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)