The Importance of Being Earnest By Oscar Wilde Act I: Part 2

JACK.
Do you mean the fashion, or the side?

LADY BRACKNELL.
[Sternly.] Both, if necessary, I presume. What are your polities?

JACK.
Well, I am afraid I really have none. I am a Liberal Unionist.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Oh, they count as Tories. They dine with us. Or come in the evening, at any rate. Now to minor matters. Are your parents living?

JACK.
I have lost both my parents.

LADY BRACKNELL.
To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?

JACK.
I am afraid I really don't know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said I had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seem to have lost me . . . I don't actually know who I am by birth. I was . . . well, I was found.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Found!

JACK.
The late Mr. Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave me the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?

JACK.
[Gravely.] In a hand-bag.

LADY BRACKNELL.
A hand-bag?

JACK.
[Very seriously.] Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag — a somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it — an ordinary hand-bag in fact.

LADY BRACKNELL.
In what locality did this Mr. James, or Thomas, Cardew come across this ordinary hand-bag?

JACK.
In the cloak-room at Victoria Station. It was given to him in mistake for his own.

LADY BRACKNELL.
The cloak-room at Victoria Station?

JACK.
Yes. The Brighton line.

LADY BRACKNELL.
The line is immaterial. Mr. Worthing, I confess I feel somewhat bewildered by what you have just told me. To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. And I presume you know what that unfortunate movement led to? As for the particular locality in which the hand-bag was found, a cloak-room at a railway station might serve to conceal a social indiscretion — has probably, indeed, been used for that purpose before now — but it could hardly be regarded as an assured basis for a recognised position in good society.

JACK.
May I ask you then what you would advise me to do? I need hardly say I would do anything in the world to ensure Gwendolen's happiness.

LADY BRACKNELL.
I would strongly advise you, Mr. Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.

JACK.
Well, I don't see how I could possibly manage to do that. I can produce the hand-bag at any moment. It is in my dressing-room at home. I really think that should satisfy you, Lady Bracknell.

LADY BRACKNELL.
Me, sir! What has it to do with me? You can hardly imagine that I and Lord Bracknell would dream of allowing our only daughter — a girl brought up with the utmost care — to marry into a cloak- room, and form an alliance with a parcel? Good morning, Mr. Worthing!

[Lady Bracknell sweeps out in majestic indignation.]

JACK.
Good morning! [Algernon, from the other room, strikes up the Wedding March. Jack looks perfectly furious, and goes to the door.] For goodness' sake don't play that ghastly tune, Algy. How idiotic you are!

[The music stops and Algernon enters cheerily.]

ALGERNON.
Didn't it go off all right, old boy? You don't mean to say Gwendolen refused you? I know it is a way she has. She is always refusing people. I think it is most ill-natured of her.

JACK.
Oh, Gwendolen is as right as a trivet. As far as she is concerned, we are engaged. Her mother is perfectly unbearable. Never met such a Gorgon . . . I don't really know what a Gorgon is like, but I am quite sure that Lady Bracknell is one. In any case, she is a monster, without being a myth, which is rather unfair . . . I beg your pardon, Algy, I suppose I shouldn't talk about your own aunt in that way before you.

ALGERNON.
My dear boy, I love hearing my relations abused. It is the only thing that makes me put up with them at all. Relations are simply a tedious pack of people, who haven't got the remotest knowledge of how to live, nor the smallest instinct about when to die.

JACK.
Oh, that is nonsense!

ALGERNON.
It isn't!

JACK.
Well, I won't argue about the matter. You always want to argue about things.

ALGERNON.
That is exactly what things were originally made for.

JACK.
Upon my word, if I thought that, I'd shoot myself . . . [A pause.] You don't think there is any chance of Gwendolen becoming like her mother in about a hundred and fifty years, do you, Algy?

ALGERNON.
All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his.

JACK.
Is that clever?

ALGERNON.
It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any observation in civilised life should be.

JACK.
I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.

ALGERNON.
We have.

JACK.
I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk about?

ALGERNON.
The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.

JACK.
What fools!

ALGERNON.
By the way, did you tell Gwendolen the truth about your being Ernest in town, and Jack in the country?

JACK.
[In a very patronising manner.] My dear fellow, the truth isn't quite the sort of thing one tells to a nice, sweet, refined girl. What extraordinary ideas you have about the way to behave to a woman!

ALGERNON.
The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to some one else, if she is plain.

JACK.
Oh, that is nonsense.

ALGERNON.
What about your brother? What about the profligate Ernest?

JACK.
Oh, before the end of the week I shall have got rid of him. I'll say he died in Paris of apoplexy. Lots of people die of apoplexy, quite suddenly, don't they?

ALGERNON.
Yes, but it's hereditary, my dear fellow. It's a sort of thing that runs in families. You had much better say a severe chill.

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