The Importance of Being Earnest (1895): Selected Quotations

See full-text version in Ricorso Library, “Irish Classics”, attached.

Sampler …

Lady Bracknell: ‘Never speak disrespectfully of Society. Only those who can’t get into it do that.’ (Act. I.)
Lady Bracknell: ‘A girl with a simple, unspoiled nature, like Gwendolen, could hardly be expected to reside in the country.’ (Act I.)
Gwendolen: ‘[…] once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate.’ (Act. II.)
Gwendolen: ‘In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.’ (Act III.)
Algernon:, ‘Well, I really am not going to be imprisoned in the suburbs [Holloway] for having dined in the West End. It is perfectly ridiculous.’ (“The Gribsby Scene” - deleted for the premier.)

Act One
Lane: ‘only married once […] in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person.’ (Act. I; p.321.)

Algernon: ‘[…] if the lower orders don’t set a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.’ (p.322.)

Algernon: ‘Divorces are made in heaven’ (p.323.)

Algernon: ‘more than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read’ (p.324.)

Algernon: ‘the truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be completely tedious if it were, and modern literature a complete impossibility!’ (p.326.)

Algernon: ‘The amount of women in London who flirt with their husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad […] simply washing one’s clean linen in public.’ (p.326.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘I never saw a woman so altered; she looks quite twenty years younger’ [viz., ‘since her poor husband’s death’] (p.327.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘Health is the primary duty of life’ (p.328.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.’ (p.331.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘Between the duties expected of one during one’s lifetime and the duties exacted from one after one’s death, land has ceased to be either a profit or a pleasure.’ (p.332.)

Jack: ‘I have lost both my parents.’ Lady Bracknell: ‘Both? […]. That seems like carelessness.’ (p.322.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag […] 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’ (p.333.)

Algernon: ‘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!’ (p.334.)

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 not.’ (p.334.)

Algernon: ‘It’s awfully hard work doing nothing. However, I don’t mind hard work where there is no definite object of any kind.’ (p.335).

Act Two
Cecily: ‘I know perfectly well that I look plain after my German lesson’ (p.338.)

Miss Prism: ‘I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment’s notice.’ (p.338.)

Prism: ‘The manuscript was abandoned. I use the word in the sense of lost or mislaid.’ (p.339.)

Cecily (to Algernon): ‘If you are not [wicked], then you have certainly been deceiving us all in a very inexcusable manner. I hope you have not been leading a double life […]’ (p.340-41.)

Cecily: ‘I know how important it is not the keep a business engagement, if one wants to retain any sense of the beauty of life’ (p.341.)

Cecily: ‘The accounts I have received of Australia and the next world are not particularly encouraging’ (p.341.)

Algernon: ‘would you mind my reforming myself this afternoon?’ (p.341.)

Algernon: ‘My duty as a gentleman has never interfered with my pleasures in the smallest degree’ (p.346.)

Algernon: ‘If I am occasionally overdressed I make up for it by being immensely over-educated’ (p.346.)

Cecily: ‘The absence of old friends one can endure with equanimity. But even a momentary separation from any one to whom one has just been introduced is almost unbearable.’ (p.347.)

‘Algernon: ‘In fact, it is rather an aristocratic name. Half of the chaps who get into Bankruptcy Court are called Algernon.’ (p.349.)

Gwendolen: ‘Outside the family circle, papa, I am glad to say, is entirely unknown. […] The home seems to be the proper sphere for the man. And certainly once a man begins to neglect his domestic duties he becomes painfully effeminate, does he not? And I don’t like that. It makes men so attractive.’ (p.351.)

Cecily: ‘I do thing that whenever one has something unpleasant to say, one should always be quite candid.’ (p.351.)

Cecily: ‘When I see a spade I call it a spade.’

Gwendolen: ‘I am glad to say I have never seen a spade.’ (p.353.)

Gwendolen: ‘My first impressions of people are invariably right’ (p.354.)

Algernon: ‘[I]t is very painful for me to be forced to tell the truth. It is the first time in my life that I have ever been reduced to such a painful position, and I am really quite inexperienced in doing anything of the kind.’ (p.355.)

Algernon: ‘Well, one must be serious about something if one wants some amusement in life.’ (p.356.)

Algernon: ‘When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me.’ (p.357.)

Jack: ‘There is no evidence that I have ever been christened by anybody. I should think it extremely probable I never was, and so does Dr. Chasuble.’ (p.357).

Act Three
Gwen. & Cec.: ‘Your Christian names are an insuperable barrier’ (p.359.)

‘Cecily [on christening]: ‘To please me you are ready to face this terrible ordeal?’ (p.359.)

Lady Bracknell [on death of Bunbury]: ‘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.’ (p.361.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘A thoroughly experienced French maid produces a really marvellous result in a very brief space of time.’ (p.362.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘The two weak points of our age is its want of principle and its want of profile’ (p.362.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘Engagements […] give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable’ (p.363.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘Indeed, no woman should every be quite accurate about her age. It looks so calculating […]’ (p.364.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘Lady Dumbleton […] has been thirty-five ever since she arrived at the age of forty, which was many years ago now.’ (p.364.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘Is this Miss Prism a female of repellent aspect, remotely connected with education?’ (p.365.)

Lady Bracknell: ‘it [the perambulator] contained the manuscript of a three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality.’ (p.366.)

Miss Prism: ‘In a moment of mental abstraction, for which I can never forgive myself, I deposited the manuscript in the basinette, and placed the baby in the hand-bag.’ (366.)

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.’ (p.369).

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