Literature Help Please!

Jun 1st, 2015
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ALGERNON Bring me that cigarette case Mr. Worthing left in the smoking-room the last time he dined here. 

LANE Yes, sir. [LANE goes out.] 

JACK Do you mean to say you have had my cigarette case all this time? I wish to goodness you had let me know. I have been writing frantic letters to Scotland Yard about it. I was very nearly offering a large reward. 

ALGERNON Well, I wish you would offer one. I happen to be more than usually hard up. 

JACK There is no good offering a large reward now that the thing is found. [Enter LANE with the cigarette case on a salver. 

ALGERNON takes it at once.] [LANE goes out.] 

ALGERNON I think that is rather mean of you, Ernest, I must say. 

[Opens case and examines it.]

However, it makes no matter, for, now that I look at the inscription inside, I find that the thing isn't yours after all. 

JACK Of course it's mine. 

[Moving to him.]

You have seen me with it a hundred times, and you have no right whatsoever to read what is written inside. It is a very ungentlemanly thing to read a private cigarette case. 

ALGERNON Oh! it is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn't. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn't read. 

JACK I am quite aware of the fact, and I don't propose to discuss modern culture. It isn't the sort of thing one should talk of in private. I simply want my cigarette case back. 

ALGERNON Yes; but this isn't your cigarette case. This cigarette case is a present from some one of the name of Cecily, and you said you didn't know any one of that name. 

JACK Well, if you want to know, Cecily happens to be my aunt. 

ALGERNON Your aunt! 

JACK Yes. Charming old lady she is, too. Lives at Tunbridge Wells. Just give it back to me, Algy. 

ALGERNON [Retreating to back of sofa.]

But why does she call herself little Cecily if she is your aunt and lives at Tunbridge Wells? 


'From little Cecily with her fondest love.' 

JACK [Moving to sofa and kneeling upon it.]

My dear fellow, what on earth is there in that? Some aunts are tall, some aunts are not tall. That is a matter that surely an aunt may be allowed to decide for herself. You seem to think that every aunt should be exactly like your aunt! That is absurd! For Heaven's sake give me back my cigarette case. 

[Follows ALGERNON round the room.] 

ALGERNON Yes. But why does your aunt call you her uncle? 'From little Cecily, with her fondest love to her dear Uncle Jack.' There is no objection, I admit, to an aunt being a small aunt, but why an aunt, no matter what her size may be, should call her own nephew her uncle, I can't quite make out. Besides, your name isn't Jack at all; it is Ernest. 

JACK It isn't Ernest; it's Jack. 

ALGERNON You have always told me it was Ernest. I have introduced you to every one as Ernest. You answer to the name of Ernest. You look as if your name was Ernest. You are the most earnest-looking person I ever saw in my life. It is perfectly absurd your saying that your name isn't Ernest. It's on your cards. Here is one of them. 

[Taking it from case.]

'Mr. Ernest Worthing, B. 4, The Albany.' I'll keep this as a proof that your name is Ernest if ever you attempt to deny it to me, or to Gwendolen, or to any one else. 

[Puts the card in his pocket.] 

JACK Well, my name is Ernest in town and Jack in the country, and the cigarette case was given to me in the country. 

ALGERNON Yes, but that does not account for the fact that your small Aunt Cecily, who lives at Tunbridge Wells, calls you her dear uncle. Come, old boy, you had much better have the thing out at once. 

JACK My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn't a dentist. It produces a false impression,

 ALGERNON Well, that is exactly what dentists always do. Now, go on! Tell me the whole thing. I may mention that I have always suspected you of being a confirmed and secret Bunburyist; and I am quite sure of it now. 

JACK Bunburyist? What on earth do you mean by a Bunburyist? 

ALGERNON I'll reveal to you the meaning of that incomparable expression as soon as you are kind enough to inform me why you are Ernest in town and Jack in the country. 

JACK Well, produce my cigarette case first. 

ALGERNON Here it is. 

[Hands cigarette case.]

Now produce your explanation, and pray make it improbable. 

[Sits on sofa.] 

JACK My dear fellow, there is nothing improbable about my explanation at all. In fact it's perfectly ordinary. Old Mr. Thomas Cardew, who adopted me when I was a little boy, made me in his will guardian to his grand-daughter, Miss Cecily Cardew. Cecily, who addresses me as her uncle from motives of respect that you could not possibly appreciate, lives at my place in the country under the charge of her admirable governess, Miss Prism. 

ALGERNON Where in that place in the country, by the way? 

JACK That is nothing to you, dear boy. You are not going to be invited . . . I may tell you candidly that the place is not in Shropshire. 

ALGERNON I suspected that, my dear fellow! I have Bunburyed all over Shropshire on two separate occasions. Now, go on. Why are you Ernest in town and Jack in the country? 

JACK My dear Algy, I don't know whether you will be able to understand my real motives. You are hardly serious enough. When one is placed in the position of guardian, one has to adopt a very high moral tone on all subjects. It's one's duty to do so. And as a high moral tone can hardly be said to conduce very much to either one's health or one's happiness, in order to get up to town I have always pretended to have a younger brother of the name of Ernest, who lives in the Albany, and gets into the most dreadful scrapes. That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth pure and simple. 

ALGERNON The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility! 

JACK That wouldn't be at all a bad thing. 

ALGERNON Literary criticism is not your forte, my dear fellow. Don't try it. You should leave that to people who haven't been at a University. They do it so well in the daily papers. What you really are is a Bunburyist. I was quite right in saying you were a Bunburyist. You are one of the most advanced Bunburyists I know. 

JACK What on earth do you mean? 

ALGERNON You have invented a very useful younger brother called Ernest, in order that you may be able to come up to town as often as you like. I have invented an invaluable permanent invalid called Bunbury, in order that I may be able to go down into the country whenever I choose. Bunbury is perfectly invaluable. If it wasn't for Bunbury's extraordinary bad health, for instance, I wouldn't be able to dine with you at Willis's to-night, for I have been really engaged to Aunt Augusta for more than a week. 

JACK I haven't asked you to dine with me anywhere to-night. 

ALGERNON I know. You are absurdly careless about sending out invitations. It is very foolish of you. Nothing annoys people so much as not receiving invitations. 

JACK You had much better dine with your Aunt Augusta. 

ALGERNON I haven't the smallest intention of doing anything of the kind. To begin with, I dined there on Monday, and once a week is quite enough to dine with one's own relations. In the second place, whenever I do dine there I am always treated as a member of the family, and sent down with either no woman at all, or two. In the third place, I know perfectly well whom she will place me next to, to-night. She will place me next Mary Farquhar, who always flirts with her own husband across the dinner-table. That is not very pleasant. Indeed, it is not even decent . . . and that sort of thing is enormously on the increase. The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It in simply washing one's clean linen in public. Besides, now that I know you to be a confirmed Bunburyist I naturally want to talk to you about Bunburying. I want to tell you the rules. 

JACK I'm not a Bunburyist at all. If Gwendolen accepts me, I am going to kill my brother, indeed I think I'll kill him in any case. Cecily is a little too much interested in him. It is rather a bore. So I am going to get rid of Ernest. And I strongly advise you to do the same with Mr . . . with your invalid friend who has the absurd name. 

ALGERNON Nothing will induce me to part with Bunbury, and if you ever get married, which seems to me extremely problematic, you will be very glad to know Bunbury. A man who marries without knowing Bunbury has a very tedious time of it. 

JACK That is nonsense. If I marry a charming girl like Gwendolen, and she is the only girl I ever saw in my life that I would marry, I certainly won't want to know Bunbury. 

ALGERNON Then your wife will. You don't seem to realise, that in married life three is company and two is none. 

JACK [Sententiously.]

That, my dear young friend, is the theory that the corrupt French Drama has been propounding for the last fifty years. 

ALGERNON Yes; and that the happy English home has proved in half the time. 

JACK For heaven's sake, don't try to be cynical. It's perfectly easy to be cynical. 

ALGERNON My dear fellow, it isn't easy to be anything nowadays. There's such a lot of beastly competition about. 

[The sound of an electric bell is heard.]

Ah! that must be Aunt Augusta. Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner. Now, if I get her out of the way for ten minutes, so that you can have an opportunity for proposing to Gwendolen, may I dine with you tonight at Willis's? 

JACK I suppose so, if you want to. 

ALGERNON Yes, but you must be serious about it. I hate people who are not serious about meals. It is so shallow of them.

How are the characters Jack and Algernon developed through the use of dialogue? How are these characters similar? How are they different? Support your answer wit evidence. 

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