i’m reading some oscar wilde this summer, since i’m considering focusing on late victorian (perhaps even a little edwardian) for my comprehensive exams.  the only wilde i’d read before was salome, which is extremely strange and, from what i gather, not very representative.  so today i sat down and read the importance of being earnest.  and toward the end i discovered what has now become one of my favorite passages in nineteenth-century literature:

Jack:  How you can sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out.  You seem to me to be perfectly heartless.

Algernon:  Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner.  The butter would probably get on my cuffs.  One should always eat muffins quite calmly.  It is the only way to eat them.

Jack:  I say it’s perfectly heartless your eating muffins at all, under the circumstances.

Algernon:  When I am in trouble, eating is the only thing that consoles me.  Indeed, when I am in really great trouble, as anyone who knows me intimately will tell you, I refuse everything except food and drink.  At the present moment I am eating muffins because I am unhappy.  Besides, I am particularly fond of muffins.

Jack:  Well, there is no reason why you should eat them all in that greedy way.  (Takes muffins from Algernon)

Algernon:  (offering tea-cake)  I wish you would have tea-cake instead.  I don’t like tea-cake.

Jack:  Good heavens!  I suppose a man may eat his own muffins in his own garden.

Algernon:  But you have just said it was perfectly heartless to eat muffins.

Jack:  I said it was perfectly heartless of you, under the circumstances.  That is a very different thing.

Algernon:  That may be.  But the muffins are the same.

(from oxford world classics edition, 1995, p. 293)



11 thoughts on “

  1. I read Salome! It’s true, that is a very odd play. I’ve never read The Importance of Being Earnest (I’d like to) but I’ve always enjoyed this passage:

    CECILY. I don’t think you will require neckties. Uncle Jack is
    sending you to Australia.
    ALGERNON. Australia! I’d sooner die.
    CECILY. Well, he said at dinner on Wednesday night, that you would
    have to choose between this world, the next world, and Australia.
    ALGERNON. Oh, well! The accounts I have received of Australia and
    the next world, are not particularly encouraging. This world is
    good enough for me, cousin Cecily.
    CECILY. Yes, but are you good enough for it?

    • i marked that passage, too! and one of my advisors here always quotes a line from algernon — “her hair has turned quite gold with grief.”

      i actually read salome for professor sha, in his nineteenth-century literature and culture class. (i’m going to have lunch with him in september, which is kind of weird.) despite its weirdness, i like it. and the illustrations by aubrey beardsley are great.

      • Yeah, I read it for Sha’s “Sexuality and Literature” class. I bet you also read Blake, as we did… Sha is a Blake FIEND.

      • i actually took a class on blake with sha… and while i don’t like blake so much myself, sha’s sheer unadulterated enthusiasm about blake (his son is named blake!) made me at least respect the lit in the end. and it was cool to go see the originals in the library of congress and the national gallery.

      • oh, tell me about it. to be honest, much of the blake stuff went over my head, but i can definitely admire his imagination and artistry. at the end of the semester the class had dinner at sha’s house, and did you know he has original Blake engravings there??? insane.

      • i remember having dinner at his house at the end of the semester… and when i mentioned that i was thinking of going to rice, this girl told me what a horrible pit houston was. that was nice.

        but original blake engravings. yowza.

      • i like it, although it’s certainly not a favorite. i would recommend reading it… it’s really short, so even if you don’t like it you won’t have spent much time on it.

  2. it’s been so long…

    since i’ve read wilde. that is a great passage though. if you’re considering late 19th century for your comprehensives, you’d better get busy reading conrad. i seem to recallyou saying you couldn’t get enough of heart of darkness. 🙂

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