Jack (Ernest) Worthing meets Lady Bracknell for an interview during which he will have to prove worthy of her daughter’s hand, Gwendolen Fairfax – a girl of London’s upper class to whom he has proposed –, Lady Bracknell is seated with a pencil and notebook on hand ready to ask Jack questions for this test.
LADY BRACKNELL : I feel bound to tell you that you are not on my list of eligible young men, although I have the same list as the dear Duchess of Bolton has. We work together, in fact. However, I am quite ready to enter your name, should your answers be what a really affectionate mother requires. Do you smoke?
JACK: Well, yes, I must admit I smoke.
LADY BRACKNELL: I am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is. How old are you?
LADY BRACKNELL: A very good age to be married at. I have always been of the opinion that a man who desires to get married should know either everything or nothing. Which do you know?
JACK: (after some hesitation) I know nothing, Lady Bracknell.
LADY BRACKNELL: I am pleased to hear it. 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. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. […] What is your income?
JACK: Between seven and eight thousand a year.
LADY BRACKNELL: (makes a note in her book)In land or investments?
JACK: In investments, chiefly.
LADY BRACKNELL: that is satisfactory. […]
JACK: I have a country house with some land, of course, attached to it, about fifteen hundred acres, I believe; but I don’t depend on that for my real income. In fact, as far as I can make out, the poachers are the only people who make anything out of it.
LADY BRACKNELL: A country house! How many bedrooms? Well, that point can be cleared up afterwards. You have a town house, I hope? A girl with a simple, unspoiled nature, like Gwendolen, could hardly be expected to reside in the country.
JACK: Well, I own a house in Belgrave Square, but it is let by the year to lady Bloxham. Of course, I can get it back whenever I like, at six months’ notice.
LADY BROCKNELL: Lady Bloxham? I don’t know her.
JACK: Oh, she goes about very little. She is a lady considerably advanced in years.
LADY BROCKNELL: Ah, nowadays that is no guarantee of respectability of character. What number in Belgrave Square?
LADY BRACKNELL: (shaking her head) The unfashionable side. I thought there was something. However, that could easily be altered. […] Are your parents living?
JACK: I have lost both my parents.
LADY BRACKNELL: Both? …To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune… to lose both seems like carelessness. Who was your father? He was evidently a man of some wealth. Was he born in what the Radical papers call the purple of commerce, or did he rise from the ranks of the aristocracy?
JACK: I am afraid i really don’t know. The fact is, Lady Bracknell, I said had lost my parents. It would be nearer the truth to say that my parents seemed to have lost me. …I don’t actually know who I am by birth. I was … well, I was found.
LADY BRACKNELL: Found!
JACK: The late Mr Thomas Cardew, an old gentleman of a very charitable and kindly disposition, found me, and gave the name of Worthing, because he happened to have a first-class ticket for Worthing in his pocket at the time. Worthing is a place in Sussex. It is a seaside resort.
LADY BRACKNELL: Where did the charitable gentleman who had a first-class ticket for this seaside resort find you?
JACK: (gravely) In a hand-bag.
LADY BRACKNELL: A hand-bag?
JACK: (very seriously) Yes, Lady Bracknell. I was in a hand-bag – a somewhat large, black leather hand-bag, with handles to it – an ordinary hand-bag in fact. […]
LADY BRACKNELL: I would strongly advise you, Mr Worthing, to try and acquire some relations as soon as possible, and to make a definite effort to produce at any rate one parent, of either sex, before the season is quite over.