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Diana Sepulveda #1001173 Sexual Anarchy 603-103-MQ Professor B.

Fraser November 7, 2011

An Ideal Husband: Is Perfection Ideal? Each of Wildes characters in the play An Ideal Husband represent different belief systems and their values play against each other to reveal the irony and hypocrisy of Victorian expectations. The respectable Gertrude Chiltern, for instance, follows the rules and conforms to the conventions, thus embodying the ideal of Victorian womanhood: she is virtuous, politically engaged, and active in her husband's career. Mrs Cheveley, on the other hand is manipulative, intelligent and above all, duplicitous; she is a genius in the day time and a beauty at night (Wilde, 489). Mabel Chiltern and Lord Goring become a representation of a well-balanced relationship; they are aware of each others faults and they do not hold unrealistic expectations for their marriage. Each of these elements interact in the play and ultimately demonstrate that truthfulness, trust and passion rather than honour and duty are necessary elements for a lasting, fulfilling marriage. Gertrude Chiltern expects her husband to be pure, noble, honest (Wilde, 521) and stainless. Robert Chiltern seems to be more realistic about his wife; he knows that she would not question morality and that she would not forgive him for what he has done, he describes

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her as pitiless in her perfection- cold and stern and without mercy (Wilde, 529). However it is her perfection and high moral standards that he loves about her, she is a good addition to his career. Lord Caversham, who represents Victorian society, constantly pushes his son Lord Goring to be more like Robert Chiltern whose hard work (...) and sensible marriage with a good woman (Wilde, 524) have made him an exemplary man. Only the reader sees the irony in all of this since Lord Caversham (and the public) never find out about Roberts shameful secret. Two characters who may not be as relevant for the plot as they are important to the plays final message are Lady Basildon and Mrs. Marchmont, whose husbands are hopelessly faultless (Wilde, 490). These two couples represent the many unhappy wives and bored husbands that Caird talks about in her essay. Lady Basildon and Mrs. Marchmont constantly complain about the lack of excitement in their marriage which comes from the perfection in their husbands. The relationship between Lord Goring and Mabel is a contrast to the Chilterns; it is light and playful yet realistic and humanistic. It challenges the ideals of conventional marriages based upon respectability, duty and the traditional roles of man and wife. Lord Goring, in particular represents Wildes position against Victorian ideals; although he takes great pleasure of trivial affairs, he shows that he is in fact the most loyal of friends as he saves the Chilterns marriage. Arthur always encourages them to be honest with each other, he is thoughtful, diligent and he does not have dark secrets. Mabel is innocent, and unaware of the power struggles that surround her. Mabel Chiltern avoids any kind of earnestness, and she constantly mocks Tommy Trafford endless marriage proposals and the ideals of husbandry. She openly

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states that she has no character at all (Wilde, 513) and that (her) duty is a thing (she) never does (Wilde, 541). This exclusion of duty from a good marriage is posed by Caird, who argues that the intense desire for one anothers happiness, would make interchanges of whatever kind the outcome of a feeling far more passionate than that of duty (Caird, 196). Mabel understands that acceptance and trust are the foundation of a good marriage and she comes to this conclusion naturally. Lord Caversham and therefore society- supported the idea of marriage as a question of property and not a matter for affection (Wilde, 527). In fact, he believed women were inferior and lacking common sense which exemplifies the legalized prostitution that Caird proposes. He does not think that his son can be successful and respectable without a wife just as women who (did) not want to marry (were thought of as) unfeminine (and) immodest. (Caird, 194) The trust and honesty that the Chilterns lacked are key elements for a successful and fulfilling marriage which is also a relationship of friendship. The ideals of respectability, duty and character not only let individuality die (Caird, 195), they also reduce marriage to a hopeless, one-sided institution (Wilde, 523). This is exactly what happened to Gertrude Chiltern, who almost lost everything before letting herself forgive her husband. She was so convinced that any dishonourable act should not be forgiven that she almost lost her husband. It is only when she needs to be forgiven for her lies that she realizes that ideal is not always achievable. At the end of the play, the reader is left with two couples whose union is prompted by love (...) and by friendship (Caird, 194).

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Works cited Caird, Mona. Marriage. A New Woman Reader: Fiction, Articles & Drama of the 1890s. Ed. Carolyn Christensen Nelson. Peterborough: Broadway Press. 2000. Wilde, Oscar. An Ideal Husband. Complete works of Oscar Wilde/ with an introduction by Vyvyan Holland. 1st Perennial Library ed. Reprint. Originally published: London: Collins, 1966.