The Importance of Being Earnest – Algernon Moncrieff

Algernon, the play’s secondary hero, is closer to the
figure of the dandy than any other character in the play. A charming,
idle, decorative bachelor, Algernon is brilliant, witty, selfish,
amoral, and given to making delightful paradoxical and epigrammatic
pronouncements that either make no sense at all or touch on something profound.
Like Jack, Algernon has invented a fictional character, a chronic
invalid named Bunbury, to give him a reprieve from his real life.
Algernon is constantly being summoned to Bunbury’s deathbed, which
conveniently draws him away from tiresome or distasteful social
obligations. Like Jack’s fictional brother Ernest, Bunbury provides
Algernon with a way of indulging himself while also suggesting great
seriousness and sense of duty. However, a salient difference exists
between Jack and Algernon. Jack does not admit to being a “Bunburyist,”
even after he’s been called on it, while Algernon not only acknowledges
his wrongdoing but also revels in it. Algernon’s delight in his
own cleverness and ingenuity has little to do with a contempt for
others. Rather, his personal philosophy puts a higher value on artistry
and genius than on almost anything else, and he regards living as
a kind of art form and life as a work of art—something one creates
oneself.
Algernon is a proponent of aestheticism and a stand-in
for Wilde himself, as are all Wilde’s dandified characters, including
Lord Goring in An Ideal Husband, Lord Darlington
in Lady Windermere’s Fan, Lord Illingworth in A
Woman of No Importance, and Lord Henry Wootton in The
Picture of Dorian Gray. Unlike these other characters,
however, Algernon is completely amoral. Where Lord Illingworth and
Lord Henry are downright evil, and Lord Goring and Lord Darlington
are deeply good, Algernon has no moral convictions at all, recognizing
no duty other than the responsibility to live beautifully.