I don't. But that does not affect the wonderful beauty of
True. In matters of grave importance, style, not
sincerity is the vital thing. Mr. Worthing, what explanation can
you offer to me for pretending to have a brother? Was it in order
that you might have an opportunity of coming up to town to see me
as often as possible?
I have the gravest doubts upon the subject. But I
intend to crush them. This is not the moment for German
scepticism. [Moving to CECILY.] Their explanations appear to be
quite satisfactory, especially Mr. Worthing's. That seems to me to
have the stamp of truth upon it.
I am more than content with what Mr. Moncrieff said. His
voice alone inspires one with absolute credulity.
Merely that I am engaged to be married to Mr. Worthing,
Come here. Sit down. Sit down immediately.
Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, of
physical weakness in the old. [Turns to JACK.] Apprised, sir, of
my daughter's sudden flight by her trusty maid, whose confidence I
purchased by means of a small coin, I followed her at once by a
luggage train. Her unhappy father is, I am glad to say, under the
impression that she is attending a more than usually lengthy
lecture by the University Extension Scheme on the Influence of a
permanent income on Thought. I do not propose to undeceive him.
Indeed I have never undeceived him on any question. I would
consider it wrong. But of course, you will clearly understand that
all communication between yourself and my daughter must cease
immediately from this moment. On this point, as indeed on all
points, I am firm.
I am engaged to be married to Gwendolen Lady Bracknell!
You are nothing of the kind, sir. And now, as
regards Algernon! . . . Algernon!
Exploded! Was he the victim of a revolutionary
outrage? I was not aware that Mr. Bunbury was interested in social
legislation. If so, he is well punished for his morbidity.
My dear Aunt Augusta, I mean he was found out! The
doctors found out that Bunbury could not live, that is what I mean
- so Bunbury died.
He seems to have had great confidence in the
opinion of his physicians. I am glad, however, that he made up his
mind at the last to some definite course of action, and acted under
proper medical advice. And now that we have finally got rid of
this Mr. Bunbury, may I ask, Mr. Worthing, who is that young person
whose hand my nephew Algernon is now holding in what seems to me a
peculiarly unnecessary manner?
That lady is Miss Cecily Cardew, my ward. [LADY BRACKNELL
bows coldly to CECILY.]
I am engaged to be married to Cecily, Aunt Augusta.
Mr. Moncrieff and I are engaged to be married, Lady
LADY BRACKNELL [With a shiver, crossing to the sofa and sitting
down.] I do not know whether there is anything peculiarly exciting
in the air of this particular part of Hertfordshire, but the number
of engagements that go on seems to me considerably above the proper
average that statistics have laid down for our guidance. I think
some preliminary inquiry on my part would not be out of place. Mr.
Worthing, is Miss Cardew at all connected with any of the larger
railway stations in London? I merely desire information. Until
yesterday I had no idea that there were any families or persons
whose origin was a Terminus. [JACK looks perfectly furious, but
JACK [In a clear, cold voice.] Miss Cardew is the grand-daughter
of the late Mr. Thomas Cardew of 149 Belgrave Square, S.W.; Gervase
Park, Dorking, Surrey; and the Sporran, Fifeshire, N.B.
That sounds not unsatisfactory. Three addresses
always inspire confidence, even in tradesmen. But what proof have
I of their authenticity?
I have carefully preserved the Court Guides of the period.
They are open to your inspection, Lady Bracknell.
LADY BRACKNELL [Grimly.] I have known strange errors in that
Miss Cardew's family solicitors are Messrs. Markby, Markby,
Markby, Markby, and Markby? A firm of the very
highest position in their profession. Indeed I am told that one of
the Mr. Markby's is occasionally to be seen at dinner parties. So
far I am satisfied.
JACK [Very irritably.] How extremely kind of you, Lady
Bracknell! I have also in my possession, you will be pleased to
hear, certificates of Miss Cardew's birth, baptism, whooping cough,
registration, vaccination, confirmation, and the measles; both the
German and the English variety.
Ah! A life crowded with incident, I see; though
perhaps somewhat too exciting for a young girl. I am not myself in
favour of premature experiences. [Rises, looks at her watch.]
Gwendolen! the time approaches for our departure. We have not a
moment to lose. As a matter of form, Mr. Worthing, I had better
ask you if Miss Cardew has any little fortune?
Oh! about a hundred and thirty thousand pounds in the Funds.
That is all. Goodbye, Lady Bracknell. So pleased to have seen
LADY BRACKNELL [Sitting down again.] A moment, Mr. Worthing. A
hundred and thirty thousand pounds! And in the Funds! Miss Cardew
seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her.
Few girls of the present day have any really solid qualities, any
of the qualities that last, and improve with time. We live, I
regret to say, in an age of surfaces. [To CECILY.] Come over
here, dear. [CECILY goes across.] Pretty child! your dress is
sadly simple, and your hair seems almost as Nature might have left
it. But we can soon alter all that. A thoroughly experienced
French maid produces a really marvellous result in a very brief
space of time. I remember recommending one to young Lady Lancing,
and after three months her own husband did not know her.
LADY BRACKNELL [Glares at JACK for a few moments. Then bends,
with a practised smile, to CECILY.] Kindly turn round, sweet
child. [CECILY turns completely round.] No, the side view is what
I want. [CECILY presents her profile.] Yes, quite as I expected.
There are distinct social possibilities in your profile. The two
weak points in our age are its want of principle and its want of
profile. The chin a little higher, dear. Style largely depends on
the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at
There are distinct social possibilities in Miss
Cecily is the sweetest, dearest, prettiest girl in the
whole world. And I don't care twopence about social possibilities.
Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon.
Only people who can't get into it do that. [To CECILY.] Dear
child, of course you know that Algernon has nothing but his debts
to depend upon. But I do not approve of mercenary marriages. When
I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind. But I never
dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way. Well, I
suppose I must give my consent.
To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long
engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each
other's character before marriage, which I think is never
I beg your pardon for interrupting you, Lady Bracknell, but
this engagement is quite out of the question. I am Miss Cardew's
guardian, and she cannot marry without my consent until she comes
of age. That consent I absolutely decline to give.
Upon what grounds may I ask? Algernon is an
extremely, I may almost say an ostentatiously, eligible young man.
He has nothing, but he looks everything. What more can one desire?
It pains me very much to have to speak frankly to you, Lady
Bracknell, about your nephew, but the fact is that I do not approve
at all of his moral character. I suspect him of being untruthful.
[ALGERNON and CECILY look at him in indignant amazement.]
Untruthful! My nephew Algernon? Impossible! He
is an Oxonian.
I fear there can be no possible doubt about the matter.
This afternoon during my temporary absence in London on an
important question of romance, he obtained admission to my house by
means of the false pretence of being my brother. Under an assumed
name he drank, I've just been informed by my butler, an entire pint
bottle of my Perrier-Jouet, Brut, '89; wine I was specially
reserving for myself. Continuing his disgraceful deception, he
succeeded in the course of the afternoon in alienating the
affections of my only ward. He subsequently stayed to tea, and
devoured every single muffin. And what makes his conduct all the
more heartless is, that he was perfectly well aware from the first
that I have no brother, that I never had a brother, and that I
don't intend to have a brother, not even of any kind. I distinctly
told him so myself yesterday afternoon.
Ahem! Mr. Worthing, after careful consideration I
have decided entirely to overlook my nephew's conduct to you.
That is very generous of you, Lady Bracknell. My own
decision, however, is unalterable. I decline to give my consent.
LADY BRACKNELL [To CECILY.] Come here, sweet child. [CECILY
goes over.] How old are you, dear?
Well, I am really only eighteen, but I always admit to
twenty when I go to evening parties.
You are perfectly right in making some slight
alteration. Indeed, no woman should ever be quite accurate about
her age. It looks so calculating . . . [In a meditative manner.]
Eighteen, but admitting to twenty at evening parties. Well, it
will not be very long before you are of age and free from the
restraints of tutelage. So I don't think your guardian's consent
is, after all, a matter of any importance.
Pray excuse me, Lady Bracknell, for interrupting you again,
but it is only fair to tell you that according to the terms of her
grandfather's will Miss Cardew does not come legally of age till
she is thirty-five.
That does not seem to me to be a grave objection.
Thirty-five is a very attractive age. London society is full of
women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free choice,
remained thirty-five for years. Lady Dumbleton is an instance in
point. To my own knowledge she has been thirty-five ever since she
arrived at the age of forty, which was many years ago now. I see
no reason why our dear Cecily should not be even still more
attractive at the age you mention than she is at present. There
will be a large accumulation of property.
Algy, could you wait for me till I was thirty-five?
Of course I could, Cecily. You know I could.
Yes, I felt it instinctively, but I couldn't wait all that
time. I hate waiting even five minutes for anybody. It always
makes me rather cross. I am not punctual myself, I know, but I do
like punctuality in others, and waiting, even to be married, is
quite out of the question.
My dear Mr. Worthing, as Miss Cardew states
positively that she cannot wait till she is thirty-five - a remark
which I am bound to say seems to me to show a somewhat impatient
nature - I would beg of you to reconsider your decision.
But my dear Lady Bracknell, the matter is entirely in your
own hands. The moment you consent to my marriage with Gwendolen, I
will most gladly allow your nephew to form an alliance with my
LADY BRACKNELL [Rising and drawing herself up.] You must be
quite aware that what you propose is out of the question.
Then a passionate celibacy is all that any of us can look
That is not the destiny I propose for Gwendolen.
Algernon, of course, can choose for himself. [Pulls out her
watch.] Come, dear, [GWENDOLEN rises] we have already missed five,
if not six, trains. To miss any more might expose us to comment on
Everything is quite ready for the christenings.
The christenings, sir! Is not that somewhat
CHASUBLE [Looking rather puzzled, and pointing to JACK and
ALGERNON.] Both these gentlemen have expressed a desire for
At their age? The idea is grotesque and
irreligious! Algernon, I forbid you to be baptized. I will not
hear of such excesses. Lord Bracknell would be highly displeased
if he learned that that was the way in which you wasted your time
Am I to understand then that there are to he no
christenings at all this afternoon?
I don't think that, as things are now, it would be of much
practical value to either of us, Dr. Chasuble.
I am grieved to hear such sentiments from you, Mr.
Worthing. They savour of the heretical views of the Anabaptists,
views that I have completely refuted in four of my unpublished
sermons. However, as your present mood seems to be one peculiarly
secular, I will return to the church at once. Indeed, I have just
been informed by the pew-opener that for the last hour and a half
Miss Prism has been waiting for me in the vestry.
LADY BRACKNELL [Starting.] Miss Prism! Did I bear you mention a
Yes, Lady Bracknell. I am on my way to join her.
Pray allow me to detain you for a moment. This
matter may prove to be one of vital importance to Lord Bracknell
and myself. Is this Miss Prism a female of repellent aspect,
remotely connected with education?
CHASUBLE [Somewhat indignantly.] She is the most cultivated of
ladies, and the very picture of respectability.
It is obviously the same person. May I ask what
position she holds in your household?
I was told you expected me in the vestry, dear Canon.
I have been waiting for you there for an hour and three-quarters.
[Catches sight of LADY BRACKNELL, who has fixed her with a stony
glare. MISS PRISM grows pale and quails. She looks anxiously
round as if desirous to escape.]
LADY BRACKNELL [In a severe, judicial voice.] Prism! [MISS
PRISM bows her head in shame.] Come here, Prism! [MISS PRISM
approaches in a humble manner.] Prism! Where is that baby?
[General consternation. The CANON starts back in horror. ALGERNON
and JACK pretend to be anxious to shield CECILY and GWENDOLEN from
hearing the details of a terrible public scandal.] Twenty-eight
years ago, Prism, you left Lord Bracknell's house, Number 104,
Upper Grosvenor Street, in charge of a perambulator that contained
a baby of the male sex. You never returned. A few weeks later,
through the elaborate investigations of the Metropolitan police,
the perambulator was discovered at midnight, standing by itself in
a remote corner of Bayswater. It contained the manuscript of a
three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality.
[MISS PRISM starts in involuntary indignation.] But the baby was
not there! [Every one looks at MISS PRISM.] Prism! Where is that
baby? [A pause.]
Lady Bracknell, I admit with shame that I do not know.
I only wish I did. The plain facts of the case are these. On the
morning of the day you mention, a day that is for ever branded on
my memory, I prepared as usual to take the baby out in its
perambulator. I had also with me a somewhat old, but capacious
hand-bag in which I had intended to place the manuscript of a work
of fiction that I had written during my few unoccupied hours. In a
moment of mental abstraction, for which I never can forgive myself,
I deposited the manuscript in the basinette, and placed the baby in
JACK [Who has been listening attentively.] But where did you
deposit the hand-bag?
Your guardian has a very emotional nature.
This noise is extremely unpleasant. It sounds as
if he was having an argument. I dislike arguments of any kind.
They are always vulgar, and often convincing.
CHASUBLE [Looking up.] It has stopped now. [The noise is
I wish he would arrive at some conclusion.
This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.
[Enter JACK with a hand-bag of black leather in his hand.]
JACK [Rushing over to MISS PRISM.] Is this the handbag, Miss
Prism? Examine it carefully before you speak. The happiness of
more than one life depends on your answer.
MISS PRISM [Calmly.] It seems to be mine. Yes, here is the
injury it received through the upsetting of a Gower Street omnibus
in younger and happier days. Here is the stain on the lining
caused by the explosion of a temperance beverage, an incident that
occurred at Leamington. And here, on the lock, are my initials. I
had forgotten that in an extravagant mood I had had them placed
there. The bag is undoubtedly mine. I am delighted to have it so
unexpectedly restored to me. It has been a great inconvenience
being without it all these years.
JACK [In a pathetic voice.] Miss Prism, more is restored to you
than this hand-bag. I was the baby you placed in it.
MISS PRISM [Recoiling in indignant astonishment.] Mr. Worthing!
I am unmarried
Unmarried! I do not deny that is a serious blow. But after
all, who has the right to cast a stone against one who has
suffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should
there be one law for men, and another for women? Mother, I forgive
you. [Tries to embrace her again.]
MISS PRISM [Still more indignant.] Mr. Worthing, there is some
error. [Pointing to LADY BRACKNELL.] There is the lady who can
tell you who you really are.
JACK [After a pause.] Lady Bracknell, I hate to seem
inquisitive, but would you kindly inform me who I am?
I am afraid that the news I have to give you will
not altogether please you. You are the son of my poor sister, Mrs.
Moncrieff, and consequently Algernon's elder brother.
Algy's elder brother! Then I have a brother after all. I
knew I had a brother! I always said I had a brother! Cecily, -
how could you have ever doubted that I had a brother? [Seizes hold
of ALGERNON.] Dr. Chasuble, my unfortunate brother. Miss Prism,
my unfortunate brother. Gwendolen, my unfortunate brother. Algy,
you young scoundrel, you will have to treat me with more respect in
the future. You have never behaved to me like a brother in all
Well, not till to-day, old boy, I admit. I did my best,
however, though I was out of practice.
Then the question had better be cleared up at once. Aunt
Augusta, a moment. At the time when Miss Prism left me in the
hand-bag, had I been christened already?
Every luxury that money could buy, including
christening, had been lavished on you by your fond and doting
Then I was christened! That is settled. Now, what name was
I given? Let me know the worst.
Being the eldest son you were naturally christened
after your father.
JACK [Irritably.] Yes, but what was my father's Christian name?
LADY BRACKNELL [Meditatively.] I cannot at the present moment
recall what the General's Christian name was. But I have no doubt
he had one. He was eccentric, I admit. But only in later years.
And that was the result of the Indian climate, and marriage, and
indigestion, and other things of that kind.
Algy! Can't you recollect what our father's Christian name
My dear boy, we were never even on speaking terms. He
died before I was a year old.
His name would appear in the Army Lists of the period, I
suppose, Aunt Augusta?
The General was essentially a man of peace, except
in his domestic life. But I have no doubt his name would appear in
any military directory.
The Army Lists of the last forty years are here. These
delightful records should have been my constant study. [Rushes to
bookcase and tears the books out.] M. Generals . . . Mallam,
Maxbohm, Magley, what ghastly names they have - Markby, Migsby,
Mobbs, Moncrieff! Lieutenant 1840, Captain, Lieutenant-Colonel,
Colonel, General 1869, Christian names, Ernest John. [Puts book
very quietly down and speaks quite calmly.] I always told you,
Gwendolen, my name was Ernest, didn't I? Well, it is Ernest after
all. I mean it naturally is Ernest.
Yes, I remember now that the General was called
Ernest, I knew I had some particular reason for disliking the name.
Ernest! My own Ernest! I felt from the first that you
could have no other name!
Gwendolen, it is a terrible thing for a man to find out
suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the
truth. Can you forgive me?
I can. For I feel that you are sure to change.