The Importance of Being Earnest Study Guide

The Importance of Being Earnest By Oscar Wilde

Algernon Moncrieff is visited by best friend Jack Worthing, who is on his way to propose to Algernon's cousin Gwendolen. Algernon refuses to grant Ernest his permission until he explains a strange cigarette case he left behind on last visit. Ernest is thus forced to reveal that he leads a double life: in the country, he is Jack, and Ernest is his brother who lives in the city and requires constant attention, but in the city he goes as Ernest. Algernon abruptly reveals that he carries on a similar deception: he pretends to have an invalid friend named Bunbury that lives in the country, whom he visits whenever he wishes to avoid an obligation.

Gwendolen's mother invites the couple over, and Jack proposes to Gwendolen. She accepts, but seems to love him only for the name Ernest - so he plans to get rechristened as Ernest Worthing. Nevertheless, his background is questionable and Gewn's mother refuses the marriage. Gwendolen sneaks back in and asks Jack for his address in the country, and, listening in, Algernon writes it down as well, for Jack is rumored to have a pretty young ward (Cecily) living with him.

At Jack's country house, Algernon announces himself as Ernest Worthing. Cecily has for some reason decided she is in love with Jack's 'wicked' brother, so Algernon easily sweeps her off of her feet. Like Gwen, Cecily is more in love with the name than the person, so Algernon also plans to gets rechristened under the same name - Ernest Worthing. Jack has decided to put the past behind him, and when he arrives, he announces that Ernest has died -- a claim he abandons when he discovered Algernon in his house living under the name.

Gwendolen flees her mother to be with her suitor, and when she meets Cecily, they both insist that they are engaged to Ernest Worthing. Both deceptions are exposed, but the men are forgiven, and the women agree not to break off the engagements if the men agree to get re-christened as planned. Gwen's mother arrives and questions Algernon's desire to marry Cecily until she learns of the young lady's wealth -- at which point Jack uses her desire for the money to force her to allow Jack to marry Gwendolen.

It comes out that Jack is in fact Algernon's older brother, abandoned by his governess years ago. Gewndolen's mother insists that Jack be renamed after his father, but no one can remember his name. They look it up, and find out that is, in fact, Ernest! The happy couples' fates complete, they embrace. Gwendolen's mother complains to Jack: "My nephew, you seem to be displaying signs of triviality."

"On the contrary, Aunt Augusta," he responds, "I've now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of Being Earnest."

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