly seven.

658

algernon Well, I'm hungry.

659

jack I never knew you when you weren't.…

660

algernon What shall we do after dinner? Go to a theatre?

661

jack Oh no! I loathe listening.

662

algernon Well, let us go to the Club?

663

jack Oh, no! I hate talking.

664

algernon Well, we might trot round to the Empire at ten?

pg 270665

jack Oh, no! I can't bear looking at things. It is so silly.

666

algernon Well, what shall we do?

667

jack Nothing!

668

algernon It is awfully hard work doing nothing. However, I don't

669mind hard work where there is no definite object of any kind.

Enter Lane
670

lane Miss Fairfax.

Enter Gwendolen. Lane goes out
671

algernon Gwendolen, upon my word!

672

gwendolen Algy, kindly turn your back. I have something very

673particular to say to Mr Worthing.

674

algernon Really, Gwendolen, I don't think I can allow this at

675all.

676

gwendolen Algy, you always adopt a strictly immoral attitude

677towards life. You are not quite old enough to do that. (Algernon retires to the fireplace)

678

jack My own darling!

679

gwendolen Ernest, we may never be married. From the expression

680on mamma's face I fear we never shall. Few parents nowadays pay

681any regard to what their children say to them. The old-fashioned

682respect for the young is fast dying out. Whatever influence I ever

683had over mamma, I lost at the age of three. But although she may

684prevent us from becoming man and wife, and I may marry

685someone else, and marry often, nothing that she can possibly do

686can alter my eternal devotion to you.

687

jack Dear Gwendolen!

688

gwendolen The story of your romantic origin, as related to me by

689mamma, with unpleasing comments, has naturally stirred the

690deeper fibres of my nature. Your Christian name has an irresistible

691fascination. The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely

692incomprehensible to me. Your town address at the Albany I have.

693What is your address in the country?

694

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
695

gwendolen There is a good postal service, I suppose? It may be

696necessary to do something desperate. That of course will require

697serious consideration. I will communicate with you daily.

698

jack My own one!

699

gwendolen How long do you remain in town?

pg 271700

jack Till Monday.

701

gwendolen Good! Algy, you may turn round now.

702

algernon Thanks, I've turned round already.

703

gwendolen You may also ring the bell.

[Algernon rings bell]
704

jack You will let me see you to your carriage, my own darling?

705

gwendolen Certainly. [Enter Lane]

706

jack I will see Miss Fairfax out.

707

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
708

algernon A glass of sherry, Lane.

709

lane Yes, sir.

710

algernon Tomorrow, Lane, I'm going Bunburying.

711

lane Yes, sir.

712

algernon I shall probably not be back till Monday. You can put

713up my dress clothes, my smoking jacket, and all the Bunbury

714suits …

715

lane Yes, sir. (Handing sherry)

716

algernon I hope tomorrow will be a fine day, Lane.

717

lane It never is, sir.

718

algernon Lane, you're a perfect pessimist.

719

lane I do my best to give satisfaction, sir.

Enter Jack. Lane goes off
720

jack There's a sensible, intellectual girl! the only girl I ever cared

721for in my life. (Algernon is laughing immoderately) What on earth

722are you so amused at?

723

algernon Oh, I'm a little anxious about poor Bunbury, that is all.

724

jack If you don't take care, your friend Bunbury will get you into a

725serious scrape some day.

726

algernon I love scrapes. They are the only things that are never

727serious.

728

jack Oh, that's nonsense, Algy. You never talk anything but non-

729sense.

730

algernon Nobody ever does.

Jack looks indignantly at him, and leaves the room. Algernon lights a cigarette, reads his shirt-cuff, and smiles.

731act drop

Notes Settings

Notes

Editor’s Note
1    Half-Moon Street is one side of a rough rectangle, together with Piccadilly, Park Lane, and Curzon Street. The 'artistically' signifies 'in good taste', not necessarily an accompaniment to 'luxuriously'. Wilde gives no description of the furniture arrangement; there must be a sofa, at least two chairs, and a place for the sherry decanter and glasses, in addition to a table for the tea and a tiered cake-stand. Two doors are indicated, one to the adjoining music-room, one to the rest of the house. What Algernon is playing, and how, is important. In Donald Sinden's 1987 production, Ken Wynne as Lane underwent 'aesthetic torture when obliged to listen to Algernon playing the piano with more expression than accuracy' (Francis King, Sunday Telegraph). In the Talawa Theatre production (1989), Lane sang a different tune to the one Algernon was tinkling off-stage. The Asquith film script stipulates Chopin's C sharp minor Waltz, played with more spirit than accuracy.
Editor’s Note
10  s.d. Hands them on a salver: this action sets the play's tone: the heightened, almost absurd, decorum, immediately exploded by the nonchalant, even ruthless, satisfaction of appetite.
Editor’s Note
13  Shoreham: the 1899 edition has 'Shoreman', but earlier drafts read Shoreham, which must be correct.
Editor’s Note
25  misunderstanding: presumably the marriage was undertaken because of an implied promise, though 'misunderstanding' also seems to function as a euphemism like Lady Bracknell's 'social indiscretion', l. 558.
Editor’s Note
37  s.d. Enter Jack: Jack brings hat, stick, and gloves with him, and shakes hands with Algernon (Alexander's s.d.), indicating the intention, at least, of a short visit. Jack and Algernon are subtly differentiated, by age, appearance, and manner: Algernon is established as younger than Jack (l. 58). Reviewing the 1982 National Theatre production, Michael Billington (Guardian) drew attention to the contrast between the dry formality of Martin Jarvis's whey-faced Jack, with his 'wing collar, cruel specs and severe swept back hair', and Nigel Havers's 'floppy-cravatted, curly-haired, insouciant' Algernon. In the 1989 Talawa production Ben Thomas as Algernon was 'a smooth aesthete done out in a crisp moustache and cream suit' (Nicholas de Jongh, Guardian).
Editor’s Note
40  Oh, pleasure, pleasure!: French adds 'putting hat on table', the first of a series of gestures implying a more extended call.
Editor’s Note
43  slight refreshment: sandwiches, bread and butter, crumpets, muffins, even, in the country, cake (2. 686), might accompany the tea which was served around five o'clock. The Victorian upper classes ate steadily. Dinner might not be until 8.30 p.m.
Editor’s Note
52  Shropshire?: a county in the west Midlands, some distance from London.
Editor’s Note
83  s.d. interferes: more specifically, 'Algy takes up plate and puts it on his knees' (Alexander). The obsession with food reflects Wilde's own habits. Theodore Wratislaw, staying with Wilde at Goring, recorded a bizarre 'exhibition of wrath' over a plate of biscuits, and Wilde's enormous consumption of sausages.
Editor’s Note
87  s.d. from below: the plates are on a tiered stand.
Editor’s Note
114  Scotland Yard: the Metropolitan police headquarters.
Editor’s Note
119  s.d. Enter Lane … salver: Alexander expands: 'Algy and Jack both try to take it. Algy takes it and moves down R.'
Editor’s Note
139  Tunbridge Wells: a spa town in Kent, traditional residence for respectable old aunts.
Editor’s Note
163  B.4, The Albany: Wilde originally wrote E.4, but changed the address to an unoccupied apartment. E.4 was the apartment of the homosexual George Ives, at which Wilde met Jack Bloxam, the founder of a one-issue Oxford magazine, The Chameleon, which was cited during Wilde's trials. Albany, as it is usually referred to, at the other end of Piccadilly from Half-Moon Street, next to the Royal Academy, had sets of 'bachelor chambers'. Built in 1802–3, it had slightly lost its exclusive reputation by the end of the century.
Editor’s Note
184  s.d. Hands cigarette case: Alexander's notes indicate that Algernon helps himself to a cigarette before handing it over; Jack also takes one. They light them at significant moments—Algernon after his crucial question at l. 199, Jack as he completes his reply at l. 208.
Editor’s Note
185  s.d. Sits on sofa: after Jack's pursuit of Algernon, Wilde introduces a stiller stage position for Jack's explanation.
Editor’s Note
223  Bunbury: Wilde had a friend from Trinity College, Dublin, Henry S. Bunbury. The assonance with Bumbury makes the name vaguely disconcerting, an effect which Wilde promotes by repetition.
Editor’s Note
226  Willis's: this fashionable restaurant in King Street, near the St James's Theatre, famous for its cuisine, scarlet leather seats and yellow candle shades, was patronized by Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas. Some of the audience would dine there after the performance, as Wilde's friend Ada Leverson did on the first night of Earnest.
Editor’s Note
237  sent down: guests assembled before dinner in the drawing-room, upstairs. A man would be partnered with a woman, whom he would escort downstairs to the dining-room and then sit beside.
Editor’s Note
264  French Drama: like the French novel, French drama was thought of by the English as potentially corrupting, with frequent instances of adultery and infidelity, as in the plays of Dumas fils. In reality, English dramatists (including Wilde) borrowed extensively from French models, though tending to dilute the more explicit and sensational facts.
Editor’s Note
273  creditors: in earlier versions, Algernon's creditors hounded him through the play.
Editor’s Note
      Wagnerian: when Wilde's first child was born, he commented that its style was essentially Wagnerian.
Editor’s Note
281  Good afternoon, dear Algernon: various editions (e.g. French) indicate that Lady Bracknell shakes hands with Algernon, while Gwendolen kisses her hand to Jack behind her mother's back.
Editor’s Note
292  Lady Harbury: at this point, Lane enters with a teapot (Alexander)—otherwise, the tea would be stewed—and pours a cup for Lady Bracknell. Algernon adds milk before handing it to her at 1. 315. There are many variations in the s.d.s of early versions.
Editor’s Note
298  where I am: Gwendolen is swiftly established as having a mind of her own (as at 1. 290). As the Asquith script comments, Gwendolen, 'although young and pretty, has something of her mother's air and carriage'.
Editor’s Note
303  I went down twice: Lane is the perfect complement to Algernon, lying with elegant aplomb. He must take the empty plate from Algernon at this point.
Editor’s Note
315  s.d. hands tea: Alexander adds a s.d. for Jack and Gwendolen—Gwendolen 'pours out two cups, they both drink and talk'.
Editor’s Note
322  completely out: Algernon's absence would create uneven numbers. An equal number of ladies and gentlemen might be invited, but it was customary to invite two additional gentlemen 'in order that the married ladies should not be obliged to go in to dinner with each other's husbands only' (Manners and Rules of Good Society (1924), 103).
Editor’s Note
335  Illness of any kind … : Lady Bracknell echoes the short shrift given to invalids in Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1872).
Editor’s Note
341  my last reception: Lady Bracknell has arranged a number of receptions during the current London season.
Editor’s Note
353  French songs: morally suspect, like French novels and plays.
Editor’s Note
357  German sounds a thoroughly respectable language: the respectability of German was guaranteed by the blood ties and frequent contacts between the English and German royal families.
Editor’s Note
361  Pray don't talk to me about the weather: 'Gwendolen comes down right, throws wrap over back of sofa then sits down-stage' (Alexander). Even her speech carries a hint of Lady Bracknell.
Editor’s Note
385  Gwendolen?: Jack's use of 'Gwendolen' for the first time is a declaration of love in itself. (Compare Lord Goring and Miss Mabel in An Ideal Husband.) Alexander adds more details—at 'Passionately!', Gwendolen puts her arms round Jack's neck. At l. 386, they embrace. In the National Theatre production of 1982, Zoe Wanamaker pronounced 'Passionately' 'in a voice of throaty sexiness' (Billington, Guardian).
Editor’s Note
415  Married, Mr Worthing?: Gwendolen reacts crisply to Jack's presumption about getting married by returning to the formality of 'Mr Worthing', which he echoes at l. 417. French adds s.d., 'They both rise'.
Editor’s Note
438  What wonderfully blue eyes: Gwendolen, a modern woman, assumes the initiative, even taking over the traditionally male expressions. Alexander's stage directions extend the reversal with physical gestures: Lady Bracknell repeats 'Mr Worthing!' at l. 441, but Gwendolen restrains Jack—'pushes him down with her hands on his shoulders'—and at l. 447—'I am engaged to Mr Worthing, mamma'—'lifts Jack up by placing her hand underneath his elbows'.
Editor’s Note
451  pleasant: after 'pleasant', Alexander points the alternative with a s.d.: 'stares at Jack, then goes L. a little, turns'.
Editor’s Note
461  s.d. note-book and pencil: Lady Bracknell makes notes of Jack's answers to her questions (not just as directed at l. 487). In Nicholas Hytner's 1993 Aldwych production, Maggie Smith developed the note-taking into a superb, if extended, comic routine. The MS draft indicates that Jack pulls out his cigarette case, replacing it at a glare from Lady Bracknell.
Editor’s Note
492  after one's death: death duties were a tax on inherited capital, introduced by the Liberal Government in the 1894 Budget to the dismay of the propertied class.
Editor’s Note
503  Belgrave Square: just south of Hyde Park Corner.
Editor’s Note
506  Lady Bloxham?: French adds '(severely)'.
Editor’s Note
519  Liberal Unionist: Lady Bracknell would not have entertained a Liberal. Liberal Unionists voted against Gladstone's proposals for Home Rule for Ireland. Led by Joseph Chamberlain, they helped form the Conservative Government which came to power in 1895.
Editor’s Note
524  Both? … That seems like carelessness: in earlier texts, the line reads: 'Both? To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune—to lose both seems like carelessness.' Robert Ross's edition of 1908–9, which makes some slight changes to the 1899 text, reads: 'To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.' The longer versions have subsequent theatrical tradition to support them.
Editor’s Note
541  A hand-bag?: Edith Evans's majestic interpretation of Lady Bracknell—her 'great essay in dragonhood'—captured on film, television, and radio, must have seemed a formidable obstacle to succeeding actresses. Her rendering of this line, equally unforgettable, has entered folklore, giving rise to innumerable ghastly imitations. She herself grew to dislike the role: 'I've played her everywhere except on ice and under water' (Bryan Forbes, Ned's Girl (1977), 195). James Agate (Sunday Times, 5 Feb. 1939) wrote: 'As long as Miss Evans is on the stage one has no doubt about anything except the relative grandeur of Lady Bracknell's upholstery, and those two hats in one of which swans nest while in the other all the fowls of Rostand's "Chantecleer" come to roost.' Irene Handl (Greenwich Theatre, 1975) avoided comparisons by making Lady Bracknell of German extraction. The first Lady Bracknell, Rose Leclercq, established the strong physical presence of the character: 'The handkerchief she used, the long bottle of eau-de-Cologne, the way she sat—such details marked her as the blue-blooded lady she portrayed' (Irene Vanbrugh, To Tell My Story (1948)—Vanbrugh was the original Gwendolen). Judi Dench's brilliant Lady Bracknell at the National Theatre, 1982, presented a much younger woman, in her forties. Michael Billington saw her as 'a woman prey to quicksilver feelings. Thus she starts the famous interview with Mr Worthing with a voracious, note-taking delight in his financial prospects: even the news that he inhabits the unfashionable side of Belgrave Square elicits nothing more than a mercurial giggle.… But the shattering news of his origins is greeted not with a sub-Evans swoop but with a very slow, incredulous removal of her glasses and a sotto voce rendering of "A handbag?" in thunderous disbelief. Ostentatiously tearing up her notes, she conducts the rest of the interrogation with the hurried politeness of someone anxious to catch a train' (Billington, Guardian).
Editor’s Note
547  cloak-room: the left luggage office.
Editor’s Note
550  The Brighton line: some of these details may have been suggested to Wilde through his friendship with Mr Philip Cardew, as well as by his own excursions. Philip's brother Christopher, who died in Oct. 1893, was a director of the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway, which shared the terminus of Victoria station with the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway.
Editor’s Note
551  The line is immaterial: French notes that Lady Bracknell rises.
Editor’s Note
555  reminds: the 1899 text has 'remind'.
Editor’s Note
559  social indiscretion: Lady Bracknell implies, of course, that the baby was illegitimate, the product of a liaison between a 'gentleman' and someone of lower rank (a situation Wilde had already explored in A Woman of No Importance). Lost babies are a stock motif of comedy and melodrama, but this is also a link with the reality of Victorian society.
Editor’s Note
568  the season: the London season was, for 'society', the traditional period for engagements.
Editor’s Note
576  Good morning, Mr Worthing!: so in 1899 edition, but logically 'Good afternoon'.
Editor’s Note
577  s.d. Wedding March: Mendelssohn's Wedding March for A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Editor’s Note
586  Gorgon: Greek monster, with serpents in place of hair.
Editor’s Note
591  My dear boy: stage tradition often has Algernon settling himself on a sofa with his feet up for this speech.
Editor’s Note
623  make love: as usual at this period, verbally only.
Editor’s Note
646  only just eighteen: girls from the upper classes 'came out' into society at 18, after which they were considered marriageable.
Editor’s Note
655  go and dress: people put on evening dress, even when dining at a smart restaurant, or when attending a play or opera in a box or the 'dress circle'.
Editor’s Note
662  the Club?: this would be one of the exclusively male clubs such as White's or Boodle's, near the St James's Theatre.
Editor’s Note
664  the Empire: famous music-hall in Leicester Square, whose promenade had been a notorious rendezvous for prostitutes. Mrs Ormiston Chant of the Britishwoman's Temperance Association had objected to the renewal of the Empire's licence in the autumn of 1894. If Algernon and Jack arrived at ten, they would have seen the 'Grand Ballet' featuring the première danseuse Helene Cornalba in 'Round the Town'.
Editor’s Note
672  turn your back: French has a s.d. for Gwendolen, 'turning him round'.
Editor’s Note
675  I don't think I can allow this at all: Algernon, who breaks all the rules when it suits him, is suggesting that he should not leave Gwendolen 'alone' with Jack, unchaperoned, even by just turning his back.
Editor’s Note
694  The Manor House, Woolton, Hertfordshire: a contemporary photograph in the Sketch, 20 Feb. 1895, shows Irene Vanbrugh as Gwendolen noting the address in her diary.
Editor’s Note
705  s.d. Enter Lane: Alexander has a s.d.: 'As Lane enters Jack and Gwendolen are kissing R.U. As Jack looks up he turns his back and stands below door R.U.'
Editor’s Note
713  put up: pack.
Editor’s Note
smoking jacket: indoor jacket, often of velvet.
Editor’s Note
730  s.d. reads his shirt-cuff: Algernon reads Jack's address from his shirt cuff. In his copy of the first edition, Max Beerbohm adds a last comment for Algernon: 'And besides, I love nonsense!' This agrees with the four-act version. The Alexander text reads: 'Nobody ever does. Besides I love nonsense!', and continues with the address read aloud from the shirt cuff, together with the s.d. 'Drinking as curtain falls'. Beerbohm comments: 'I have a good verbal and visual memory, and I can still hear Allen Aynesworth saying these words, and see him raising his glass of sherry as he said them and as the curtain fell. I don't see why Oscar cut them from the printed version; for they surely are just right.'
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