Cecily Cardew: Character in The Importance of Being Earnest

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Vibrant in Nature and a Keen Observer

      Miss Cecily Cardew is Jack's ward and the granddaughter of the old gentleman who found and adopted Jack when Jack was a baby. Cecily is probably the most realistically drawn character in the play. She is charming and immensely pretty. She is quite tall. Being the only granddaughter of Thomas Cardew she is expected to inherit a huge legacy after attaining the appropriate age. She has keen interest in gardening but spurns the idea of studying German grammar, political economy and geography as she finds them horrible. Being jovial in nature, she dislikes uncle Jack's grim seriousness. It is peculiar to notice her observation on the novels which have happy endings. They simply depress her. Her reaction after coming to know that Miss Prism has written a novel in three volumes is quote worthy in this context. "How wonderfully clever you are! I hope it did not end happily? I don't like novels that end happily. They depress me so much."

      She is also intelligent enough to perceive the development of mutual likings between Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble. We notice her ready intelligence when Dr. Chasuble comes to visit Miss Prism who is busy goading Cecily to put her concentration in studying German grammar. Cecily tells Dr. Chasuble how badly Miss Prism needs a stroll outside with Dr. Chasuble since she (i.e. Miss Prism) is having headache. Thus she makes an opportunity for the lover couple of enjoying some intimate moments.

Cecily's Diary

      Cecily has the habit of writing diary on regular basis. When Miss Prism questions about this particular habit of hers, she gives a quick reply: "I keep a diary in order to center the wonderful secrets of my life. If I didn't write them down, I should forget all about them." Upon this Miss Prism tells her that human memory is like a diary that records every incidents. However, Cecily contradicts this view by making a witty as well as paradoxical comment insisting that "it (the human memory) usually chronicles the things that have never happened, and couldn't possibly have happened. I believe that memory is responsible for nearly all the three volume novels that Mudie sends us". In fact she ridicules the distortion of facts by human memory. Equally funny is her reaction towards Algernon's praise of hers. When Algernon breaks into an eloquent speech praising Cecily's exquisite beauty, Cecily starts to note down it in her diary and when Algernon wants to have a look into it she declines and tells:

      "You see it (ie Cecily's diary) is simply a very young girl's record of her own thoughts and impressions, and consequently meant for publication. When it appears in volume form I hope you will order a copy. But pray, Ernest, don't stop. I delight in taking down from diction. You can go on. I am quite ready for more." Being totally outwitted Algernon starts to cough to hide his embarrassment. Whereupon Cecily tells that while giving dictation one should not cough rather should speak fluently. Also she expresses her ignorance in spelling the word 'cough'. In reply Algernon tells her that he loves her wildly, passionately, devotedly and also hopelessly. Hearing this Cecily tells that in this context 'hopelessly' is an inappropriate word and seems to be meaningless. Her habit of writing diary seems farcical for in such a steadfast she keeps record of every incident including her lover's adoration and also his coughing.

Cecily’s Engagement to Ernest

      Cecily's engagement to Ernest suggests another farcical treatment of the play. Long before meeting Ernest (i.e. Algernon) she fell in love with him. His unscrupulous ways of his life as told by Jack fascinate her and she is also besotted by his name 'Ernest' she got engaged with Ernest in her imagination she bought herself a ring in his name, and also got a bangle with a true lover's knot, also in his name pledging to wear it always. She made it a point to write letters to herself in his name, thrice a week, occasionally more frequently. Even she broke the engagement once piqued hy Ernest's attitude but later forgave and reconciled with him. Meeting Algernon brings her imagination into reality and she readily accepts his proposal. She loves everything about the real Ernest, alias Algernon. She loves his curly hair, his name 'Ernest' and his wrongful deeds that he often commits. Her yardstick of judging Ernest, as her perfect suitor only evokes our laughter for its implausibility which our common sense reckons as a farce.

Cecily's Sense of Humour

      With her startling and witty humour Cecily amuses readers. She makes a queer observation on the deteriorating effect of German lesson on her beauty. She also recommends a wholesome meal as an imperative to start an entirely new life. Paradoxes are present in her statements concerning women working for charity and seeming to have progressive mind or the unpleasant talk which is best to be spoken in a candid manner. These elements of paradox become conspicuous in her appreciation for punctuality though herself being an unpunctual. She makes an assessment of the behaviour of both Jack and Algernon of eating muffins telling that they do so since they are penitent.

      Her ingenuous remarks to Lady Bracknell about her age is also comical. She tells: "Well, I am really only eighteen, but I always admit to twenty when I go to evening parties."

Presence of Satire in Her Comments

      Cecily's dialogues are impregnated with satirical yet comical elements. The traits is very much evident in her conversation with Gwendolen. When Gwendolen expresses her disliking for crowd, Cecily comments: "I suppose that is why you live in town." In another instance Gwendolen exhibits her amazement at seeing abundance of unknown flowers to which Cecily retorts back: "Oh, flowers are as common here, Miss Fairfax, as people are in London." Suspecting Gwendolen of her malicious intention to entice her 'Ernest', Cecily tells sardonically: "No doubt you have many other calls of a similar character to make in the neighborhood." In replying Algernon's frenzied declaration that he can wait for Cecily till she becomes thirty-five, she tells the period is too long for her to wait. Once she wisely comments that importance of business engagement has nothing to do with the beauty of life.

      After hearing the comparison of her beauty with pink rose, as made by Algernon, she confesses: "Miss Prism never says such things to me."

Conclusion

      If Gwendolen is a product of London high society, Cecily is its antithesis. She is a child of nature, as ingenuous and unspoiled as a pink rose, to which Algernon compares her in Act II. However, her ingenuity is belied by her fascination with wickedness. She is obsessed with the name Ernest just as Gwendolen is, but wickedness is primarily what leads her to fall in love with "Uncle Jack's brother," whose reputation is wayward enough to intrigue her. Like Algernon and Jack, she is a fantasist. She has invented her romance with Ernest and elaborated it with as much artistry and enthusiasm as the men have their spurious obligations and secret identities. Though she does not have an alter-ego as vivid or developed as Bunbury or Ernest, her claim that she and Algernon / Ernest are already engaged is rooted in the fantasy world she has created around Ernest. Cecily is probably the most realistically drawn character in the play, and she is the only character who does not speak in epigrams. Her charm lies in her idiosyncratic cast of mind and her imaginative capacity, qualities that derive from Wilde's notion of life as a work of art. These elements of her personality make her a perfect mate for Algernon.

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