About the BookThe Importance of Being Earnest is a farcical comedy in three Acts. The protagonists maintain fictitious personae to escape burdensome social obligation. John Worthing, a carefree young gentleman, invents a fictitious brother, Ernest, whose wicked ways afford him an excuse to leave his country home from time to time and go to London, where he stays with his close friend and confidant, Algernon Moncrieff. Algernon has a cousin, Gwendolen Fairfax, with whom John is deeply in love. During his London excursions, John, under the name Ernest, has won Gwendolen’s love, as she strongly desires to marry someone with the name of Ernest, which she finds inspiring. But when he asks for Gwendolen’s hand from the formidable Lady Bracknell, John has to reveal that he is a foundling who was left in a handbag at Victoria Station. Lady Bracknell is perturbed and insists that he must produce at least one parent before she consents to the marriage.
Returning to the country home where he lives with his ward Cecily Cardew and her governess Miss Prism, John finds that Algernon has also arrived under the identity of the imaginary brother Ernest. Algernon falls in love with the beautiful Cecily, who has long been captivated by the mysterious, fascinating ‘brother’ Ernest.
With the arrival of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen, there is a sudden chaos. It is discovered that Miss Prism is the absent-minded nurse who had misplaced the baby of Lady Bracknell’s brother in Victoria Station twenty years ago. Thus John, whose name is indeed Ernest, is Algernon’s elder brother. The play ends with the two couples in a joyous embrace.
The play mocks Victorian traditions and frivolous social customs. It mocks society, provides commentary and offers reform at the same time. Mark Lawson has described it as “the second most known and quoted play in English after Hamlet”.