Study Guide

An Ideal Husband Women and Femininity

By Oscar Wilde

Women and Femininity

Search "woman" in An Ideal Husband and you'll come by lots of zingers. "Women represent the irrational." "Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious." And can you believe it: "A man's life is of more value than a woman's." What's the deal? Well, in 1890s England, women simply weren't considered men's equals or colleagues in public life. An equal right to vote came in 1928. There are lots of unpleasant words about (and between) women in this play. But take a look at their actions. These women are aware of their power over men and they use it, whether for love or hate.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. How do women negotiate within their given roles of exerting influence?
  2. What do the generational differences of opinion in the play say about women at the turn of the century?
  3. How are Lady Chiltern and Mrs. Cheveley different models of feminine power?
  4. How would women behave differently if the play were set in 21st century United States?

Chew on This

While men exert wider public influence in the play, women press their own agendas by manipulating men with sex and guilt.

While Lord Goring appears to be the play's most progressive character, he is in fact its most sexist.