Respect and reputation are extremely important in the polite Victorian society of An Ideal Husband. The respect of your peers gets you an invitation to dinner and a potential opening for what it is you really want: a promotion, a husband, more invitations to dinner, etc. Decorum is so ingrained in these characters that they can't talk to their friends in front of the butler, and can't order the butler in front of their friends. Characters who flout social norms are punished or woefully misunderstood.
Questions About Respect and Reputation
Would Sir Robert command more respect from the reader/audience if he came clean to the public?
How much of Lady Chiltern's interior life does she reveal? At 27 and married for years, could she truly be as idealistic as she says? Is this a badly written character?
How does Sir Robert's relationship to his reputation differ from Lord Goring's?
Chew on This
Lord Caversham's verbal abuse of his son reflects Victorian England's worship of surfaces.
Mrs. Cheveley's bad-girl status helps her gain access to what she wants.