Thursday, December 2, 2010

“The Importance of Being Earnest”: The Story in Brief


Jack Worthing’s Frequent Visits to London

John (or Jack) Worthing is a resident at the Manor House at Woolton, but he is a frequent visitor to London. He is the guardian of a pretty girl by the name of Miss Cecily Cardew, who is eighteen years of age and who lives at the same Manor House under the charge of a governess, Miss Prism. In order to account for his frequent visits to London, Jack has told Cecily and Miss Prism that he has a younger brother called Ernest who lives a loose and irresponsible life in that city, and who often gets into trouble thus making it necessary for him each time to go to London and help Ernest out of his difficulties. Actually, however, Jack has no brother (though he discovers one towards the close of the play), and it is mainly for the sake of pleasure that he visits London often.

Jack has fallen in love with an aristocratic girl called Gwendolen, the daughter of Lord and Lady Bracknell, and he is now thinking of proposing marriage to her. In London he has given his name as Ernest to all his friends and acquaintances including Gwendolen and a young man called Algernon Moncrieff who is a nephew of Lord and Lady Bracknell and therefore a cousin of Gwendolen. As for Jack’s parentage, he was found as a baby in a leather band-bag lying in the cloak-room of Victoria railway station by a wealthy man, Mr. Thomas Cardew, who adopted him and brought him up. Jack’s parentage is thus unknown to us at this point in the play. The same Mr. Thomas Cardew made him, by his will, the guardian of his grand-daughter, Miss Cecily Cardew. Cecily addresses him as “Uncle Jack”.

The Invention of an Invalid Friend by the Name of Banbury

Algernon Moncrieff is a resident of London where he occupies a well-furnished flat in Half-Moon Street. (As has been pointed out above, he is the nephew of Lord and Lady Bracknell, being the son of Lady Bracknell’s late sister). In talking to Lady Bracknell, he generally addresses her as “Aunt Augusta”. Algernon is quite friendly with Jack, and Jack always calls on Algernon whenever he visits London. Like Jack, Algernon has also invented a man who does not exist. Algernon calls this man by the name of Bunbury, and he describes this man to his friends and relatives as an invalid living in the countryside. Whenever Algernon wishes to go into the countryside, or whenever he wishes to escape from his aunt Lady Bracknell’s boring dinner-parties, he offers the excuse that he is going to see his friend Bunbury whose condition, he says, is causing anxiety.

Algernon’s Inquisitiveness About Cecily

The play opens with a brief dialogue between Algernon and his servant whose name is Lane. Then Jack Worthing is announced. Of course, as noted above, Jack’s name in London is supposed to be Ernest Worthing. Whenever Algernon and Jack meet, there are verbal clashes between them and an exchange of witty remarks and retorts. Jack (or Ernest) tells Algernon that be has decided to propose marriage to Gwendolen. Algernon asks him who Cecily is. Algernon has come to know of the existence of Cecily from a cigarette-case which Jack had left at Algernon’s flat on the occasion of his previous visit and which bears the following inscription : “From little Cecily with her fondest love, to her dear Uncle Jack. Jack tries to evade giving an answer to Algernon’s question but is compelled subsequently to tell him who Cecily is. Jack also tells Algernon about his invention of a younger brother, and has further to admit that Ernest is a name which he uses for himself in London only. Algernon on his part tells Jack about his invention of a friend called Bunbury, and he also tells Jack the reason for this invention.

Gwendolen’s Immediate Acceptance of Jack’s Proposal of Marriage

Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen now arrive at Algernon’s flat for tea. With Algernon’s help, Jack gets an opportunity to be alone with Gwendolen. He then tells her that be loves her and would like to marry her. Gwendolen goes into raptures over his proposal and says that his name Ernest (by which name she knows him, not being aware of his name Jack) has always fascinated her. With an amazing promptness she agrees to marry him. However, as soon as Lady Bracknell learns about the proposal and its acceptance, she carries out a cross-examination of Jack. On being told that lack was found as an infant in a hand-bag, and that his parentage is unknown, she rejects him completely as a husband for Gwendolen. Gwendolen, however, manages to obtain Jack’s country address. Algernon has overheard this address and taken it down because his curiosity about Cecily has been excited and he would like to visit lack’s country house in order to meet that girl. Algernon foresees possibilities of a romance with Cecily.


Algernon’s Visit to Jack’s Country House

We are now taken to lack’s country house where we meet Cecily, a pretty young girl, and her governess Miss Prism. The butler announces the arrival of Mr. Ernest Worthing. Cecily naturally thinks that her Uncle Jack Worthing’s younger brother Ernest Worthing is the visitor. Actually it is Algernon who has come and who is playing the role of Jack’s imaginary younger brother. Cecily receives Algernon (whom she believes to be Ernest) and tells him that her Uncle Jack is not expected till’ Monday afternoon. Algernon tells her that he has not been leading such a wicked life as she thinks, though he has been bad in his own limited way. He also compliments her on her beauty, saying that she is the prettiest girl he has ever seen.

Jack’s Announcement of the Depth of His Brother Sawed

While Cecily and Algernon (in the disguise of Jack’s broker, Ernest) are engaged in conversation, Jack unexpectedly a ace, and meets Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble (the Rector) in the Jack is in mourning clothes, and he tells Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble that his younger brother Ernest is dead. Jack does so, because he has decided to got rid of the imaginary Ernest. There is no longer any need for him to make excuses about his visit to London, because Gwendolen has already accepted his proposal of marriage even though Gwendolen’s mother has not approved of Gwendolen’s decision. Jack also makes an appointment with Dr. Chasuble for a christening. He would now like to acquire the name Ernest, because that is the name which had fascinated Gwendolen who had clearly said that she could never love a man with any other name.

Jack’s Annoyance on Seeing Algernon at His House

Cecily comes out of the house, and expresses her pleasure on seeing Uncle Jack who has come back sooner than expected. She tells him that his brother Ernest is inside. This comes as a great surprise to Jack, as also to Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble who have just been told about the death of Ernest. Cecily goes back into the house and then returns with Algernon. Jack feels enraged to see the obvious imposture, but Algernon talks as if he were really Jack’s younger brother. Algernon expresses regret at his past misdeeds. Cecily pleads on his behalf and poor Jack has no alternative but to shake hands with the impostor. As soon as Jack and Algernon are alone, Jack expresses his severe annoyance with Algernon and asks him to quit his house immediately. But Algernon talks with his usual wit and manages to get rid of Jack in order to be alone with Cecily for a few minutes.

Algernon’s Proposal of Marriage to Cecily

Algernon then tells Cecily that he is in love with her and would like to marry her. Cecily accepts his proposal with an amazing promptness. She tells him that she had fallen in love with him several months before, without even having seen or met him. She had fallen in love with his very name Ernest, and in her imagination she had even got engaged to him. Like Gwendolen she also firmly says that she could never love a man with any other name. Now Algernon also feels the need to change his name to Ernest and, accordingly, goes to Dr. Chasuble to make an appointment with him for a christening ceremony.

Gwendolen’s Arrival at Jack’s Country House

When both Jack and Algernon are away for a little while, Miss Fairfax (that is, Gwendolen) arrives from London. Gwendolen has run away from home in order to meet her lover and fiance, Jack, who is, of course, known to her by the name of Ernest, Cecily receives Gwendolen, and a conversation between the two girls takes place. Now both Cecily and Gwendolen are under the impression that they are engaged to Ernest and so, in the course of their talk, they get the feeling that the same man has proposed to both of them. A serious quarrel between them is prevented by the return of the two men. Algernon kisses Cecily, and Jack kisses Gwendolen. But now the truth about the name is exposed and also the fact that Jack’s brother Ernest was, a mere invention. The two girls think that they have been tricked by their lovers. They express their annoyance with the men and retire into the house, while Jack and Algernon start a wordy duel, each of them expressing his resolve to be christened Ernest for the satisfaction of his beloved.


The Annoyance of the Two Girls, and Their Reconciliation With Their Lovers

A little later, the two gentlemen rejoin their beloveds and explain their conduct. Algernon tells Cecily that he had pretended to be her guardian’s brother because he wanted to have an opportunity of meeting her. Jack tells Gwendolen that he had been pretending to have a brother in order to get an opportunity of going to London to meet her as often as he could. These explanations fully satisfy the two girls. But the question of name still remains to be settled. The two men reveal that they are going to be christened the same afternoon in order to acquire the name Ernest. This contemplated act of self-sacrifice by the two men removes the only barrier that remained, and the two girls fall into the arms of their respective lovers.

Lady Bracknell’s Arrival in Search of Gwendolen

Lady Bracknell now appears on the scene. She has come in search of her daughter who had fled from home. After learning about the two engagements, Lady Bracknell disapproves of her daughter’s engagement to Jack, but approves of Algernon’s engagement to Cecily. Jack says that he will not give his consent to the marriage of his ward Cecily with Algernon unless Lady Bracknell first gives her consent to his own marriage with Gwendolen. Dr. Chasuble comes to announce that all is ready for the christenings but Jack says that the idea of the christenings has been given up. When Dr. Chasuble mentions the name of Miss Prism, Lady Bracknell expresses a desire to see that woman.

A Happy Ending

Miss Prism is summoned and is immediately recognized by Lady Bracknell as the nurse or governess who twentyeight years ago had left the Bracknell household with a baby and had never returned. Miss Prism reveals that she had put the baby into a leather hand-bag by mistake and had deposited the hand-bag in the cloak-room of the Victoria railway station. Jack rushes into his room upstairs and brings a leather hand-bag which Miss Prism recognizes as hers and as the same into which she had put the baby. Jack says that he was the baby in the hand-bag. This means that Jack is the son of Lady Bracknell’s late sister and therefore the elder brother of Algernon. It is also found from certain records that the original Christian name of Jack was Ernest. Thus the two fictions invented by Jack become realities––namely, that he does have a younger brother and that his name is Ernest, the name which had fascinated Gwendolen. Lady Bracknell can now have no objection to her daughter Gwendolen being married to Ernest (or Jack) whose respectability has been established and who has turned out to be a nephew of Lady Bracknell. Nor can Jack (or Ernest) have any objection to his ward Cecily being married to his younger brother, Algernon. A third match between Dr. Chasuble and Miss Prism has also by now taken a concrete shape, and the play ends on a happy note with the three pairs of lovers attaining their cherished desire for union.
Jack’s Parentage Unknown

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