Thursday, February 04, 2021

14. An Ideal Husband

An Ideal Husband. Oscar Wilde. 1893. 78 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence:

Mrs. Marchmont. Going on to the Hartlocks’ to-night, Margaret?

Lady Basildon. I suppose so. Are you?

Mrs. Marchmont. Yes. Horribly tedious parties they give, don’t they?

Premise/plot: An Ideal Husband is a play by Oscar Wilde originally published in 1893. It opens with a party of sorts. Mrs. Cheveley finds a way to get an invitation so that she can blackmail Sir Robert Chiltern, an under-secretary for foreign affairs. She has a letter from his past--they had a mutual friends years ago--that could do him major damage politically if it's brought to light. She wants him to change his mind and more importantly change his speech and public stance on a matter. (She'll benefit financially from this change of opinion). He wants to say NO, NO, NEVER...but the idea of losing his wife's good opinion not to mention the good opinion of society at large and the government...well...he's tempted to give in. He confides in his oldest friend, Lord Goring; Goring's advice NEVER GIVE IN, NEVER SURRENDER. He wants a chance to find a different solution to this problem. But can he outwit Mrs. Cheveley? 

Of course there are a few more under stories going on that make this one a wee bit more complex than my summary. (Like Mabel Chiltern (Robert's sister) courtship with Lord Goring).

My thoughts: I am really enjoying reading Wilde's plays! This one has to do with discretion/indiscretion, public opinion, morality, and relationships. And POLITICS. It was really such a treat to read this one.


Mabel Chiltern. [Coming up to Lord Caversham.] Why do you call Lord Goring good-for-nothing?
Lord Caversham
. Because he leads such an idle life.
Mabel Chiltern
. How can you say such a thing? Why, he rides in the Row at ten o’clock in the morning, goes to the Opera three times a week, changes his clothes at least five times a day, and dines out every night of the season. You don’t call that leading an idle life, do you?

Sir Robert Chiltern. What an appalling philosophy that sounds! To attempt to classify you, Mrs. Cheveley, would be an impertinence. But may I ask, at heart, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Those seem to be the only two fashionable religions left to us nowadays.
Mrs. Cheveley
. Oh, I’m neither. Optimism begins in a broad grin, and Pessimism ends with blue spectacles. Besides, they are both of them merely poses.
Sir Robert Chiltern
. You prefer to be natural?
Mrs. Cheveley
. Sometimes. But it is such a very difficult pose to keep up.

 Mrs. Cheveley. Ah! the strength of women comes from the fact that psychology cannot explain us. Men can be analysed, women . . . merely adored.

Mrs. Cheveley. Questions are never indiscreet. Answers sometimes are.

Mabel Chiltern. What an absurd reason!
Lord Goring
. All reasons are absurd.

Lord Goring. I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.
Lord Caversham
. You seem to me to be living entirely for pleasure.
Lord Goring
. What else is there to live for, father? Nothing ages like happiness.

Lord Goring. I adore political parties. They are the only place left to us where people don’t talk politics.
Lady Basildon
. I delight in talking politics. I talk them all day long. But I can’t bear listening to them. I don’t know how the unfortunate men in the House stand these long debates.
Lord Goring
. By never listening.
Lady Basildon
. Really?
Lord Goring
. [In his most serious manner.] Of course. You see, it is a very dangerous thing to listen. If one listens one may be convinced; and a man who allows himself to be convinced by an argument is a thoroughly unreasonable person.

Lord Goring. You should go to bed, Miss Mabel.
Mabel Chiltern
. Lord Goring!
Lord Goring
. My father told me to go to bed an hour ago. I don’t see why I shouldn’t give you the same advice. I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.

Lord Goring. Life is never fair, Robert. And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.

Lord Goring. [Turning round.] Well, she wore far too much rouge last night, and not quite enough clothes. That is always a sign of despair in a woman.

Lord Goring. It is always worth while asking a question, though it is not always worth while answering one.

Lord Goring. [After a long pause.] Nobody is incapable of doing a foolish thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong thing.

Lord Goring. [Rising.] No, Lady Chiltern, I am not a Pessimist. Indeed I am not sure that I quite know what Pessimism really means. All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation of the next. And if you are ever in trouble, Lady Chiltern, trust me absolutely, and I will help you in every way I can. If you ever want me, come to me for my assistance, and you shall have it. Come at once to me.

Mabel Chiltern. Well, Tommy has proposed to me again. Tommy really does nothing but propose to me. He proposed to me last night in the music-room, when I was quite unprotected, as there was an elaborate trio going on. I didn’t dare to make the smallest repartee, I need hardly tell you. If I had, it would have stopped the music at once. Musical people are so absurdly unreasonable. They always want one to be perfectly dumb at the very moment when one is longing to be absolutely deaf. Then he proposed to me in broad daylight this morning, in front of that dreadful statue of Achilles. Really, the things that go on in front of that work of art are quite appalling. The police should interfere. At luncheon I saw by the glare in his eye that he was going to propose again, and I just managed to check him in time by assuring him that I was a bimetallist. Fortunately I don’t know what bimetallism means. And I don’t believe anybody else does either. But the observation crushed Tommy for ten minutes. He looked quite shocked. And then Tommy is so annoying in the way he proposes. If he proposed at the top of his voice, I should not mind so much. That might produce some effect on the public. But he does it in a horrid confidential way. When Tommy wants to be romantic he talks to one just like a doctor. I am very fond of Tommy, but his methods of proposing are quite out of date. I wish, Gertrude, you would speak to him, and tell him that once a week is quite often enough to propose to any one, and that it should always be done in a manner that attracts some attention.

Lady Markby. [Reflecting.] You are remarkably modern, Mabel. A little too modern, perhaps. Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern. One is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly. I have known many instances of it.

Lord Goring. Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself.
. Yes, my lord.
Lord Goring
. To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance, Phipps.

Lord Goring. I am glad you have called. I am going to give you some good advice.
Mrs. Cheveley
. Oh! pray don’t. One should never give a woman anything that she can’t wear in the evening.



© 2021 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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