“. . . my ideal has always been to love some one of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence. The moment Algernon first mentioned to me that he had a friend called Ernest, I knew I was destined to love you.”Act 1 Gwendolen tells Jack the importance to her of his name, which she erroneously believes to be Ernest.
“I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”Act 1 Lady Bracknell, who is interrogating Jack to find out his suitability as a husband for her daughter, approves of his claim to know nothing.
“Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever. If it did, it would prove a serious danger to the upper classes, and probably lead to acts of violence in Grosvenor Square.”Act 1 Lady Bracknell, speaking to Jack, reflects on the role of an inadequate education in preserving the status quo and class system.
“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” Act 1 Lady Bracknell, weighing up Jack as a suitable husband for Gwendolen, disapproves of his lack of either parent (he was a foundling).
“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?”Act 1 Lady Bracknell is shocked to find out that Jack does not know who his parents were, as he was found in a handbag at a railway station by Mr. Thomas Cardew, who adopted him. As an extremely snobbish upper-class Victorian who herself married well, Lady Bracknell places great importance on choosing one’s spouse from a ‘good’ family. She considers that Jack’s unorthodox origins make him an unsuitable husband for her daughter Gwendolen.
“I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.”Act 2 Cecily, in conversation with Algernon (who is pretending to be Jack’s wicked brother Ernest), shows her independence of spirit by inverting the conventional Victorian false morality.
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”Act 2 Gwendolen says this to Cecily, reflecting the play’s theme of life as a work of art.
“Well, one must be serious about something, if one wants to have any amusement in life. I happen to be serious about Bunburying. What on earth you are serious about I haven’t got the remotest idea. About everything, I should fancy. You have such an absolutely trivial nature.”
Act 2 Algernon says this to Jack after Algernon and Jack’s real names have been exposed by Gwendolen and Cecily. In answer to Jack’s reproach to Algernon for his “Bunburying” in his house, Algernon taunts Jack for taking everything so seriously. The exchange is part of the inversion in the play of the usual notions of seriousness and triviality.
“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.”
Act 3 Gwendolen agrees with Cecily that the beautiful style of Algernon’s explanation for his pretence of being Jack’s brother is more important than whether it is genuinely meant.
“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?”Act 3 In an example of the inversion of values typical of the play, Jack, who has just found out that his name really is Ernest after pretending for years to be called by that name, asks Gwendolen to forgive him for speaking the truth.