There are three love-affairs in the Importance of Being Earnest. Jack Worthing is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax ; Algernon is in love with Cecily Cardew ; and Dr. Chasuble is drawn towards Miss Prism who is the governess in Jack’s household. There is no serious obstacle in the way of the fulfilment of any of the love-affairs, and the desire of each of the characters is fulfilled by the time the play ends.
Jack’s Intention to Propose Marriage to Gwendolen
We learn about Jack’s love for Gwendolen in the very opening Act. Jack is on a visit to Algernon whom he informs that be has come to town expressly to propose marriage to Gwendolen. Algernon’s comment on Jack’s intention is that there is nothing romantic in proposing marriage though it is very romantic to be in love. The excitement comes to an end with the acceptance of a proposal of marriage, says Algernon. He also says that, if ever he gets married, he will try to forget the fact, to which Jack replies that the Divorce Court was specially invented for people whose memories are short. Algernon remarks that divorces are made in heaven.
Gwendolen’s Prompt Acceptance (if Jack’s Proposal of Marriage
Lady Bracknell comes to Algernon’s flat for tea in the company of her daughter Gwendolen. As already arranged between Algernon and Jack, Algernon takes Lady Bracknell away into another room in order to enable Jack to have a few moments alone with Gwendolen and to make his proposal of marriage. Jack expresses his love for Gwendolen in a halting, hesitant manner, but Gwendolen gives him a favourable reply promptly and in unambiguous terms. She tells him that it has been her ideal to love someone of the name of Ernest because there” is something in that name which inspires absolute confidence. (She knows Jack under his assumed name of Ernest). She tells Jack that he has always had an irresistible fascination for her. When Jack asks her if she would not have loved him in case his name had been different, she says that this question involves a metaphysical speculation and has no reference to the actual facts of real life. When Jack says that the name Ernest does not suit him at all, Gwendolen replies that it suits him perfectly, that it is a divine name with a music of its own, and that it produces vibrations. Jack asks her what she thinks of the name Jack, and Gwendolen says that this name has no music in it, that it does not thrill her,” and that it produces absolutely no vibration. The name Jack, she says, is a “notorious domesticity” for John, and a woman married to a man having this name would never have the pleasure” of a single moment’s solitude. The only real safe name is Ernest, says Gwendolen. Jack then decides to be christened in order to acquire the name of Ernest. When Jack says that they must get married at once, Gwendolen replies that he has mentioned marriage without having formally proposed to her whereupon Jack makes a formal proposal which Gwendolen immediately accepts, saying that his eyes are wonderfully blue and expressing the hope that he will always look at her in the same loving manner in which he is looking at her now.
Lady Bracknell’s Objection to Jack’s Proposal of Marriage
Then comes the obstacle in the way of the marriage of Jack and Gwendolen. Lady Bracknell cross-examines Jack in order to determine his suitability as her would-be son-in-law. In reply to her questions, he tells her that he does not smoke, that his age is twentynine, that he knows nothing, that his income is between, seven and eight thousand pounds a year, that he has a country house with some land attached to it, and so on. Lady Bracknell feels quite satisfied with all these particulars but when Jack tells her, in reply to another question, that he does not know his parentage and that he was found as an infant by Mr. Thomas Cardew, a man of a very charitable and benevolent nature, who brought him up and gave him the name of Worthing, Lady Bracknell feels outraged and tells him that she cannot allow her daughter to marry a man who was found as an infant in a hand-bag lying in a railway cloak-room. She cannot allow her only daughter “to marry into a cloak room and form an alliance with a parcel” says Lady Bracknell. The interrogation by Lady Bracknell has been quite an ordeal for Jack who tells Algernon that Lady Bracknell is perfectly unbearable and that she is really a Gorgon, “a monster without being a myth”.
The Love-Affair Between Algernon and Cecily
The love-affair between Algernon and Cecily begins in Act II. Algernon’s curiosity about Cecily having been aroused by the inscription on Jack’s cigarette-case, Algernon visits Jack’s country residence in the disguise of Jack’s younger brother, Ernest (who is an imaginary person invented by. Jack as an excuse for paying his frequent visits to London). Algernon falls in love with Cecily at first sight and, when he praises her beauty, she tells him that she had fallen in love with him without even having met or seen him. He tells her that he thinks her to be the visible personification of absolute perfection, and that he loves her wildly, passionately, devotedly, and hopelessly. He then asks her if she will marry him, and she replies that she will certainly marry him because she has been engaged to him for the last three months. Algernon is surprised to hear this. But Cecily explains that she fell in love with him at the very time when her Uncle Jack first told her that he had a younger brother by the name of Ernest who was very wicked and bad. She had even bought herself an engagement ring on his behalf and she had also obtained a bangle with the true lover’s knot as a gift from him. Not only that, she had been writing letters to him regularly and had herself been replying to them on his behalf. Once she had broken off the engagement because he bad offended her, but she had forgiven him within the same week, and the engagement had been restored. She then praises his hair for curling naturally, and she admires his name, saying that it had always been a girlish dream of hers to love some one having, the name of Ernest because there was something in that name which inspired absolute confidence. Algernon asks her whether she could not have loved him if his name had been different, and Cecily replies that if he had a different name, such as Algernon, she might have admired his character but she could not have given him her undivided attention. On learning that the name Ernest has a great deal to do with Cecily’s love for him, Algernon too decides to undergo a christening ceremony in order to acquire the name of Ernest, just as lack had done.: It is amusing to find that both Jack and Algernon now make an appointment with Dr. Chasuble for christening ceremonies in order to get the name of Ernest which: has a great charm for both Gwendolen and Cecily. It is part of the absurdity of this play that two well-educated and aristocratic girls are fascinated by the name Ernest and that they fall in love with two men who are supposed to have this name.
A Misunderstanding Between the Two Girls
A misunderstanding arises when Gwendolen comes on a visit to Jack’s country residence. Both Gwendolen and Cecily think that the same man, by the name of Ernest, has proposed marriage to them. They exchange some sarcastic remarks because of this misunderstanding. The misunderstanding is, however, cleared up and the two women become allies on discovering that neither of their lovers has the name of Ernest. Jack admits that he has no brother at all, while Algernon also admits that he is not Ernest but Algernon. These confessions by the two men annoy the girls and they behave as if they were feeling greatly offended with their lovers for having pretended to have a name which they actually did not have. However, they admire their lovers” spirit of self-sacrifice in so far as they are ready to undergo the ceremony of being christened once again at this age in order to - acquire the name of Ernest. In view of this readiness on the part of the two men to undergo the christening ceremony, the girls no longer attach any importance to the name. However, a new hitch arises, and it is in Act III that this hitch is dealt with learning that her nephew Algernon is interested in marrying Cecily, she inquires about various particulars of the girl and feels quite satisfied as to her suitability as her nephew’s wife when she is told that Cecily has a large amount of money in her name. Lady Bracknell gives her approval to the proposed marriage of Algernon and Cecily, but she still does not approve of her daughter Gwendolen marrying Jack, her objection being that his parentage is unknown and that he is therefore not acceptable to her as a son-in-law.
Jack, who is Cecily’s legal guardian, now refuses to allow Cecily to get married to Algernon. When Lady Bracknell asks him why he does not allow this marriage, he says that the solution to the problem lies in Lady Bracknell’s own hands. He will allow his ward Cecily to marry Algernon, if Lady Bracknell allows her daughter Gwendolen to marry him (Jack).
Lady Bracknell still cannot allow her daughter to marry a man whose parentage is unknown. But this difficulty is removed when, as a result of Lady Bracknell’s interrogation of Miss Prism, it is found that Jack is the son of Lady Bracknell’s own late sister and the elder brother of Algernon. In view of this discovery, Lady Bracknell can have no objection to the marriage of her daughter Gwendolen to Jack.
The Love-Affair Between Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble
The third love-affair which also achieves its fulfilment is the one between Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble. We meet both these persons in Act II and it becomes clear as soon as they are introduced to us that they are emotionally interested in each other. Cecily has perceived the attraction between the Rector and her governess, and that is why she suggests that Miss Prism should go for a walk with Dr. Chasuble. Miss Prism suggests to Dr. Chasuble that, in view of his loneliness, he should get married. She can understand a “misanthrope”, but not a “womanthrope”, she says. Dr. Chasuble replies that the Primitive Church was distinctly opposed to matrimony, but Miss Prism says that, by persistently remaining unmarried, a man converts himself into a permanent public temptation. The flirtation between Dr. Chasuble and Miss Prism leads to a happy result. When Gwendolen and Cecily accept their respective lovers whole-heartedly, Dr. Chasuble embraces Miss Prism and says enthusiastically : “At last” ! Thus the play ends with the fulfilment of the three love-affairs.