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.
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