Study Guide

An Ideal Husband Respect and Reputation

By Oscar Wilde

Respect and Reputation

MRS. CHEVELEY. Do you know, I am quite looking forward to meeting your clever husband, Lady Chiltern. […] They actually succeed in spelling his name right in the newspapers. That in itself is fame, on the continent. (1.43)

Mrs. Cheveley seems to think that any attention is good attention.

LADY MARKBY. Oh! she goes everywhere there, and has such pleasant scandals about all her friends. (1.60)

For Lady Markby, scandal is something delicious and exotic – to be kept far away from her, preferably across an ocean.

Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality, every one has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues – and what is the result? You all go over like ninepins - one after the other. (1.268)

Like Lord Goring, Mrs. Cheveley believes that human beings are fundamentally flawed. Unlike him, she uses this knowledge for personal profit.

Suppose that when I leave this house I drive down to some newspaper office, and give them this scandal and the proofs of it! Think of their loathsome joy, of the delight they would have in

Even in Oscar Wilde's time, digging up dirt was an important part of journalism. What would happen, though, if news sources weren't allowed to do the kind of investigative reporting that reveals wrongdoing?

SIR ROBERT. Besides, Gertrude, public and private life are different things. They have different laws, and move on different lines. (1.351)

This quote reveals that Sir Robert is pragmatic – pretty much a necessity for political success.

LADY CHILTERN. They should both represent man at his highest. I see no difference between them. (1.352)

Lady Chiltern is idealistic. This creates some tension for Sir Robert, but perhaps it's useful to have someone with such convictions keeping him honest.

LADY CHILTERN. I know that there are men with horrible secrets in their lives - men who have done some shameful thing, and who in some critical moment have to pay for it, by doing some other act of shame - oh! don't tell me you are such as they are! (1.370)

Lady Chiltern is as self-deluding, as we all are, to some extent. We think: "Oh, that sort of thing happens to other people, but not to me." It's clear that she had been thinking this all along, until she was forced to deal with a difficult situation. Experiencing the crisis in her own home humanizes her.

SIR ROBERT: And now what is there before me but public disgrace, ruin, terrible shame, the mockery of the world, a lonely dishonored life, a lonely dishonored death, it may be, some day? (2.311)

Sir Robert fears public humiliation almost as much as he fears losing his wife's love.

LORD CAVERSHAM. [Opens THE TIMES.] 'Sir Robert Chiltern . . . most rising of our young statesmen . . . Brilliant orator . . . Unblemished career . . . Well-known integrity of character . . . Represents what is best in English public life . . . Noble contrast to the lax morality so common among foreign politicians.' (4.31)

Part of us applauds Sir Robert's narrow escape, part of us wanted him to be caught – and then redeemed.

SIR ROBERT. Gertrude, Gertrude, you are to me the white image of all good things, and sin can never touch you. (4.272)

Oh dear. This quote occurs at the end of the play. After Sir Robert has twisted Lady Chiltern's arm to accept his imperfection and obvious missteps, he wants her to be the "white image of all good things"? Maybe you should write the sequel: An Ideal Wife.

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