The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
The Importance of Being Earnest Foolishness and Folly Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Act.Line) Every time a character talks counts as one line, even if what they say turns into a long monologue.
Jack: My dear Algy, you talk exactly as if you were a dentist. It is very vulgar to talk like a dentist when one isn't a dentist. It produces a false impression. (I.73)
It’s the timing of this statement that makes it so funny. Jack’s point seems to be that dentists don’t talk like anyone else. However, Jack has just lied to Algernon about his name, his ignorance of a person named Cecily, Cecily's identity as a vertically-challenged aunt, and why his aunt calls him "uncle." It is not Algernon who is being pretentious or hypocritical; it’s really Jack.
Algernon: To begin with, I dined there on Monday, and once a week is quite enough to dine with one's own relations. In the second place, whenever I do dine there I am always treated as a member of the family, and sent down with either no woman at all, or two. In the third place, I know perfectly well whom she will place me next to, to-night. She will place me next Mary Farquhar, who always flirts with her own husband across the dinner-table. That is not very pleasant. Indeed, it is not even decent... and that sort of thing is enormously on the increase. The amount of women in London who flirt with their own husbands is perfectly scandalous. It looks so bad. It is simply washing one's clean linen in public. (I.92)
Algernon’s protests to dining with his Aunt Augusta are funny because many of us have felt the same way about eating dinner with our families. He complains about how families treat their own family members at dinner—sending them down quite improperly with either "no woman at all, or two"—which is no fun. Algernon is most offended by the fact that the woman he’ll be seated next to flirts with her own husband and nobody else. Algernon’s statement is funny and foolish because he recoils at the very thing that society values.
Lady Bracknell: Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think it is high time that Mr. Bunbury made up his mind whether he was going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd. Nor do I in any way approve of the modern sympathy with invalids. I consider it morbid. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to be encouraged in others. Health is the primary duty of life. [...] I should be much obliged if you would ask Mr. Bunbury, from me, to be kind enough not to have a relapse on Saturday, for I rely on you to arrange my music for me. It is my last reception, and one wants something that will encourage conversation, particularly at the end of the season when every one has practically said whatever they had to say... (I.130)
This passage reveals Lady Bracknell’s folly not just in her absolute lack of sympathy for a dying person, but because she talks about life and death as if it were just another choice one could make on a daily basis. She is indignant at Bunbury’s "shilly-shallying" (the Victorian equivalent of flip-flopping) about whether to live or die.