Bunbury + -ing, coined by Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) after Bunbury, the fictitious invalid friend of the character Algernon whose supposed illness is used as an excuse to avoid social engagements.”
Christopher Craft, in Another Kind of Love (1994):
“…Who is “Bunbury” and what are his filiations—familial, erotic, conceptual—with “Ernest John?” Why must desire submit to such arbitrary terms and terminations? To begin answering these questions, we must now confront this play’s phantom self, himself actually no self but rather a gnomic signifier—a name, that is, without a being. I mean of course the nonexistent but omnipresent Mr. Bunbury, upon whom (but there is no whom) so much so curiously depends.
Like all works of art, it [The Importance of Being Earnest] drew its sustenance from life, and, speaking for myself, whenever I see or read the play I always wish I did not know what I do about Wilde’s life at the time he was writing it—that when, for instance, John Worthing talks of going Bunburying, I did not immediately visualize Alfred Taylor’s establishment. On rereading it after his release, Wilde said, “It was extraordinary reading the play over. How I used to toy with that Tiger Life.” At its conclusion, I find myself imagining a sort of nightmare Pantomime Transformation Scene in which, at the touch of the magician’s wand, instead of the workday world’s turning into fairyland, the country house in a never-never Hertfordshire turns into the Old Bailey, the features of Lady Bracknell into those of Mr. Justice Wills. Still, it is a masterpiece, and on account of it Wilde will always enjoy the impersonal fame of an artist as well as the notoriety of his personal legend.
Frontal knowledge of Bunbury must be renounced at the outset. Bunbury is, by definition, a character “always somewhere else at present”: his person or being cannot be summoned, and knowledge of him can be sought only along the path by which his name emerges even as his body disappears. As a figure for what must not be represented, a figure thus sans figure, Bunbury is constituted within—not before or beyond—an irreducible oscillation of knowledge and ignorance, occultation and display. Neither liberating nor repressive in “essence,” given alternately or even simultaneously to lubricious slippage and disciplinary reversal, this oscillation enables both the unspecified pleasures of serious Bunburyism and the more enforcing binarisms operating in the Auden passage above. That passage is remarkable not merely for the transforming knowledge it displays but even more so for its desire to abjure that knowledge, its volonté d’oublier: Auden would forget Bunbury. What he most emphatically desires in these lines is the retroactive advance of a prophylactic ignorance that would undo the knowledge empowering his nearly hallucinatory perception of Wilde’s play…”