The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780380012770
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/01/1976
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 55,955
Product dimensions: 4.19(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Born in Ireland in 1856, Oscar Wilde was a noted essayist, playwright, fairy tale writer and poet, as well as an early leader of the Aesthetic Movement. His plays include: An Ideal Husband, Salome, A Woman of No Importance, and Lady Windermere's Fan. Among his best known stories are The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Canterville Ghost.

Date of Birth:

October 16, 1854

Date of Death:

November 30, 1900

Place of Birth:

Dublin, Ireland

Place of Death:

Paris, France


The Royal School in Enniskillen, Dublin, 1864; Trinity College, Dublin, 1871; Magdalen College, Oxford, England, 1874

Read an Excerpt


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.]

ALGERNON: Did you hear what I was playing, Lane?

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

ALGERNON: I'm sorry for that, for your sake. I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life.

LANE: Yes, sir.

ALGERNON: And, speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?

LANE: Yes, sir.[Hands them on a salver.]

ALGERNON: [Inspects them, takes two, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh! . . . by the way, Lane, I see from your book that on Thursday night, when Lord Shoreman and Mr. Worthing were dining with me, eight bottles of champagne are entered as having been consumed.

LANE: Yes, sir; eight bottles and a pint.

ALGERNON: Why is it that at a bachelor's establishment the servants invariably drink the champagne? I ask merely for information.

LANE: I attribute it to the superior quality of the wine, sir. I have often observed that in married households the champagne is rarely of a first-rate brand.

ALGERNON: Good Heavens! Is marriage so demoralising as that!

LANE: I believe it is a very pleasant state, sir. I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.

ALGERNON: [Languidly.] I don't know that I am much interested in your family life, Lane.

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

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

LANE: Thank you, sir. [Lane goes out.]

ALGERNON: Lane's views on marriage seem somewhat lax. Really, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility. [Enter Lane.]

LANE: Mr. Ernest Worthing. [Enter Jack.] [Lane goes out.]

ALGERNON: How are you, my dear Ernest? What brings you up to town?

JACK: Oh, pleasure, pleasure! What else should bring one anywhere? Eating as usual, I see, Algy!

ALGERNON: [Stiffly.] I believe it is customary in good society to take some slight refreshment at five o'clock. Where have you been since last Thursday?

JACK: [Sitting down on the sofa.] In the country.

ALGERNON: What on earth do you do there?

JACK: [Pulling off his gloves.] When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people. It is excessively boring.

ALGERNON: And who are the people you amuse?

JACK: [Airily.] Oh, neighbours, neighbours.

ALGERNON: Got nice neighbours in your part of Shropshire?

JACK: Perfectly horrid! Never speak to one of them.

ALGERNON: How immensely you must amuse them! [Goes over and takes sandwich.] By the way, Shropshire is your county, is it not?

JACK: Eh? Shropshire? Yes, of course. Hallo! Why all these cups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming to tea?

ALGERNON: Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.

JACK: How perfectly delightful!

ALGERNON: Yes, that is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta won't quite approve of your being here.

JACK: May I ask why?

ALGERNON: My dear fellow, the way you flirt with Gwendolen is perfectly disgraceful. It is almost as bad as the way Gwendolen flirts with you.

JACK: I am in love with Gwendolen. I have come up to town expressly to propose to her.

ALGERNON: I thought you had come up for pleasure? . . . I call that business.

JACK: How utterly unromantic you are!

ALGERNON: I really don't see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe. Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I'll certainly try to forget the fact.

JACK: I have no doubt about that, dear Algy. The Divorce Court was specially invented for people whose memories are so curiously constituted.

ALGERNON: Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject. Divorces are made in Heaven - [Jack puts out his hand to take a sandwich. Algernon at once interferes.] Please don't touch the cucumber sandwiches. They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta. [Takes one and eats it.]

JACK: Well, you have been eating them all the time.

ALGERNON: That is quite a different matter. She is my aunt. [Takes plate from below.] Have some bread and butter. The bread and butter is for Gwendolen. Gwendolen is devoted to bread and butter.

JACK: [Advancing to table and helping himself.] And very good bread and butter it is too.

ALGERNON: Well, my dear fellow, you need not eat as if you were going to eat it all. You behave as if you were married to her already. You are not married to her already, and I don't think you ever will be.

JACK: Why on earth do you say that?

ALGERNON: Well, in the first place girls never marry the men they flirt with. Girls don't think it right.

JACK: Oh, that is nonsense!

ALGERNON: It isn't. It is a great truth. It accounts for the extraordinary number of bachelors that one sees all over the place. In the second place, I don't give my consent.

Table of Contents

The Importance of Being Earnest27
From Wilde's Letters110
Excerpts from Four-Act Version113
George Bernard Shaw: "An Old New Play"132
Max Beerbohm: "The Importance of Being Earnest"136
St. John Hankin: "The Collected Plays of Oscar Wilde"140
James Agate: "Oscar Wilde and the Theatre"152

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The Importance of Being Earnest 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 51 reviews.
IanThomas More than 1 year ago
I am very proud to say I read this play and to an extent, enjoyed it. I first heard of Oscar Wilde from another book and when I found this book by him as a possible choice for some required reading, I was ecstatic. Besides the name, Oscar Wilde was unknown to me. I had no knowledge of prior work, history, or even that he wrote plays, not novels. I was truly going out on a lim with this book. I was and was not disappointed in this book. Eighteenth century literature is very strange to me, especially plays. The way of talking and the humor, I find hard to connect to. The characters are far to formal to the extent of being unrealistic. I do not know if that is just my culture and up bring of unbelievable informality or an overly cocky author trying to establish he position as a highly educated person. All conversation in this play seamed stiff and planned out. This for me was especially apparent when it should have been informal conversation if not very informal. Conversations between the to main characters (Algernon and Jack who are friends) just did not flow for me. Their characters did not flourish. Throughout this play I found that one specific characteristic was present in a characters and all to often became the hole character. I felt that they were all one dimensional, "paper" characters. That may have been what Wilde was after in this "Trivial Comedy for Serious People" but it was lost on me. Although I did not enjoy the characters, I did find the story line and plot very interesting and original. I love how this play and the characters put so much emphasis on a name, a single word. I find this fascinating and that main reason I enjoyed this play. I think Oscar Wilde, with this play, captured the essence of the human love for words, spoken and written. Not only do we feel great emotion with words, we put so much importance in them. There are connotations, alternate meaning and, "forbidden" words. These have so much meaning to us. Meaning that we have put into them. The two main female characters do this with a name, Earnest. They have their minds made up that they will only marry a man with the name of Earnest. This is the plot of the story and for how simple it is, I find it very elegant and lovely. With my likes and dislikes about this play, I must come to the parts I hate, about this book. Ending are meant to wrap it up. They make or break a book. There is no perfect ending but there are many bad endings. The Importance of Being Earnest has one of the worst I know. I hate to bad mouth a renowned piece of literature but for this, I truly feel I must. The fraise "Fairy Tail Ending" dose not cover this "perfect" of an ending. I would not mind if it ended happily but in the way it does, it makes me sick. To fully understand how poor the ending is you must read the book. I know I have given a rather poor review for this book, but I must reinvigorate I did enjoy it. The Importance of Being Earnest is a fine read and I feel should be read. Some parts must be fought though but the final destination is good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I Consider it a Very pleasant chance to study Oscar Wilde's The importance of Bieng Earnest.It Is hard for any playwright or novelist or whatever person to make people laugh through words.However this difficulty was really dissolved,and it was neither difficult nor impossible for Oscar Wilde To attract people's attention and to make them laugh through his works.I Consider , myself, The importance of being Earnest one of the most remarkable works of satire and criticism not only in the Victorian age,but also nowadays,since it discloses many aristocratic behaviors that seems to be very weird and funny at the same time.the several interpretations of this play may be considered as an enough reason for explaining the wit and cleverness of Oscar Wilde.Which,in fact, was translated into words and Acts.Through studying this play,it was clear for me and for my colleagues that Wilde's most important concern is to criticize and assail the Victorian principles and moralites.Wilde Chose some examples of Upper Class poeple to play the role of trivializing a whole culture and philosohpy of life.Characters such as Algernon and Jack are an essential example to reveal Wilde's criticism.They are the effiminite men,who,in the one hand, make pleasure and food as serious and vital as any other mportant and grave issue.on the other hand, they trivialize what is used to be common and widely respecatble in the social view like marriage and love and so on.Oscar Wilde makes his characters play the role of corrupting maxims and saying.Marriage, for instance, has a very common saying about it :'Two is a company three is a crowd', However in the play, this maxim is modified and besomes :'in married life, three is a company, and two is none'.the third element in marriage life is business.By mentioning business,one may remark that people in the Victorian age worship money and business more than any other thing.since money provide a full and complete pleasure and comfortable life of them.The feminine Characters in the play, such as Cecily and Gwendolen,though they are well educated but this over intellectualism is standing side by side to their silliness and tiviality.It is really amazing to judge Someone through his name-as what these girls do in fact-.They fall in love with Algernon and Jack not because of their characters,but because of the 'vibrations' produced by their 'unreal' name,Ernest.This trivial motive that stand behind love, is considered on the one hand as a corruption of the moral notion' Love'.it shows love as a trivial emotion that must be criticized.and on the other hand,the silliness of these girls concerning their ' romantic' love,shows how trivial a dandy can be. Lady Bracknell is another important character in the play.She is given some of the wittiest statements of Oscar Wilde himself.She is a great example of the domineering and snobbishing woman,who wants to make her daughter manipulative like her.She wants Gwendolen to be married to a very rich and known man.Her list of 'eligible men' gives us a clear image about her character.She makes the notion of love appear as a deal of business and as a contract that must be beneficial.Her disapproval for the match between her daughter Gwendolen and Jack,is not of his character as an ignorant and a man who smokes,but in the contrary, she disagree with the match because of Jack's unconventional origin.He explaines for L.Bracknell that he was found in a railway station,and that is enough for her to forbid the marriage.This image shows how important the good breed of a person is,because if he is of a good breed and a decent origin so he is automatically acceptable.Otherwise he would be rejected and mocked by people,as what L.Bracknell does in fact with Jack.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading The Importance of Being Earnest in my modern novel class, I became an Oscar Wilde fan. You have to love his wit, dialogue, and clever use of language. A very funny, entertaining, and light play.
NatInTheHat 9 months ago
I’m pleased to say that I greatly enjoyed this read. I’m not an avid reader of novels from the nineteenth century (as any inhabitant of generation z would resort to engaging in young adult love stories). The title itself drew me towards opening its pages. I wasn’t expecting a story of love, deception, and “Bunburying”, but more of a medieval tale discussing more serious topics to relate back to the theme of being earnest. Yet, Oscar Wilde did a fantastic job at incorporating and building this drama with a very serious theme based on the societal mores pushed on individuals during the Victorian Era. Being earnest of having earnestness can be defined as expressing sincerity or being serious in intention, purpose, or effort. In this case, this was the topic of all individuals of Victorian society. Victorians held the way of being earnest to an extremely high degree as they believed it to be the virtue of all society -- or a way to be in a vastly aristocratic society. Wilde exhibits this perfectly with Gwendolen as she spews, “We live, I hope you know, Mr. Worthing, in an age of my ideal has always been to love someone by the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence”. She proceeds to say “the only really safe name is Ernest” and “it is a divine name” with “music of its own”. Even the judgement of her mother (Lady Bracknell) of Gwendolen’s marriage proposal illustrates these restrictives held by Victorian society as she evaluates Jack’s finances, status, and family background -- which is ultimately deemed as not adequate enough to wed her daughter to. Wilde utilizes these instances to enhance the pick-and-choose society that the Victorian era was. Reading up on the author, I noticed Wilde was a passionate Bunburyist himself. There was speculation around the sexuality of the author, as he lived a double life just as much as Jack and Algy did. As a married man with two children and maintaining a secret relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, he was accused of acts of homosexuality and sentenced to 2 years of prison for his “gross indecency”. However the case may be, this comedic play did well in presenting the right amount of drama and sarcasm to saturate the pleasures of any teenager's heart while expressing the author’s distaste for his arbitrary society.
susiesharp on LibraryThing 10 months ago
This L.A. Theater Works production was so much fun. Starring James Marsters, Charles Busch, Emily Bergl, Neil Dickson, Jill Gascoine, Christopher Neame & Matthew Wolf. I¿ve seen the a couple different versions of this movie but never read the book and this was probably still closer to seeing the movie but it was so much fun!- it's free to audible members- it's Hilarious- it has James MarstersWhat more could a girl ask for??I could just picture James Marsters as Earnest now I want a new movie made with him in the starring role! Just like I think maybe The Dresden Files TV show could have made it with him in lead, I¿m just sayin¿! Ok I¿ll stop being all James Marsters fangirl now. Because the rest of the cast was great too when I¿m done I have to go to the L.A. Theater Works site and see what the other people look like because I have an image in my head by their voices and I would like to see if I¿m even close!I also enjoyed the epilogue with a little history lesson on Oscar Wilde and his plays it was very interesting.This was just so much fun I highly recommend getting this version! If you are looking for a Short, Fun, Hilarious, Full-Cast audiobook this one is a winner!4 Stars
catalogthis on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Radio version from L.A. Theatreworks. Perfect!
name99 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Mildly amusing, but really not much more than that. Maybe I'm just too familiar with Wilde's brand of witticism, but I frequently found them irritating this time round.
melopher on LibraryThing 10 months ago
I love the wit and humor saturated in this play. I also enjoyed being able to look at Victorian culture from a different angle. It is quick and funny, and the use of the English language a delight.
bleached on LibraryThing 10 months ago
One of my favorite plays. A wonderful comedy about society, appearance, and the importance of earnest.
gmillar on LibraryThing 10 months ago
English language as art!
ncgraham on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Oscar Wilde, besides being a rather infamous person himself, was an incredibly prolific author during his lifetime. Today he is known almost exclusively for two of his works—The Picture of Dorian Gray, his only novel, and The Importance of Being Earnest, his final play. On the face of things, the two works could not be more different. The first is a dark work of Victorian ¿horror¿ fiction that reveals the evil lurking behind an attractive human face, whereas the latter is a sparkling comedy that satirizes the social order.The principal characters of Earnest are Jack Worthing, a country gentleman of mysterious origin, who has created a fictional brother by the name of Ernest as a means of escaping his responsibilities; Algernon ¿Algy¿ Moncrieff, his urbane, city-dwelling friend; Algy¿s cousin Gwendolen Fairfax, who is in love with Jack; her mother, the imperious Lady Bracknell; and Cecily Cardew, Jack¿s ward. To say any more would be to risk spoiling the story, and anyway the plot is almost too even set up in a review. Let us simply say that because of these five persons¿ conflicting goals and interests, both hilarity and chaos ensues.Some of the lines in this play reminded me deliciously of P. G. Wodehouse (although I¿ve only read one book by that master), especially the opening interaction between the spoiled, indolent Algy and his butler Lane (¿I don¿t play accurately—anyone can play accurately—but I play with wonderful sentiment¿). Throughout I found myself absolutely crowing at some of the situations, particularly when Lady B. was involved.However, I came away from my reading feeling rather empty, and perhaps that is the main connection with Dorian Gray; both left me cold. The great, laugh-inducing lines aside, there really isn¿t much here aside from thinly veiled satire. What Wilde offers here has none of Austen¿s depth and little of Wodehouse¿s endearing qualities; even Kaufmann and Hart provided more real, human characters than he does.It is good entertainment, so the few hours spent reading it are not used in vain, but it provides little food for thought afterward. I think, though, that it is probably better experienced in the theater.
yonitdm on LibraryThing 10 months ago
Very funny cleverly written. It's a dry humor with great dialogue.
MsNikki on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought this on a whim, I recognised the name and decided "Why not".I loved it, it was sharp, funny and oh so relevant.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of wilde's plays and loved them all except for this one. I do not understand how this play became his most famous. All ofhis othe plays have beautiful endings were love or forgiveness triumph. They are witty and funny but tell deep truths about the human condition. This play on the other hand is superficial and has little meaning. The moral being somethin like if you lie and fake your way through life it turns out great. The love in this book is based on first impressions and names. Th dialogue tries to be so witty it is hard to suspend disbelief. The characters have no developement or depth. Not to mention the ending is really aweful. That said his other 5 plays are beautiful work of art and I would recommend any of them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm always skeptical of books I'm required to read for school, but this one was truly great. I absolutely love this story and read the entire play in one sitting.
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This book is probably more appropriate for teens and adults. It is written in a play format. It isn't thought provoking, but it is rather amusing. Essentially, the basic plot are the complications that arise when people insist on developing alter egos. In a way, as far as discussion, you could interest people in discussing the difficulties other well-known characters or people have had that have double identities (for instance, Superman/Clark Kent). Jack Worthing wishes to marry Lady Fairfax. The problem is, her mother doesn't approve of his orphaned background--he was found in a lady's handbag at the train station. Meanwhile, he is planning to kill off his alter ego Ernest--who is young ward is interested in. Complications arise when his friend Algernon decides to impersonate Ernest. The plot held together well and had very nice twists. The mystery of Jack's origins is solved. At first, I had difficulty in understanding whether the banter between people was supposed to be considered funny or insulting...but once I realized they were trying to be witty, I was able to enjoy it more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well writen; exteremley good for alll ages.
The_Softshell_Crab More than 1 year ago
A classic and an excellent read. Only a few very minor formatting issues kept this from getting five stars. A must read.
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REL More than 1 year ago
'The Importance of Being Earnest' is perhaps the most magnificent theatrical display of identity crisis since Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' and just as humorous. In this play, two friends, Mr. Jack Worthing and Mr. Algernon Moncrieff who find themselves to be similarly engaged in the art of creating a pretend character who frequently needs their attention and calls them from home. Jack Worthing creates a fictitious brother, "Ernest" as an explanation to his young ward Cecily and members of his household for his frequent visits to the city. In turn, Algernon invents a friend, Mr. Bunbury, who requires his attentions in the countryside. While in the city, Jack assumes the identity of Ernest and his friend Algernon suspects that Ernest is not truly who he seems to be. Jack confesses to his lie and reveals that he has a beautiful young ward named Cecily in the countryside, prompting Algernon to visit Jack's house. Meanwhile, Jack proposes to Algernon's cousin, Gwendolyn Fairfax and by the time he arrives in his country home, he finds Algernon posing as Jack's made-up brother "Ernest" and trying to win Cecily's affections. When Gwendolyn goes to Jack's country house to see the man she knows as Ernest, confusion and hilarity ensue as the two men pretending to be Ernest learn the importance of being earnest. This play is a must-read for fans of theater, comedy, or just literature in general. Clever, witty, and sophisticated without being meretricious, this is amusing to say the least and exemplary of good writing. Full of brio, this play is complex without being a soap opera and has themes as entertaining and classier than any contemporary reality TV show has to offer. It is short enough to be a great beach read for people desiring a more substantial yet light read.