In The importance of being earnest by Oscar Wilde, a man imagines a person by the name Bunbury, so another man calls that name absurd. Is it really? And why?

  • No real idea, but it might be relevant to note that Henry William Bunbury was a famous caricaturist. Though he died in the early 1800s, his work---and the history books written by his son Sir Henry Bunbury---would likely have been known to Wilde. The latter's writing was known for having a sense of humor. Although "bun" as in "buttocks" is from the 1960s, it had a colloquial meaning in Wilde's time of "tail of a hare." – Chris Feb 14 '16 at 20:45
  • It may well have been a joke/pun, since many of Bunbury's caricatures were likely considered absurd at the time. – Hot Licks Feb 14 '16 at 21:41
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about a (possibly made-up) name, not actual language. – AndyT Feb 16 '16 at 15:58

My guess is that Bunbury is meant (by Wilde) to sound more like a village famous for its hot cross buns than like someone's surname. A footnote to the word Bunburying in the Wikipedia treatment of The Importance of Being Earnest reports that Wilde used the name as an inside joke:

"Bunburying", which indicates a double life as an excuse for absence, is—according to a letter from Aleister Crowley to R. H. Bruce Lockhart—an inside joke that came about after Wilde boarded a train at Banbury on which he met a schoolboy. They got into conversation and subsequently arranged to meet again at Sunbury.

But on the other hand, in a continuation of the same footnote, another writer concludes that Bunburying has a different source:

Carolyn Williams in a 2010 study writes that for the word "Bunburying", Wilde "braids the 'Belvawneying' evil eye from Gilbert's Engaged (1877) with 'Bunthorne' from Patience.

In any case, when Jack says, "So I am going to get rid of Ernest. And I strongly advise you to do the same with Mr ... with your invalid friend who has the absurd name," he may be reacting in irritation to the idea that his imaginary Ernest is of a piece with Algernon's Bunbury—and in his irritation, he may temporarily have forgotten the imaginary invalid's name and recalled only that it sounded a bit odd. Or he may be exasperated by the idea that he is to some extent going along with the fiction of Mr. Bunbury when he refers to him by his given (by Algernon) name instead of calling him "your imaginary invalid" or something like that.

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