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Free Study Guide-The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde-Summary
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ACT II

Summary

Act II opens at the Manor House, Jack’s home in the country. Jack’s ward, Cecily Cardew is studying with her tutor, Miss. Prism. The conversation between the two presents Cecily as an uninspired student and Miss. Prism as the proper teacher. The subject turns to the serious nature of “Uncle Jack.” Ironically, Miss. Prism states that Jack has no room for trivial amusements in his life because he is so laden with responsibility (we remember that Jack leads a double life and is quite taken with the trivial amusement of it). Cecily expresses her wish that Uncle Jack would allow his brother Ernest, “the unfortunate young man,” to visit. The subject changes to writing: Cecily keeps a diary so that she can remember all that happens to her; Miss. Prism once wrote a novel, which was mislaid. Their conversation is then interrupted by the entrance of Dr. Chasuble.

Cecily, who is less than enthralled with her lessons, comments that Miss. Prism has a headache, which she does not, and could benefit from a walk. Miss. Prism remarks that she has said no such thing; Dr. Chasuble take the opportunity to flirt with Miss. Prism, and she agrees to go with him. It is apparent that there is an attraction between the two. Cecily is left to do her studies; however, she proclaims them horrid and throws her books. At this moment the butler, Merriman, enters the garden and announces the arrival of Ernest Worthing (who is really Algernon, pretending to be Jack’s brother). The two engage in a witty conversation. Cecily tells Algernon that he has missed her uncle; he won’t be returning until Monday afternoon. He says that is unfortunate because he must leave Monday morning; thus, the two will miss one another. Cecily informs Algernon that Jack plans on sending Ernest to Australia; he has the choice between “this world, the next world, and Australia.” This leads to a discussion of “Ernest’s” goodness. He asks Cecily if she will reform him. When she says she does not have the time that afternoon, he says he will reform himself. A flirtatious rapport begins between Algernon and Cecily and the exit the garden into the house, in search of a meal.

Meanwhile, Miss. Prism and Dr. Chasuble return to the garden from their walk. The have a discussion about marriage-Miss. Prism urging Dr. Chasuble to marry; Dr. Chasuble, who is also a reverend, saying he will not because the Primitive Church did not allow it. Jack enters, dressed in black, cutting their conversation short. They are surprised to see him, as he was not due to return until Monday. Jack informs them that his brother, Ernest, has does of a severe chill in Paris. Jack was informed by telegraph from the hotel manager. Dr. Chasuble says that he will mention Ernest’s story during his sermon on Sunday. The sermon is about the meaning of the manna in the wilderness and he is able to adapt it to any occasion. The conversation turns to Jack’s desire to be christened (he must change his name to Ernest in order for Gwendolyn to truly love him). Dr. Chasuble agrees to christen him at half past five, after “the other babies.”


Cecily emerges from the house and announces that she has a surprise for Uncle Jack: his brother, Ernest, has come to visit! Jack is shocked and says that he does not have a brother. Cecily, not having heard of Ernest’s “death” interprets this as Jack’s anger at his brother’s troublesome ways. She tells Jack that Ernest has pledged to mend his ways and retrieves him from the house. When Jack and Algernon meet face to face, Jack says that his visit is a disgrace. Cecily defends Algernon (Ernest) by saying that he has been caring for his ill friend, Bunbury.

Jack begrudgingly accepts a handshake from Algernon, only because Cecily says she will never forgive him if he does not. Dr. Chasuble thinks this is a perfect reconciliation and he, Mrs. Prism, and Cecily exit to leave the “brothers” alone.

Jack tells Algernon that he allows no Bunburying at his country home and he must leave at once. Merriman enters to inform Jack that he has arranged Algernon’s things, which make it appear as though he has planned an extended stay. Jack instructs Merriman to order a dog-cart to escort “Ernest” at once because he has been called back to town. Jack and Algernon go back and forth with Algernon claiming that Jack has no fashion sense, and Jack claiming that Algernon is vain. Jack exits.

In the meantime, Cecily has returned to the garden to water the roses. She and Algernon begin conversing; she expresses sadness that he should leave so soon, as that is more painful with someone you have known only a short time. When Merriman announced the arrival of the dog-cart, Algernon tells him to order it to come next week at the same time; he has decided to stay. Algernon confesses his love for her and asks her to marry him. She at once accepts and tells him that they have been engaged for three months. She created a fictitious relationship between them in her diary, which includes a ring (that she actually purchased), a breaking off of the engagement, a series of letters, and the eventual reuniting of the pair. Cecily tells him that she could not love him if he had another name. He parts with Cecily, telling her that he must see Dr. Chasuble about a christening, then corrects himself by saying it is regarding important business. Algernon exits and Merriman enters the garden, informing Cecily that a Ms. Fairfax (Gwendolen) has come to visit her uncle. Jack has gone to the rectory, so Cecily agrees to entertain Ms. Fairfax (whom she supposes is an old woman involved in philanthropic work with Uncle Jack).

The ladies immediately profess their admiration of one another. Gwendolen likes Cecily’s name and they agree to call one another by each other’s first name. As they begin to talk, Gwendolen discovers that Cecily is Jack’s (who she still believes is Ernest) ward. She says that she wishes Cecily were a bit less alluring. When Gwendolen refers to Cecily’s guardian as Ernest, Cecily corrects her by telling Gwendolen that Ernest’s brother Jack is her guardian and that she is engaged to Ernest. Gwendolen grows very upset and she and Cecily compare diaries. Gwendolen argues that since Ernest proposed to her yesterday, she has the rightful claim to him. The women argue a bit and revert back to calling one another by their proper titles (Ms. Cardew, Ms. Fairfax).

Jack enters and finds the women having tea. He approaches Gwendolen to kiss her; she holds back and asks if he is engaged to Cecily. He says of course he is not. Cecily tells Gwendolen that she is mistaken; this man is not Ernest. He is her guardian, Mr. John Worthing.

Algernon then enters and Cecily proclaims that he is the true Ernest. Algernon goes to kiss her and she asks if he is engaged to Gwendolen. He says that of course he is not engaged to her. Gwendolen states that there is some mistake: this man is Mr. Algernon Moncrieff. The women embrace and end their quarrel. Jack tells them there is no Ernest. The women exit into the house.

Jack is outraged at Algernon for Bunburying at his house. Algernon believes that Jack is deceptive as well. Then men argue over muffins that have been put out for the ladies’ tea. They realize they have both made plans to be christened “Ernest” that afternoon.

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