An Ideal Husband
by Oscar Wilde
Sir Robert Chiltern Timeline and Summary
- Sir Robert meets Mrs. Cheveley at his dinner party.
- She threatens to expose the secret of Sir Robert's wealth – selling confidential info – if he doesn't publicly support a venture in which she has a vested interest. She has a letter incriminating him, and she'll happily show it to the press, ruining him forever.
- Sir Robert tells her he will do as she asks.
- Strong-armed by his wife, Sir Robert writes a letter to Mrs. Cheveley saying he will in fact not support the scheme.
- The next morning, Sir Robert confesses everything to Lord Goring: he can't tell his wife about his past or she'll hate him; he can't cross Mrs. Cheveley or she'll ruin him. He doesn't know what to do.
- Questioned by Lord Goring, Sir Robert confesses that he doesn't regret his past decision, which led directly to his current power and wealth.
- Mrs. Cheveley beats Sir Robert back home and tells Lady Chiltern the truth about his past, leaving Sir Robert to explain himself.
- In the face of a totally shocked, wounded and angry Lady Chiltern, Sir Robert explodes in a speech of self-defense. By putting him up on a pedestal, she's made it impossible for him to be honest with her.
- That evening, Sir Robert discovers Mrs. Cheveley in Lord Goring's drawing room. He thinks his friend has been seduced and turned traitor.
- The next morning, Sir Robert makes the speech Mrs. Cheveley doesn't want him to make. He tells Parliament that he cannot, in good faith, back the Argentine scheme – without knowing what the consequences will be.
- When he gets home, he discovers that the damning letter has been burned. He has also found a letter from Lady Chiltern (originally addressed to Lord Goring) that he misconstrues as a love letter to him. He and Lady Chiltern make up.
- Sir Robert offers to leave public office. Lady Chiltern says that it's a great idea.
- Lord Caversham reports that Sir Robert is being offered a position in the Cabinet. Sir Robert is willing to turn it down; after all, he did promise his wife that he would leave politics. After a session with Lord Goring, Lady Chiltern changes her mind and urges her husband to accept the offer.
- Things turn out well for Sir Robert. He doesn't have to publicly admit his youthful mistakes, he gets his wife back – and she's learned the lesson of forgiveness, too.
- In the end, it seems that Lady Chiltern is willing to love Sir Robert as a real person, and not as an ideal husband.