“Masks, Poses, Facades, Deceptions- All Are Weapons in the Battle of Life”
Throughout ‘An Ideal Husband’, the “battle of life” is portrayed in numerous ways by numerous different characters. For example. Robert Chiltern deceives those around him by selling a cabinet secret, and Mrs Cheveley wears the mask of good intentions when in reality she only wants to make money. The only common denominator is the fact that the characters in the play all lie and deceive others for their own benefit.
Sir Robert Chiltern’s use of deception in the play is by far the most high profile out of all the characters. After all his great fortune, of which the play’s setting is largely based around, was all funded by his dishonest method of making money in selling a cabinet secret about the Suez Canal Scheme. This “swindle” as Mrs Cheveley referred to it, propelled Robert into the Government and founded his reputation as being a true gentleman and valued member of Parliament. In terms of Robert using the swindle to aid him in the “battle of life”, he speaks to Lord Goring about his life before he met Baron Arnheim. He tells Lord Goring that he had the “misfortune of being well born and poor” and that Goring “never knew what ambition was” in the way he did, which would further develop the idea that Chiltern used the medium of deception to make a better life for himself. One could argue that if Chiltern hadn’t taken advantage of the situation that he found himself in, he would still be in the significantly less reputable position of Under Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
This whole affair closely relates to elements of the contemporary historical context, as the Suez Canal was opened in 1869, and ‘An Ideal Husband’ was published in 1895, midway through its construction. This would therefore mean that the Canal would have been a popular topic of conversation at the time. The fact that Wilde was using these popular topics in his work further reinforces his stature of being one of the most sought-after conversationalists of his time.The way that scandals such as this have been interpreted has changed over the years, alongside people’s attitudes towards success. In terms of the audience at the time of Wilde’s life, they would have been shocked to see that a so-called gentleman had been so dishonest and selfish. By contrast, in today’s society we have become used to seeing scandals involving people of high society very often.
In fact, Robert Chiltern and his actions almost directly relates to the recent insider trading scandal involving Phil Mickelson, the professional golfer who got caught up in such an incident. This somewhat tarnished his reputation as he lost multiple lucrative sponsors and the respect of many of his admirers. Although Robert Never actually got publicly shamed for his actions, the social ‘punishment’ would have been the equivalent to that of Mickelson.Mrs Cheveley is another character who uses certain poses to succeed in life. At the very start of Act One, she describes being natural as “such a difficult pose to keep up”. This implies that her entire persona is based around her being phony towards others, but she won’t change her ways because that is not who she is. In many ways this makes her very similar to Robert, in the way that she was born poor but full of ambition.
This idea is developed when she speaks to Lord Goring about why she got engaged with him, as she justifies it simply by saying “I was poor; you were rich.” By speaking in such terms, this tells the audience that she is not a loving or friendly person, but simply a pragmatic one, who has no qualms with deceiving others. It is this feature of her character which most likely made Goring fall in love with her; he is a romantic. Wilde played on the notion of ‘opposites attract’ here. This emphasizes that Mrs Cheveley doesn’t care about people’s feelings or trust; just that she succeeds. Further evidence can be seen in the way she almost tears apart the Chilterns’ marriage, just so that she can force Robert to advertise the Argentine Canal Scheme in Parliament and make her a profit on her investment. Interestingly, Wilde was perhaps airing his own political views about the authenticity of the Argentine Canal Scheme.
In the 19th Century, Women were expected to marry in their early twenties, not with the view of sexual desire, but with one of maternal desire instead. Furthermore, they were certainly not expected to be the ones in society who earn the money. Mrs Cheveley contradicts all of these stereotypes because in every relationship that she has in the play, positive or negative, she is the one in control, which would have most probably shocked men at the time of writing, but empowered women. For example, although her relationship with Robert Chiltern turned sour, she is still the person who is telling him what to do. A key example of this is found when Mrs Cheveley first admits to Robert Chiltern that she knows about his secret. He is about to stand up and leave, before Wilde writes in the stage directions that she “detains” him, as if he were in a prison, and she had the key. This is Mrs Cheveley’s “weapon”, and she uses it to try and better her own life by gaining an advantage over Robert.
This idea about being a in a prison directly relates to Wilde’s life, as he spent two years (1895-1897) sentenced to hard labour for being a homosexual. In this sense we can clearly see that it is Wilde who shares certain similarities with Sir Robert Chiltern, based on the fact that they both kept some secrets which would have defamed them. The only difference is that Chiltern seems to get away with it more, whereas Wilde didn’t. I believe that these differences in outcomes between Wilde and Chiltern was Wilde portraying what he hoped would happen in terms of his secrets being found out. In my view this is where the title of the play comes from, but more significantly the word “Ideal”, as these were the “ideal” outcomes that Wilde wished for when his secret got found out; that it all turns out alright for him in the end.Perhaps the only character in the entirety of the play to use deceit in a relatively noble way is Lord Goring, when he tricks Mrs Cheveley into displaying that the Brooch that she left at the Chilterns’ house is not hers. For instance, he draws Mrs Cheveley into lying by saying the brooch was a “present”, and then quickly traps her within her own deceit by informing her that he gave it to his cousin as a gift ten years ago. Now that Cheveley couldn’t escape the truth, as she was both trapped inside Goring’s house, and trapped with the Brooch on her arm, she had no choice but to hand over the letter which so incriminated Robert over. This act of deceit aided Goring in numerous ways, all of which could be considered as being for the side of ‘good’ over ‘evil’. For example, it ridded him of Mrs Cheveley, which paved the way for him to propose to the woman whom he truly loved in Mabel Chiltern, and it subsequently allowed Robert to take Goring back as his “closest friend”.
In Wilde’s mind, he was very much like Goring, in the way that he lied for a good cause, rather than to gain an advantage on somebody else. The similarities between Wilde and Goring’s character are so similar, this notion is hard to ignore. For instance, they can both be considered ‘dandies’, they are both great believers in aestheticism and they both often spoke in paradoxical ways. In the Second Act of ‘An Ideal Husband’, Goring says “Nobody is incapable of doing a foolish thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong thing.” This outlines Wilde’s views on using methods such as deceit for a person’s own self benefit as being perfectly valid, and that so long as it helps them, they are not going to consider their own actions as being foolish.Overall, Wilde presents methods such as masks, poses facades and deceptions as weapons in the battle of life throughout the play, however the key examples of this lie with Robert Chiltern, Mrs Cheveley, and Lord Goring. Robert Chiltern used the weapon of deception and dishonesty to become wealthier and more reputable. Mrs Cheveley used the pose of being “natural” to get herself into a position to manipulate Robert, and she deceived Lord Goring into thinking that she loved him when in reality she loved his wealth. Furthermore, she tried to deceive Lord Goring again when he showed Mrs Cheveley the stolen Brooch, however he was not fooled and deceived her himself, so as to save both his friend and his love life.
The Conflicting Themes Of Christianity And Socialism potrayed in Oscar Wilde’s Short Stories
Not many Literary Figures have retained notoriety quite as splendidly as Oscar Wilde has. His illustrious body of work continues to be heavily debated to this day. Although renown for his plays and sole novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wilde wrote an influential collection of Fairy Tales he deemed suitable for “childlike people aged eighteen to eighty”. This disclaimer was likely made to avoid being accused of indecorous themes for children’s literature. Scholars have long concentrated on the homosexual allusions found in these tales which has repeatedly eclipsed their shrewd social commentary. The Happy Prince and Other Tales is a collection of short stories published in 1888. The Christian influences suggest he was partially inspired by Hans Christian Andersen. Unlike Andersen’s penchant for the transcendent powers of suffering, the end of Wilde’s tales often ring hollow. The Selfish Giant dies, the Happy Prince has idly given everything he has, and the Nightingale sacrifices her life in vain. There is no “Happy Ever After”. While it may seem peculiar that he would write such weighted pieces when he was a ardent believer in “art for the sake of art”, Wilde has never been an embodiment of consistency. He went as far as admitting that “Consistency was the last refuge of the unimaginative”. The myriad of Christian socialist references foreshadow his future marxist influenced work. In “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” written years later, Wilde presents an argument for an ideal society in which Socialism and Christianity are intimately intertwined. Wilde bases this premise from the distinctly singular perspective of an artist, in a setting in which Socialism has already reached it’s peak: Individualism. Self-Realization and Socialism are seldom seen as compatible, as one seems inherently selfish and the other fundamentally selfless. This may be the author’s way to compel society to accept him for being drastically different and to refuse settling for contentment. Wilde attempts to reconcile these antagonistic notions in The Happy Prince and Other Tales.
As one reads through the tales, it becomes apparent Wilde is disturbed by the rigidity of social expectations. They mirror the issues he perceives during the Victorian Era. The use of the Fairy Tale form permitted him certain liberties in expressing his contempt for social conventions, authoritarian institutions and charity. The first story in the collection is the best-known and titled tale “The Happy Prince”. The religious symbolism and socialist messages are vivid. The adorned statue of the Happy Prince, a once oblivious monarch living above his city and never having a care in the world, is confronted with the harsh living circumstances of his subjects. A swallow lands near him and notices the statue is shedding tears for he has come to the realization that he had not known of the misery plaguing his people while he was alive. He pleads with the swallow to do him favours, each of which demand an ornament be plucked out of him to be given to a poor family. The swallow reluctantly agrees to help the Happy Prince and carries out his wishes. Their love for each other grows as the story progresses and the swallow stays with the statue throughout winter. Eventually, the Happy Prince’s statue becomes ashen and the swallow passes away from the cold, causing the statue’s leaden heart to break. This echoes the altruistic death of Christ. The next day, the Mayor and councilmen pass by the statue and are taken aback by its’ lacklustre appearance. They melt the statue to make a new one in the Mayor’s image. While the council decides on the ways to proceed, an Angel brings the leaden heart and the lifeless bird to Heaven. Acknowledging their selfless sacrifice, God grants them access to his Garden for Eternity. As poetic as the ending of the tale is, Wilde makes a few perceptive remarks. The Happy Prince, as philanthropist as he may have been in death, was blissfully unaware of hardships in life, and attempts to remedy this by gifting gems till he has nothing left to give. When he is no longer considered beautiful, he is no longer considered useful and is melted to create another embellished statue, suggesting a vicious cycle. He may have helped those families to survive the winter, but social change does not come to pass. The swallow dies carrying out the Happy Prince’s egotistical attempts to atone for his past negligence. One may argue that the pair is given salvation and eternal life to spend with each other, but it seems difficult to dissociate the happiness of the few when the villagers are likely to continue living in aggravated circumstances. Wilde considers charity to be a selfish deed, as it only truly helps the benefactor sleep better at night. I do not believe Wilde condemns the idea of compassion but rather the blind importance of material over the continuously degrading systemic issues.
“The Selfish Giant” is another tale bountiful with Christian and anti-capitalist symbolism. In the Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, Jack Zipes divides the tale in three stages. The first is the Giant, a metaphorical land owner evicting children from his Garden. He comes home after a seven year absence and is enraged to see children have trespassed into his beautiful garden. He scares them away. His actions causes the seasons to halt mid-winter on his property. His ungenerous disposition is punished as he cannot enjoy his barren garden. Spring, symbolic for new beginnings cannot come to pass. The second stage is the realization that his selfishness causes a small child’s misery and he understands why Spring would not arrive. Wilde emphasizes the beauty the children bring to garden. They are innocent, void of social constraints and thus inherently prone to self-realization. This is apparent when the only child not to run away is the one blinded by tears. He cannot see the Giant, and is therefore an uncorrupted judge. The last stage is the phenomenal changes the Giant and the Garden go through when he shares his property. The Giant finds happiness when he opens his Garden to the local children. This ensures the garden’s prosperity and becomes similar to Eden, a Garden free of impurity. The small child reappears wounded and bloodied many years later. He is and incarnation of Christ and has come to take the Giant up to Heaven. Wilde uses this love and compassion as a fundamental base for true socialism. It is not uncommon for many to interpret the kiss between the Christ-like figure and the Giant as a depiction of a homosexual relation. “The Selfish Giant” is the story of a sinner’s road to redemption. Wilde may have very well identified with the Giant, as he was a particularly large man. It is possible that he wrote this in the spirit that he too would be forgiven. However legitimate this argument may be, the allegory functions on many levels, the most conspicuous being the spiritual union with Christ.
The final Fairy Tale examined is “The Nightingale and the Rose”, a tragic tale of unrequited love. Believing a student was destined to be a “true lover”, the nightingale decides to help him find a rose, even though it is out of season, so he may profess his love to the daughter of a Professor. The bird searches frantically for a red rose, and as she finds the adequate Tree, it cannot produce a rose as it is Winter. The Tree reluctantly offers the only solution by saying “build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s-blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.” Believing the student’s love is earnest she sings slowly piercing her chest while singing till the morning light. The student listens and notes the lack of sincerity in her notes. He only understands logic and cannot comprehend the passion behind the sacrificial song. When the Nightingale dies and the rose is born, the Student attributes the miraculous apparition of a rose in winter to mere luck. He presents it to the Professor’s daughter, only to have her reject it because it didn’t compliment her dress and adding she had received jewels from another suitor. The tale is a tragically ironic love story in which the only pure symbol of love is tainted by materialism and obtuse logic. Once again, Wilde end the tale on a decidedly somber note. The nightingale selfless suffering is not rewarded with spiritual release. Not only is this a comment on the shortcomings brought on by capitalism (materialism), it is a reaffirmation of Wilde’s stance on the Aesthetic movement. Firmly identifying beauty and art to be transcending reason.
Oscar Wilde does a masterful job of writing whimsical tales that are lighthearted in appearance. Andersen’s Tales are violent in comparison, but the moral ensures some form of salvation for selfless actions. Wilde’s Tales however, do not provide happy endings. The Happy Prince and Swallow spend eternity in Heaven yet the subjects continue to live miserably. The Giant is forgiven for his sins, but the sight of his lifeless body is the last image we are left with. The Nightingale pointlessly sacrifices her beauty, her talent and her life for a society with skewed priorities. Wilde will later describe Christ as a “man who abandons society entirely, or of the man who resists society absolutely,” and is therefore the paragon of Individualism. His arguments contradict each other considering that forgoing society completely would entail a physical distance from people. As social animals, I do not think one can have true Individualism and Socialism simultaneously. Wilde’s strive for a Christian socialist notion of Individualism is deeply rooted in his own desire to be accepted wholly by society but also maintaining a social conscience.
Quintus, John Allen. “Christ, Christianity, and Oscar Wilde”. Texas Studies in Literature and Language 33.4 (1991): 514–527. Web…
Talairach-Vielmas, Laurence. Marvels & Tales 25.2 (2011): 392–394. Web…
Tatar, Maria. “Chapter 6, Oscar Wilde, Introduction.” The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. Print.
Wilde, Oscar. The Soul of Man under Socialism. Champaign, Ill.: Project Gutenberg, 199. Print.
Zipes, Jack. “Inverting and Subverting the World With Hope: The Fairy Tales of George MacDonald, Oscar Wilde, and L.Baum.” Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization. New York: Wildman, 1983. Print.
Alas!- Ethics and Contradictions in Helas! and the Ballad of Reading Gaol
Oscar Wilde hails from the Victorian generation, a set of writers known for its dogmas and oppression. In many of his works, he negates these austere ideas with his own particular brand of humour; however, Helas! and The Ballad of Reading Gaol are different. Unlike much Oscar Wilde’s irreverent output as a playwright or a composer of witticisms, poems like Helas! and The Ballad of Reading Gaol take a moralistic turn, challenging conventional notions of morality. Most of his works are lighthearted and satirical in nature, but these two poems confront the morality of human actions. Sometimes they do so in very paradoxical ways. It is perhaps for this reason that one may find it much easier to put these two poems in the Victorian canon, for they are much more representative of that time.
Helas! is a poem by Oscar Wilde that deals with the idea of discontentment and decadence. It questions the basis of human actions and concludes that for very little pleasures, we lose our hold on the greater truth of life. He says that he has succumbed to passion so often that his soul has become like a “stringed lute”. This line marks the beginning of a contemplative narrative that questions human nature as well as the human tendency to sacrifice morality for small passions. In this poem, there is a clear binary between morality and passions, and both these ideas are projected as being antithetical to each other. In the following lines, the poet echoes a distinct sentiment that is not very often echoed in his works.
To drift with every passion till my soul
Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,
Is it for this that I have given away
Mine ancient wisdom, and austere control?
Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll
Scrawled over on some boyish holiday
The poet intends to show remorse, but the only crime he has seem to have committed is having indulged in “small passions”. It is interesting to note that he seems to project himself as a foolish criminal in this poem, while the narrative clearly suggests quite the opposite, because in The Ballad of The Reading Gaol he depicts a contrasting idea of morality. In this poem, morality is as it is conventionally seen by society; in The Ballad of Reading Gaol, the poet seems to contest this same restricted idea of morality.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol is another important work by Oscar Wilde that is elegiac in nature. This poem mourns the death of an inmate of Wilde’s during his time in prison and condemns the humiliation the inmate was forced to suffer. One very recurrent sentiment in this poem manifests in the following lines.
Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!
The poet wants the reader to understand that the inmate isn’t really that much of a criminal, if one is to see things differently. He points out the morality of putting an “innocent” man in prison, but in the context of this poem, morality seems to be an entirely different thing. In fact, it is rather antithetical to the idea of morality that is depicted in Helas! Here, the poet dismisses the conventional idea of morality and adopts a new morality, implying that the inmate was innocent because “each man kills the thing he loves”. He condemns the hypocrisy of society that condemns such a man to death. Here, morality would be forgiving the man because his crime does not stand in isolation. Here, morality and passion go hand in hand.
Hence, both the poems project contrasting ideas of morality. One reasserts the traditional idea of morality while the other contests it. If each of these poems is seen in the context of the other and then deconstructed, multiplicity of meaning arises. The speaker of The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a prisoner, and it may be argued that idealistic notions of morality cease to exist in such a space. Meanwhile, the speaker of Helas! has the freedom to preach about a rigid kind of morality, a morality that cannot even forgive indulgence in passion, and would hardly be sympathetic to a crime of passion. Hence, an element of moralism arises in both these poems, where the poet questions the folly of human nature as well as the fallacy of a system that refuses to forgive this folly. In one, passion and morality oppose each other, while in the other, morality exists where passion does.
Obsession, Destruction and Control – a Film Vs. Novel Comparison of Whiplash and the Picture of Dorian Gray
Although created in different eras, Oscar Wilde’s 1980 gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and Damien Chazelle’s 2014 drama film Whiplash are comparable in the exploration of obsession, destruction and control by the text’s creators. Chazelle and Wild analogously explore the concept of obsessions as they evolve in the minds of the protagonists, corresponding through their utilisation of minor characters yet differing in the nature of the fixations examined. Similarly, both texts incorporate the idea of a manipulative dynamic between two individuals, forming contrasts between the methods of control explored by the authors and the diverse techniques employed to examine how fear can influence the characters. As both authors conclude their texts with the destruction of the protagonist, the ending of Whiplash echoes a core motif where The Picture of Dorian Gray exhibits a metaphoric finale. Furthermore, Wilde’s symbolic portrait and Chazelle’s close ups allow each to emphasise an idea of physical destruction arising out of psychological devolvement.
As characterisation and allusion allows the central characters of Wilde’s novel to explore an obsession with physical beauty, Chazelle’s montages reveal the protagonist of Whiplash developing a dissimilar ambitious fixation on drumming. In The Picture of Dorian Gray the protagonist is immediately distinguished by his appearance first described as “a young man of extraordinary personal beauty”, foreshadowing the importance of Dorian’s physical appearance over his disposition. This idea fuels the character’s obsession with his own beauty and its preservation with Wilde forming an analogy between Dorian and the classical myth of Narcissus who tragically loved his own reflection as “in a boyish mockery of Narcissus, [Dorian] had kissed […] those painted lips” of his portrait. Contrastively, the first short montage witnessed in Whiplash establishes Andrew’s growing obsession, with Chazelle integrating close ups of a “Buddy Rich” photograph and album to express the idolised ambition fuelling the protagonist’s fixation (Fig. 1). Additionally, the succeeding frames in the montage cut between Andrew and a low angle shot tracking in towards a drum set, emulating an atmosphere of worship and power (Fig. 2). Unlike the montages of Whiplash, Wilde manipulates Basil’s character to explore an obsession solely developed from beauty as he declares Dorian’s “me[re] visual presence” suggests “an entirely new manner in art”, equating him to the “face of Antonius [in] Greek sculpture”. In a different manner, a second montage in Whiplash implies how Andrew’s obsession consumes his life by combining shots of aggressive drumming with sequences of Andrew fanatically moving to sleep next to the drums (Fig. 3). With the concept of obsession central to both The Picture of Dorian Gray and Whiplash, Wilde explores a fixation on physical beauty through characterisation and allusions to Greek mythology, while the techniques integrated into Chazelle’s montages convey a different, achievement-orientated infatuation with music.
Minor characters in both Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray are utilised to explore the corresponding concept of obsessive behaviour and its alienating effects. Chazelle stresses the suppressed insanity of Andrew’s fixation by juxtaposing a loud sequence of him drumming in frenzied state with a wide mid-shot of his first date with Nicole- exhibiting a contrasting calm blue-green colour scheme and softly spoken dialogue (Fig. 4). Like Nicole, Sibyl highlights the destructive obsession Dorian has with visual and artistic beauty, as he bases their engagement purely on this infatuation claiming her “mere beauty could fill your eyes with tears”. Thus when Sibyl fails to meet Dorian’s expectations of beauty in her acting, he cruelly rejects her declaring that she “killed [his] love” with Wilde exploiting her consequent suicide to highlight the dangerous effects of Dorian’s narcissistic preoccupation with aesthetics. Similarly, while intimate medium close ups in the first date scene of Whiplash imply a connection between the characters, Nicole’s discussion of her undecided collage major contrasts sharply with Andrew’s tenacious fixation on pursuing perfection in jazz drumming. Consequently, Chazelle cuts to a wide shot accentuating the physical distance between the two characters to signify the philosophical divide between Nicole and Andrew due to his obsessive behaviour, forming the foundation of his later rejection (Fig. 5). Alternatively, Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray becomes a medium through which Wilde expresses the aesthetic theories at the core of his novel that instigate Dorian’s obsession with beauty, as he declares that beauty “is a form of genius” and “the wonder of all wonders” with a “divine right of sovereignty”. Ultimately, Chazelle and Wilde similarly incorporate minor characters within their texts that function as a spotlight to emphasise Andrew and Dorian’s obsession and isolation.
In Whiplash, Fletcher encapsulates the archetype of a tyrannical leader, controlling Andrew with hostility and violence, while the charismatic and alluring Henry of The Picture of Dorian Gray, dissimilarly prefers to entice Dorian with the promise of pleasure and excitement. Fletcher’s vulgar language and malicious insults are crucial to his persona, reflecting his aggressive methodology of manipulation as calling Andrew a “worthless, friendless […] little piece of shit” with warnings like “If you deliberately sabotage my band, I will gut you like a pig”, evidently only made him practice more in the succeeding scenes. In contrast, Wilde employs the novels omniscient third person perspective to portray Henry’s more subtle and passive approach to manipulating Dorian using his “philosophy of pleasure”, as the narrator observes that when Henry “talk[ed] to [Dorian] it was like playing upon an exquisite violin. He answered to every touch and thrill of the bow”. Additionally, Chazelle examines the symbolic significance of Fletcher’s hand as a weapon of control by cinematically conveying its importance with close ups, focal shifts and contrastive harsh foreground lighting (Fig. 6). Specific counter shots in Whiplash emphasise the ephemeral but substantial control a conductor has over his band, and Chazelle infers the power Fletcher gains from this by making his hand synonymous with impending violence (Fig. 7). Like Fletcher’s conducting hand, Henry’s extravagant language and dialogue acts as a weapon drawing Dorian towards corruption. Wilde uses this dialogue to plant the seed of Henry’s influence with the narrator observing how Henry’s “mere words” had “touched some secret chord [in Dorian] that […] he felt was now vibrating and throbbing to curious pulses”. Although Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray correspond in relation to the theme of control, Chazelle highlights Fletcher’s aggressive influence with hostile language and symbolism whereas Wilde characterises Henry as a manipulator with a charming approach through an omniscient narrator.
Both Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray examine how fear can control and influence characters decisions, though where Chazelle takes advantage of the characters physical appearance and composition, Wilde employs symbolism. Fletcher’s appearance in Whiplash is utilised to convey the sense of threat experienced by Andrew, which is essential to understanding his consequent submissive reactions. Chazelle draws the audience’s focus towards Fletcher’s muscular physic with lighting, creating shadows that extenuate the lines and form the aura of power and strength that emanates from his character (Fig. 8). As Chazelle focuses on creating Fletcher’s atmosphere of intimidation, Wilde exploits the symbolism of the “yellow book” to stress Dorian’s fear of mortality as a key provocation for his immoral behaviour. The single difference between the book and Dorian’s life in that the “Parisian” grows and unsightly while Dorian remains young becomes the basis of its symbolism. As Dorian becomes “more and more enamoured” with his own beauty and the fear of losing it, he in turn grows “more interested in the corruption of his own soul”, thus as it is Henry who gave him the book, it is Henry who is exploiting Dorian’s fear of mortality to reinforce his poisonous hedonistic influence. Alternatively, Chazelle emphasises the lack of physical contact but frequent closeness between Andrew and Fletcher as the framing and composition of shots reflects the invasion of the characters’ personal space (Fig. 9). This implies Andrew’s fear predominately stems from the threat of internal violence in the form of disapproval and disappointment rather than in the literal sense, forming the core of Fletcher’s effect as Andrew’s actions reflect his desire to meet expectations. While Chazelle develops Fletcher’s aura of power to emphasise his manipulation of Andrew’s fear, Wilde focuses on how Dorian’s fear of mortality heightened by the symbolic yellow book allows Henry to further control his mind.
Although Chazelle and Wilde ultimately convey the either literal or figurative destruction of their protagonists, Whiplash exhibits an ending that parallels a core motif where Wilde infers metaphoric ideas to convey an underlying morale. The final scenes of Whiplash mirror the recurring motif of the “Charlie Parker” anecdote, in which a jazz drummer throws a cymbal at the famous saxophonist’s head- who a year later performs “the best solo” of his career. The reiteration of this story foreshadows Andrew’s final confrontation with Fletcher, when he ferociously drums his best performance despite the psychosomatic abuse he has suffered. Chazelle amplifies the intensity of Andrew’s psychological destruction by combining the powerful rhythmic soundtrack with progressively shorter shots that build up to a final counter close up of Fletcher’s fleeting expression of approval and Andrews feeble smile in response (Fig. 10). The audience is positioned to accept Andrew’s solo as living proof of Fletcher’s sadistic teaching method, as he finally attains his ideal “Charlie Parker”. However, this comes at the cost of destroying the humanity and spirit of Andrew who, ironically, by proving the effectiveness of Fletcher’s abuse, will forever be prisoner to his influence. Like Whiplash, The Picture of Dorian Gray ends with the ironic destruction of the protagonist as, in an effort to start a “new life” and be “good”, Dorian seeks to destroy the only symbol of his conscience- the portrait- and face the immorality of his soul. Yet as Dorian is essentially the essence of this immorality he seeks to destroy, by metaphorically killing the painting, he kills himself and bears the physical consequences of his sin. In depicting death as Dorian’s only salvation, Wilde reinforces the idea of “purification in punishment” and thus criticizes the hedonistic lifestyle. As Wilde highlights Dorian’s physical destruction with a metaphoric ending, Chazelle intensifies the final sequence in Whiplash to depict the destruction of Andrew’s spirit and psyche as he, unlike Dorian who is liberated from his sins in death, will never to be free from Fletcher’s control.
Chazelle and Wilde similarly emphasise the direct physical destruction from the parallel psychological devolvement of their protagonists, however Whiplash depicts this concept through close ups and hand-held shots while The Picture of Dorian Gray explores the idea with a portrait motif. The physical consequences of a damaged psyche in Whiplash is established when Chazelle juxtaposes a shot of Andrew’s fast paced erratic drumming, with a slow motion close up of his bloody fist entering ice. As the blood dramatically disperses in the water, the colour alludes to the manifestation of psychological pain in the characters actions and condition, much like the “scarlet” blood that “gleamed, wet and glistening” on the hands of Dorian’s portrait after he murdered Basil (Fig. 11). Contrary to the ambiguity of Chazelle’s cinematic techniques, the metaphoric concept of Dorian’s portrait is explicitly conveyed as Wilde writes “the picture […] would be to [Dorian] the visible emblem of conscience”. Thus, as Dorian pursues a decadent and immoral lifestyle, the portrait bears the physical traces of his “sins”, transcending its two-dimensional properties to become a character in itself; a physical medium through which Wilde conveys Dorian’s psychological devolvement. In contrast to Wilde’s literary symbolism, Chazelle’s use of erratic hand-held shots positions the audience to experience the hysterical and disoriented state of Andrew’s psyche, combined with close ups of literal allusions to suffering like blood and sweat that connect Andrew’s destroyed state of mind with his physical pain. Where Wilde utilises the symbolic significance of the portrait to stress the physical effects of Dorian’s deteriorating mentality, Chazelle implicitly makes the same connection between the destruction of Andrew’s mind and body with particular close ups and hand-held shots.
With parallel plots, Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray delve into the psychology of obsessive behaviour. Though Chazelle’s montages illustrating a fanaticism for drumming diverge from Wilde’s allusions to classical mythology and dissonant infatuation with beauty, both writers exploit minor characters to assert the isolating effects of this fervent behaviour. In the same manner, the notion of controlling dynamics between characters and the manipulation of fear is at the core of both texts. Wild emphasises Fletcher’s aggressive influence and aura of power with composition and costume, which starkly contrast Henry’s charming manipulation inferred by the narrator and highlighted by Wilde with symbolism. Chazelle and Wilde distinctively develop a connection between physical and psychological damage that ultimately erupts into the either literal or figurative destruction of the protagonist in the denouement of both narratives. Consequently, while the context of Whiplash and The Picture of Dorian Gray significantly differ, the interconnected elements of obsession, destruction and control extend beyond this difference forming a timeless introspective into the darker side of human nature.
Importance of a Woman in Marriage
“It’s a curious thing, Duchess, about the game of marriage – a game, by the way, that is going out of fashion – the wives hold all the honours, and invariably lose the odd trick”.
The play ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ by Oscar Wilde presents a window into the minds and manners of the upper-class Victorian society of London. He satirizes the hypocrisy which underlies the day-to-day behaviour of the so-called aristocrats, and wittily mocks at their shallow morals and beliefs, especially those pertaining to marriage. In Victorian society, women were treated as the ‘weaker vessel’ that had to be cared and provided for by men, first her father and then her husband. However, Wilde shows us how different characters hold different views towards marriage. The men treat it like a game and talk about it in a trivial manner. For example, in the above dialogue by Lord Darlington in the first Act, Darlington calls marriage a game, and later on refers to the ‘modern husband’ as the ‘odd trick’ which the wives lose though they hold ‘all the honours’. His comment is mirrored by Cecil Graham’s dialogue in the next act: “By the way Tuppy, which is it? Have you been twice married and once divorced, or twice divorced and once married? I say you’ve been twice divorced and once married. It seems so much more probable”. The fact that neither Lord Augustus nor Tuppy can remember the facts shows how inconsequential he considers marriage and divorce to be.
Wilde provides us an insight into all aspects of marriage. The first step is the courting period or the period of young love. Lady Agatha Carlisle has reached marriageable age and her mother the Duchess of Berwick is highly intent on making a good match for her. She wishes to ensnare Mr. Hopper, the son of a rich Australian business entrepreneur, and someone whom she describes as a person whom “people are taking such notice of just at present”. This shows that for the Duchess of Berwick, Mr. Hopper’s social fame and status is just as important if not more as his financial position. She says, “I think he’s attracted by dear Agatha’s clever talk”. The readers, however, know that Agatha is a shy, docile, obedient and soft-spoken girl, and says little else apart from, “Yes, mamma”. In Act II, the duchess tries to pass off Agatha as a lucrative wife by exaggerating about her capabilities and trying to make her look clever, “Mind you take great care of my little chatterbox, Mr. Hopper” and “Agatha has found it on the map”. She manipulates circumstances in order to allow the young man to propose, “You have kept those five dances for him, Agatha?” and “The last two dances you might pass on the terrace with Mr. Hopper”.
By the end of the same act she accomplishes her mission, and now starts scheming in order to prevent the couple from moving to Australia, “I think on the whole that Grosvenor Square would be a healthier place to reside. There are lots of vulgar people live in Grosvenor Square, but at any rate there are no horrid kangaroos crawling about”, though previously she had pretended to be fascinated by the place: “It must be so pretty with all the dear little kangaroos flying about”. She mentions her success to Lady Windermere: “Love – well not love at first sight, but love at the end of the season, which is so much more satisfactory”.
The next stage in marriage is the marriage of early years, like that of Margaret Windermere and Arthur Windermere. They have been happily married for two years, have produced an heir and keep no secrets from each other. Their love is so strong and potent that Lady Windermere finds it hard to believe that her husband could ever be unfaithful to her, when the Duchess of Berwick informs her as ‘a well-wisher’ about her husband’s supposed affair with the notorious Mrs. Erlynne, “Duchess, Duchess it is impossible! We are only married two years. Our child is but six months old”. Their marriage is unusual in an era when most men and women married for better economic or social prospects than any real love. However, by the end of the play their marriage has changed. They are now keeping secrets from each other in order to stabilise their relationship.
An example of marriage in later years is that of the Duchess of Berwick. She has no illusions in life and knows perfectly well that her husband is a Don Juan: “Before the year was out, he running after all kinds of petticoats, every colour, every shape, every material”. She does not take his aberrations seriously because he believes this to be normal for men. She answers Lady Windermere’s query as to whether all men are bad: “Oh, all of them, my dear, all of them, without any exception”. Thus the readers learn that in Victorian society, a man had a legal wife who managed his household and produced legal heirs, and also a so-called woman friend. But this is not unexpected, and the husband always returns to his wife, “slightly damaged, of course”. Wives in turn nag and chivvy them from time to time, “just to remind them that we have a perfectly legal right to do so”.
The last type of marriage is that of a marriage of bondage, like that of Mrs. Erlynne. Mrs. Erlynne is an infamous woman with not one past, but “at least a dozen, and that they are all fit”. She is seductive and blatantly flirts with all men in order to show her superiority to them. Very little is told about Mrs. Erlynne’s past. The audience only knows that Mrs. Erlynne is a divorced woman who twenty years ago eloped with her lover, leaving her infant daughter and husband. We don’t know how she survived for all these years but it is probable that she used men like Lord Augustus to provide money for her. But Wilde bows to Victorian morality and prudery, and keeps this aspect of her life veiled. Lord Windermere calls Mrs. Erlynne “a divorced woman, going about under an assumed name, a bad woman preying upon life”. In reality, Mrs. Erlynne is an independent and wilful woman who, finding herself trapped in a loveless shell of a marriage, revolted as any man would do – she had an affair. The only difference was that she was not a man and her act only earns her ignominy and disrepute in the British society. Here Wilde criticises the rigid laws of Victorian morality which allows men to have affairs, but not women. A fact which is revealed by the duchess of Berwick in the first Act, “Oh, men don’t matter. With women it is different”. We can see that while Lady Windermere objects to Mrs. Erlynne’s presence in her ball and though she states, “I will have no one in my house about whom there is any scandal”, she willingly invites the proclaimed dandy Lord Darlington and the divorced man Lord Augustus. Thus, despite her many ideals Lady Windermere too does not hesitate in differentiating between men and women. At the end of the play, Mrs. Erlynne resolves to marry again in order to regain her position in society. However, she intends to marry Lord Augustus, a submissive man whom she can dominate and thus control her marriage, as she wants to. She says, “I’ll make him an admirable wife, as wives go”.
Lady Plymdale highlights the scepticism of society towards happy married couples when she says, “It’s most dangerous nowadays for a husband to pay any attention to his wife in public. It always makes people think that he beats her when they are alone. The world has grown so suspicious of anything that looks like a happy married life”. Marriages are not supposed to be happy and based on love, but hypocrisy. Her own husband has lately become attentive and this irks her. She asks Dumby to take her husband to Mrs. Erlynne’s place for lunch, as she wants him to be enraptured by her charms, dance attendance on her, and not bother his wife. She says, “I assure you, women of that kind are most useful. They form the basis of other people’s marriages”. So, in Lady Plymdale’s experience all marriages have a third party along with them.
Lord Darlington says in the third act, “Awfully commercial, women nowadays. Our grandmothers threw their caps over the mills, of course, but, by Jove, their granddaughters only throw their caps over mills that can raise the wind for them”. This shows that most women in Victorian society only married for money and better economic prospects. In Act II, the Duchess of Berwick tells Agatha, “No nice girl should ever waltz with such particularly younger sons! It looks so fast!” While it is true that waltz was considered ‘fast’ in Victorian society, the Duchess wouldn’t mind if her daughter waltzed with elder sons who stand to inherit their father’s fortune. Even men are not exempt from such behaviour. Lord Augustus is anxious to know that whether Mrs. Erlynne “will ever get back into this demmed thing called Society?” He is worried because he wants to marry her and she has no relations. He says, “Demmed nuisance, relations! But they make one so demmed respectable”. When he is told that she has received a card to the ball held in the respectable house of the Windermeres’, his heart is put to rest, and he immediately starts proposing to her. Mrs. Erlynne too wants Lord Windermere to give her some money which she would pretend was left to her by a third cousin or a second husband, in order to have an additional attraction.
Society’s restriction on the movement of women is shown in this theme, as when Lady Windermere is afraid to leave her failed marriage because of society’s censure and the world’s tongue. She says, “I am afraid of being myself” probably because before this she never had the opportunity of making her own decision. It was either her father or her aunt Lady Julia or her husband who has made all the decisions in her life, and she meekly obeyed them. The end reference to red and white roses symbolise the passion of Mrs. Erlynne and the childlike innocence of Lady Windermere – virtues of the good woman and ideal wife.
‘Lady Windemere’s Fan’ provides a window into Victorian society and Wilde skillfully satirizes its shallow hypocrisy and outdated views on marriage.
Narrator’s Reaction to Erskine Death in “The Portrait of Mr. W.h.”
The long, antepenultimate paragraph of “The Portrait of Mr. W.H.” neatly interrupts the dialogue that has just revealed the true nature of the death of Erskine, a friend of the narrator. The narrator is taking in the shocking news that Erskine had died naturally of consumption and not by suicide, as a letter from Erskine himself had previously led the narrator to believe. Then, in considering the odd circumstances surrounding his friend’s recent demise, the narrator asks himself why Erskine in his tragic egress “turned back to tell [him] what was not true” (100). The paragraph continues with the narrator musing on the meaning of his friend’s dying untruth, ultimately in an attempt to convince himself of its “very uselessness” (100) in converting him back to the theory of Willie Hughes. However, latent in the language he uses to dismiss and devalue Erskine’s letter lays that exact capacity for reconversion that the narrator explicitly denies. He is almost desperately persuading himself that he has lost faith in the theory. He wants to believe that he had at that same moment in which his faith left him, experienced a fundamental change in his character and sensibility that prevents him from being affected by Erskine’s pose of martyrdom. He assures himself that Erskine’s act was futile and that he is firm in his unbelief, but in assuring himself, his very deliberate language rife with ambiguity, deception, and misrepresentation seems to suggest that Erskine’s pose is slowly instilling in the narrator a nervously revived belief.
The narrator, stepping away from the doctor who just informed him of the suicidal nature of Erskine’s death, immediately asks himself a litany of questions, pondering the motive for his friend’s lie. Characteristic of Wildean narration, he paraphrases and misappropriates a literary source. He alludes to a passage of indirect speech from Les Misérables, generalizing it and attributing it to Hugo himself. By first posing the question “was Hugo right?” the narrator asserts a rhetorical mode and, given Hugo’s respected and well-known place in literary history, there is a preemptive level of external authority lent to the succeeding question: “is affectation the only thing that accompanies a man up the steps to the scaffold” (100)? By posing his citation of Hugo as a question, the narrator wants to be taken on his word that this is an accurate, unloaded representation of Hugo’s own thought. He distracts from the problem of the veracity of the attributed paraphrase and redirects attention to the veracity of the formulated question.
However, on closer inspection, it seems to be a paraphrasing of convenient misremembering or, more likely, of calculated misrepresentation. In Hugo’s novel a Bishop goes up the scaffold with a condemned man. The narrator in Les Mis, who probably most nearly approximates Hugo, actually calls the act “sublime” and misunderstood (326). It is only some of the “people in the town who said it was all affectation” (326). Wilde’s narrator reorganizes the passage, eliminates the sublimity, attributes the misunderstanding of the townspeople to Hugo himself, and ultimately presents a misleading paraphrase to characterize Erskine’s action. As a result, he reveals his actively depreciative and misleading tendencies that set the tone for his subsequent musings. Nevertheless, he does so in the form of questions that demonstrate his palpable doubts and indecision about the thoughts crossing his mind. He compounds that uncertainty with the subliminal connotations of the true, contradictory passage from Hugo that is ineluctably entwined with the paraphrase. So, while he is ostensibly questioning the futile affectation of Erskine’s dying act, he is implicitly suggesting the incompatibly sublime aspect of the act that was Hugo’s real assertion.
Wilde’s narrator continues along the same line of thought with one more question: “Did Erskine merely want to produce a dramatic effect” (100)? No, the narrator admits, confident in his ability to pigeonhole his friend, “that was not like him” (100). In fact, according to the narrator, attempting to produce such an effect was more “like something I might have done” (100).
What is initially striking about this sentence is the vagueness inherent in constructing a sentence around a simile with the decidedly vague descriptor “something.” Yet, it is also notable that the narrator chooses to make this confession in the potential pluperfect tense coupled with ‘might.’ The use of this tense demonstrates the careful and deliberate break that he is making with his former self, the narrator from the beginning of the story, since he could just as easily have constructed the sentence using the present tense. His use of the verb ‘might’ draws even more attention to his phrasing and, in the process, causes his assertion to seem somewhat suspiciously labored. The ‘might’ creates even further distance by insinuating that even if he was like he used to be, there is still only the possibility of him producing something like such a dramatic effect. He could have used the conditional ‘would’ in place of ‘might’ and created less of a rift between himself, both past and present, and the hypothetical production of such a dramatic effect.
The narrator “had grown wiser,” though, than he was at the beginning of the text and that’s why it is only his past, naive self that might possibly do something similar to what Erskine did. Considering his effusive praise and passionate emulation of Cyril Graham for the majority of the text, before he claims to have lost belief in the Willie Hughes theory, he is required to admit the possibility of his former self being desirous of creating such an effect. However, it is possibly the fear that Erskine’s dramatic pose at a self-realized departure is affecting his disbelief in the theory that leads the narrator to distance himself self-consciously.
Nevertheless, the narrator claims that he does not think that mere dramatic effect was the purpose of his friend’s letter. He claims that Erskine “was simply actuated by a desire to reconvert [him] to Cyril Graham’s theory” (100). Essentially, the narrator sets up two possible motives for his friend’s letter: to create a dramatic effect or to reconvert him to the theory. He dismisses the former in favor of the latter. But, oddly, he uses synonymous adverbs in both instances. “Merely” and “simply” both provide a plain, stripped-down, almost diminutive description of the two possible motives. This is another conscious move to minimize the significance and influence of Erskine’s letter. However, in juxtaposing the two potential motives as separately uncomplicated and dismissible, either as untrue or ineffective, does that not leave room for the effectiveness of their conflation? This conflation does not enter into the narrator’s thought process and understandably so, as it would, no doubt, force him to admit the effect that Erskine’s letter was having on him, despite his protestations. For isn’t the production of a dramatic effect, in this instance, inextricable from Erskine’s actuation of a desire to reconvert the narrator? Especially given the narrator’s aesthetic sensibilities and his friend’s intimate understanding of his predilections and personality?
As the pace continues to build in the narrator’s thoughts, he becomes more blatant in his use of misrepresentation as a means to cope with his unwanted reconversion. He says that Erskine “thought that if [the narrator] could be made to believe that he had given his life for [the Willie Hughes theory], [he] would be deceived by the pathetic fallacy of martyrdom” (100). He pretends that his friend thought that he would never find out that he actually died of consumption, which is utterly ridiculous given the fact that Erskine asked his mother to present the narrator with the portrait.
Cyril Graham’s suicidal martyrdom was the impetus of the narrator’s original belief, but it seems as though he may have, in fact, grown wiser or more jaded. But Erskine was aware of this; he was aware that martyrdom is “merely a tragic form of skepticism” (100). Therefore, it is not on actual martyrdom that Erskine relies to reconvert the narrator, but the pose at martyrdom, the realization of his “own personality on some imaginative plane out of the reach of the trammeling accidents and limitations of real life” (33).
The narrator continues to harp on martyrdom, though, as if the suicide was not a pose. He claims “no man dies for what he knows to be true” (100). Again, he makes an irrelevant, deceptive point in an attempt to protect his waning disbelief. His assertion is without traction since no one has claimed to know the truth about the theory, rather Erskine believes in it and desires to transfer that belief. In discussing martyrdom the narrator seems to forget that Erskine died naturally, so no one has died for anything. Erskine died by consumption and posed his death as a martyrdom to something he believes in, knowing full well that the fallacy of his pose would be revealed, but confident that his deliberate “mode of acting” (33) would, nonetheless, affect his friend, the narrator.
The interrupting thoughts of the narrator culminate with a declaration of “the very uselessness of Erskine’s letter” (100). This uselessness is exactly what the narrator has been approaching all along; it is exactly what he has been using to fight his encroaching reconversion: a confusion of “an ethical with an aesthetical problem” (33). For Erskine merely wished to go out as he pleased, trumping the limitations of his fatal disease, approximating the death of his dear friend, Cyril Graham, and providing a last hurrah for a theory he had been reconverted to on his deathbed. Erskine is not a slave and true martyr to the theory, but the emptying ciborium of its legacy.
Therefore, the narrator’s declaration of Erskine’s letter’s uselessness is based on the preceding sense he gives that he thinks Erskine thought he would never find out about the true nature of his death. This is decidedly untrue. In stooping to misguided and misleading utilitarian ethics to dismiss Erskine’s letter, the narrator appears to be flailing about in a last ditch effort to assure himself that he has not been infected with belief. However, it is apparent that he is merely trying to avoid admitting his subtle reconversion.
The subsequent paragraph gets more explicit about the narrator’s reentrance into the cult of Willie Hughes. Erskine’s mother returns and hands him the portrait, that symbol of a faith based on deceit. Then, as regent to the deceased high priest, her son, baptizes the narrator as “her tears fell on [his] hand” (100). This happens without narrative comment and all of the denials of reconversion seem ridiculous when in the last paragraph, written in the present tense, the narrator looks at the portrait and admits “there really is a great deal to be said for the Willie Hughes theory of Shakespeare’s sonnets” (101). And isn’t he ultimately carrying out the legacy that was given to him, “stained with the blood of two lives” (98), by telling the story?
An Exploration of Differing Conceptions of Love and Friendship in An Ideal Husband
Love and friendship were major themes for Society Drama during the 1890s. An established ‘stock storyline’ of the period was that of domestic life affected by a predicament, concluding in the reassertion of common ideas: fidelity, duty, forgiveness, etc. Although An Ideal Husband adopts these motifs, it also parodies them through the exaggerated conceptions of love and friendship each character represents. The play therefore accomplishes an exploration of differing conceptions through the assorted types of love the characters embody. The stage directions upon introducing the characters initiate this idea. For example, Lady Chiltern is a ‘grave Greek beauty’ , highlighting her serious nature and foreboding her strict ideals regarding loving her husband. On the other hand, Lord Goring is a ‘flawless dandy’, linking his ‘type’ with the freer ideas of beauty, style and art – more representative of Wilde’s own view on life and love. The stark contrast between each character allows Wilde to explore their individual conceptions of love and highlight the advantages and flaws of each accordingly.
Lady Chiltern’s conception of love appears to alter Wilde’s message within the play. Her notion of love in the beginning is overtly feminine and Wilde exaggerates her view of her husband until it borders on the ridiculous. She claims she ‘worshipped him’ and that he was the ‘ideal of her life’. In making Lady Chiltern so morally upstanding that she threatens to leave Sir Robert because he has stained his otherwise stainless character, she appears laughable to the audience. ‘We women worship when we love; and when we lose our worship, we lose everything’ is one such hyperbolic statement used to highlight the unreasonable nature of her love. ‘Worship’ is linked inextricably to ‘everything’ within the line, implying there is nothing else within her love for Sir Robert, additionally revealing her view on friendship as an element of love – it is non-existent, there is only idealism. She also speaks for all women (‘we’), again furthering the idea that she is a type, representative of all feminine love in Wildes view. Parodying her view of love guides the audience to see her high-moral standing is not approved by Wilde, implying An Ideal Husband serves to highlight the flaws of such a conception of love. This is contrasted by the apparent change in her views at the end of the play when she comments ‘We have both been punished. I set him up too high’ , reflecting the ‘lesson’ the ordeal has taught her. By allowing her to realise her mistake Wilde explores her flawed notion of love and suggests to the audience that they should not make the same error. He champions his own inverse conception of love, that of passion and forgiveness, without such strict morals.
An Ideal Husband also appears to comment on the modern feminine role within relationships. Although Wilde encouraged the idea of the “new Victorian woman” – someone who is morally upstanding and intellectually supportive of her husband’s career – he conveys through Lady Chiltern that such high morals need not be applied to love. While accepting her intelligence has an ‘ennobling effect on life’ , her moral standing towards love brings ‘ruin’ to the life of Sir Robert, suggesting it is flawed. A further exploration of feminine love is illustrated through the comments of Mrs Marchmont and Lady Basildon. They both ‘have the most admirable husbands in London’ but are ‘well punished for it’, demonstrating again that ideals are not as important as passion. Wilde combines both the old (Mrs Marchmont and Lady Basildon) and new (Lady Chiltern) generation of femininity and through exploring their conceptions of love he shows neither to be happy in passionless love. In suggesting they have unexciting marriages, ‘there is not the smallest element of excitement in knowing him’ and highlighting the flaws of Lady Chiltern’s notion of love Wilde again appears to advocate his own, more natural concept. Idealising is also rejected in another of Wildes plays. Mrs Erlynne of Lady Windermere’s Fan observes that ‘ideals are dangerous things. Realities are better. They wound, but they’re better ’(4.1.308). Lady Chiltern’s transformation throughout the play reinforces this idea, she is indeed ‘wounded’ by the idea her husband is not what she set him up to be. However, I would argue that the Chiltern’s marriage is ‘better[ed]’ by their new openness, and with forgiveness now part of their love they experience a higher level of love and trust. Lady Chiltern says it is ‘love and only love’ she feels for her husband now, a contrast to her cold moral feeling at the beginning of the play. Thus the play operates to highlight the effect of forgiveness on love using her transition between differing conceptions within the play
Sir Robert Chiltern, however, represents a different concept of love entirely, one that can be interpreted as masculine (in his own words: ‘man’s love’). This offers a different understanding of love, when ‘[men] love women [they] love them knowing their weaknesses, their follies, their imperfections, and love them more for it’. It acts in stark contrast to Lady Chiltern’s strict idealistic view and conveys to the audience key themes of the play – forgiveness and the imperfection of human nature. If the couple had followed this masculine conception of love from the start of their marriage Sir Robert would have felt comfortable enough to reveal his faults to his wife earlier, and have her love him all the more for it. The contrast in views of the couple offers evidence as to how and also why An Ideal Husband is an exploration of differing conceptions of love. It is forgiveness within love that Wilde is promoting, and through exploring the flaw of the feminine concept he conveys through Sir Robert that forgiveness and love should prevail over false worship and high morality. ‘Love should forgive’ is the sentiment at the centre of Chiltern’s melodramatic speech at the end of act two, ultimately the representation Wilde is encouraging. Moreover, Sir Robert lacks the ‘courage’ to ‘come down and show [Lady Chiltern] his wounds’ he feels he needs to remain the perfect English gentleman in both public and private life. This was a particularly relevant theme of society at the time, and by exploring this ‘purity’ through the concept of love, Wilde is also making a personally significant observation on society. He himself gave the appearance of being a happily married Victorian father; in reality he was leading a homosexual double life – in his own phrase, ‘feasting with panthers ’. Chiltern’s view on love and the manner it is explored arguably represent Wilde’s own disdainful view of society, he is built up on a pedestal with his talent, but society’s supposed moral view on love restricts him being his true self.
Further personal similarities between playwright and character can also be observed in Lord Goring and his conception of love, friendship and life. Goring’s view on love is inherently based on Aestheticism, a movement supported by Wilde that encouraged style and passion whilst rejecting Victorian moral structures. Lord Goring ‘plays with life’ and states ‘it is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world’ , showing that he is as distanced from the moral ideals of Lady Chiltern as possible, and instead lives his life through feeling. By exploring this different conception of love Wilde emphasises love as a theme within the play by showing it to override all adversity through honesty and forgiveness – represented by Goring. He encourages both Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern to revert to aesthetic love, as opposed to their own differing conceptions. The former he entreats to be honest with his wife and to break her ‘ideal’, ‘you must begin by telling you’re wife the whole story’, as he knows the power of forgiveness within love. To the latter, Goring relates the value of forgiveness by advising her ‘Women are not meant to judge us, but to forgive us when we need forgiveness’ , sparking the positive transition observed within Lady Chiltern. Furthermore, throughout the play Goring guides Lady Chiltern away from her ideal notion of love, ‘often you don’t make sufficient allowances. In every nature there are elements of weakness’. These examples encompass Goring’s understanding that the act of forgiveness is a crucial part of marriage, whereby human imperfection is acknowledged. It is plausible that Wilde had no intention of exploring differing conceptions of love in this way. He was himself an aesthete and advocated beauty over meaning, leading him possibly to have written the play as ‘art for art’s sake’, however I would disagree. Fundamentally, An Ideal Husband explores the other character’s conceptions of love and highlights their faults, ultimately conveying natural, forgiving love – advocated throughout by Goring – prevailing over unnecessary morality.
Nevertheless, the play does not seem to explore as many differing conceptions of friendship as it does with love, and does so less didactically. Lord Goring is described by Sir Robert as his ‘best friend’ and constantly supports him throughout the play, eventually saving him from ruin. His conception of friendship appears heroic, providing support for Sir Robert by reiterating ‘you’re wife will forgive you’ in Sir Robert’s darkest moments and serving as the ‘one friend [Sir Robert] can trust’ . There are hints of distrust though, such as Goring imploring Lady Chiltern to ‘come to me at once’ , however this seems to serve as a dramatic device for Wilde to create doubt regarding his character’s integrity. Eventually this enhances Lord Goring in the view of the audience as we see his good intentions as a friend. Conversely, these examples act more to support Wilde’s positive representation of Dandyism, characterised by Goring, than to thoroughly explore differing conceptions of friendship. The only alternative conception offered is through the characters of Baron Arnheim and Mrs Cheveley. The Baron uses his friendship to corrupt Sir Robert into believing his ‘gospel of gold’ and it is further hinted that his friendship with Mrs Cheveley is based on money. In addition, Mrs Cheveley reduces the idea of marriage to a purely mercantile state by abusing Goring’s friendship and effectively blackmailing him (however this serves more as an exploration of a different love concept, one void of any feeling, morally or passionately). I would argue that these differing conceptions of friendship are utilised merely as a plot device. Lord Goring’s notion of friendship, as the supposed ‘hero’ of the play is based on trust and guidance, whereas Mrs Cheveley, very much the villain, is keen on advancing herself financially. Thus, the idea of friendship within the play is used more to highlight the particular characteristics and intentions of characters rather than serving to explore differing conceptions of friendship in detail.
Perhaps the most differing conception of love and friendship is the pairing of Lord Goring and Mabel Chiltern. They act as polar opposites to Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern, by combining both friendship and unconditional love. Goring comments in his usual ironic manner that ‘affection comes when people thoroughly dislike each other’ , a remark that reflects the playful sentiment between the two throughout the play. They reject the notion of the ideal, thus reversing the Chiltern’s idea of love, both embracing their imperfections. Mabel states ‘I delight in your bad qualities. I wouldn’t have you part with one of them’ whilst also wanting to be a ‘real wife’ , not a stainless, perfect one. Through such a contrast Wilde seems to comment that humanity will always fall short of its ideals, but love will still prevail. Wilde once observed, ‘”Women have always had an emotional sympathy with those they love[;] intellectual sympathy [is now] also possible.” He was commenting on the changes in society at the time with regard to women and I believe Mabel Chiltern is a reaffirmation of this idea; she is both younger and prettier than Lady Chiltern, representing a positive change. Wilde is advocating that women should now love men passionately and not make false idols of them. Furthermore, Mabel is intelligent, however she still rejects an ‘ideal husband’, thinking the idea to be ‘something in the next world ’. It appears however, to be in the past world, with Wilde now promoting a fresher outlook on relationships.
To conclude, Wilde does explore differing conceptions of love within the play, demonstrating the flaws of existing concepts within society and highlighting the benefits of his own Wildean model through Lord Goring and Mabel Chiltern. I would disagree with the notion that he explores differing conceptions of friendship; rather he champions a movement towards a combination of natural love and trusting friendship.
Social Class and Status in a Woman of No Importance
Social class, in its simplest terms, is a way to divide a populace into strata based on their wealth, or access to power, or some combination of the two. It is also a subjective measurement which often needs only to be implied to exist, so while to a certain extent one’s social class is inescapable, in anothe it can be easily falsified. Ultimately, this has resulted in many texts in which upper-class people live as lower classes or similar. Within A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde, characters fantasise about the the lives of classes other than their own, enabling Wilde to offer an especially pointed commentary on class relations near the end of the 19th century.
At the beginning of the play, Lady Caroline establishes herself as representative of the more vocal aspects of wider Victorian society at the time, which is to say that she is a snob. She is quick to assume that America has few country houses because there is no country, rather than that their culture may be different. This reveals her snobbish view even of upper-class society to be very rigid, and that she assumes all upper-class cultures are the same or perhaps merely that Britain’s is the best. Indeed, her later comments about Lady Hunstanton “mix[ing] too much” (1:11) and her pointed use of the rather accusatory phrase “that member of Parliament” (1:11) establish quite visibly the snobbery of her ideas regarding class and social structure. This is repeatedly underlined by Lady Caroline’s constant and deliberate alteration of Mr. Kelvil’s name to “Kettle” (1:11, 1:82, 1:156), (not accidentally an altogether mundane object). An interesting side note, as written by Antony H. Harrison in A New Companion to Victorian Culture and Literature, is that unmarried upper- and middle-class women themselves in Victorian society “were traditionally dependents (of their fathers or brothers)” (Tucker, 2014, p.31) if not their husbands, so Lady Caroline judges others from a position of hypocrisy, having merely been born into this life.
Gerald Arbuthnot, in contrast, having been raised in the poorest circumstances of anyone in the play, perhaps gives the reader the most insight into the lower classes’ fantasies of upper-class life. There is no doubt that Gerald is overjoyed at the prospect of working for Lord Illingworth, calling the job offer “such good news” (1:27) and saying that he hopes to prove himself “worthy of it” (1:33). He refers here, ostensibly, to the job itself; crucially however, in the preceding line, Lady Caroline refers to it as a “wonderful opening” (1:32) which is a telling phrase and one which is repeated verbatim by Gerald later (2:454). This is Gerald’s only entrance into an upper-class life, and certainly in Lady Caroline’s estimation, that is something for which he should be immeasurably grateful. However, she implies heavily before Gerald’s entrance that she does not approve of traversing the classes, with her statement that she is “not sure… that Jane is right in taking [Gerald] out of his position” (1:17).
Gerald does not seem to have similar beliefs. He views the opportunity as a paradigm shift, saying that “things that were out of the reach of hope before may be within hope’s reach now” (1:37). This is a revealing sentence; previously, not only were the things to which he refers out of his reach, they were even out of his hope’s reach. This presents an interesting counterpoint to Lady Caroline’s rigidity and snobbishness. It implies that he too views the classes as strata, but in his mind it does not prevent one from moving between them. So from Lady Caroline’s perspective – the view from the top, as it were – people are born into the class to which they belong. From Gerald’s, the view from the bottom, that instead is where people end up. So Gerald is, in a sense, an ‘anti-snob’; he views the world through the same lens as Lady Caroline, and sees the same demarcations, but passes them without judgement. Lady Hunstanton clearly identifies with Gerald’s position, as she refers to him as “quite a proteg?” (1:47) of hers, and attributes the offer only to “good fortune” (1:47), implying that she too believes one can move up the ranks given the right circumstances. Wilde has cleverly intertwined this ‘born into it’ belief with the ‘can become it’ alternative in the narrative; if Gerald’s true parentage were known, then his presence in the upper class would not merely be accepted, but guaranteed. It is the fact that he is known in society as “an underpaid clerk in a small Provincial Bank in a third-rate English town” (2:502), as Illingworth puts it himself in his conversation with Mrs. Arbuthnot at the end of Act Two, that is so aggravating to him. Illingworth himself is resolutely unwilling to view Gerald’s potential contentment as valid, revealing his own snobbish tendencies.
Gerald’s own view of Illingworth is clearly respectful if not a little awestruck. At the beginning of the third act, Gerald is sitting in a chair – a demeanour implying professionalism and respect – whereas Illingworth himself is “lolling on a sofa” (3:532). This exposes the differing attitudes of Gerald and Illingworth when it comes to their understanding of being a part of the upper orders. Certainly, Lady Caroline comments, near the beginning of the play, that “in [her] young days… one never met any one in society who worked for their living. It was not considered the thing.” (1:17). Illingworth too subtly devalues his work later in Act One, referring to the job for which he hired Gerald as “something [he is] foolish enough to think of doing” (1:93) rather than anything with more gravitas. This is then echoed by his later statement that “one should never take sides in anything… taking sides is the beginning of sincerity, and earnestness follows shortly afterwards, and the human being becomes a bore” (1:114). In short, Illingworth intends for his son to emulate his own effortlessness, which seems to be a far cry from the hard work Gerald expects.
While Mrs. Arbuthnot seems to have no positive illusions or fantasies about upper-class life any longer, she may perhaps have ones which bias her against it. For example, although her scandal has yet had scant mention, the chance appearance of Lord Henry Weston’s name in conversation (2:387) prompts Hester’s outburst about the women he wronged, and this is the point at which Mrs. Arbuthnot enters. From her perspective, it may seem as if people have been discussing little else but her since she left upper-class society, and especially given that Hester is a stranger to her at this point this may have contributed to how rapidly relationships sour after this point. She is reluctant to participate in the conversation she overhears as she arrives, for obvious reasons. However even as the conversation moves on, and she is directly or indirectly addressed several times (2:393, 2:395, 2:399, 2:403), she does not respond until Gerald is mentioned by Lady Hunstanton in line 409. There is another way to read this, which is that the ladies consider Mrs. Arbuthnot herself to be off-stage, so to speak, and so they continue their conversation while the Footman deals with the ‘reality’ of Mrs. Arbuthnot. In either case, however, it reveals much about Mrs. Arbuthnot’s disillusionment with high society; no matter the specific cause of her silence, a certain amount of ill feeling can reasonably be inferred on her part. Her eventual cold bow to Illingworth (2:454) is certainly indicative of such feelings.
Hester, like Mrs. Arbuthnot, is not enamoured with British high society and despite being an heiress is an outsider in this specific group, and thus is treated almost like a plaything. In fact, for a considerable time in Act Two, the other ladies completely forget her presence, in a scene which somewhat foreshadows the following one in which the ladies talk while Mrs. Arbuthnot arrives in the background. Instead, she seems deeply enamoured both with Mrs. Arbuthnot and Gerald. In Act Three, she expresses her idea that Mrs. Arbuthnot, upon arriving at the house, “brought with [her] a sense of what is good and pure in life” (3:675), which is a surprisingly abstract and profound thought to attach to a person one has just met and does not know. She seems to have worked out, almost at first glance, that the Arbuthnots are the kind of people she herself seems to fantasise about, and to a certain extent this is due to Mrs’ Arbuthnot’s ascetic nature appealing to Hester’s religious sensibilities, which they discuss in Act Three (3:677-684) and which form much of the justification for how their story resolves.
A Woman of No Importance is a text so concerned with class and social status that nearly every line further entrenches people in their social positions. It is emphasised that there are many ways to be a lower class of person; Lady Caroline herself provides many of the social justifications for such things through her dialogue. Mrs Arbuthnot fell into it, whereas Gerald was born into it, and unlike her wealthy peers, Hester can extract the best parts of being in each class, making her – in terms of social class – the most important character in the play.
Masculine and Feminine Identity in An Ideal Husband
Identity is fluid. Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband (first performed 1895), affirms this concept. The play asserts the notion that we, as humans, carve our own identity through conscious decision. In doing so, Wilde interrogates the idea of identity rigidity – that human beings are born with certain characteristics, that these are static, and create our character. Wilde also interrogates Victorian notions of gender identity. He uproots traditional concepts surrounding masculinity, and disparages the development of the ‘new woman’ during the late 19th century. He deconstructs Victorian idealised notions of the wife and husband, forwarding a new, imperfect identity for both.
Wilde, disputing Victorian notions of latent identity, depicts identity as mutable; shaped by human decision. This is evident through an examination of the characterisation of Lord Goring – the dandified bachelor of An Ideal Husband. He is said to be ‘clever’, ‘but he would not like to be thought so’, as well as ‘a flawless dandy, he would be annoyed if he were considered romantic’. These directives showing him as actively aware of how others perceive him, implying that he attempts to shape this perception. Lord Goring repeatedly downplays his intelligence, stating that he ‘knows nothing of practical life’ to Gertrude Chiltern, and telling Sir Robert to “never mind what I say”. However, he is then described as ‘showing the philosopher that underlies the dandy’. Through his characterisation, it is evident that Lord Goring actively shapes his identity, however false. An Ideal Husband’s interrogation of fixed identity is further emphasised by the character of Mrs Cheveley, the villainess of the play, as a shaper of her own identity. Although she ‘looks rather like an orchid’ and is ‘in all her movements extremely graceful’, Wilde makes it clear that this is a fa?ade she has chosen to present. She refers to ‘being natural’ as “such a very difficult pose to keep up”. Even being ‘natural’ is a pose, showing her active creation of an identity. In Act Three, Mrs Cheveley’s true nature is revealed, when ‘a mask has fallen from her’ and ‘she is, for the moment, dreadful to look at’. Mrs Cheveley is described in stage direction as ‘a work of art, on the whole, but showing the influence of too many schools’, denoting the idea that an ‘artist’ – the person themselves – has created their own identity. This idea is epitomised in Lady Markby’s statement that “Indeed, as a rule, everybody turns out to be somebody else”. Identity is therefore represented as fluid, and interrogated as unchanging, by An Ideal Husband.
Wilde redefines set gendered identities, primarily through the contrast of characters Lord Goring and Sir Robert Chiltern. Chiltern is initially couched in masculine terms with a ‘firmly chiselled mouth and chin’ and ‘dark-haired and dark-eyed’ – the stereotypical ‘hero’ description. However, he is then repeatedly depicted ‘in a state of great mental excitement and distress’ uttering melodramatic statements such as ‘Oh, love me always, Gertrude, love me always!’ peppered with exclamations and repetition. This emotionality has typically been a female bastion. Lord Goring, on the other hand, is described in feminine terms – wearing ‘all the delicate fopperies of fashion’. However his dialogue is more ‘masculine’ – concise and witty, undercutting Sir Robert’s histrionics. For example, in the beginning of the second act, Sir Robert’s lengthy verses alternate with Lord Goring’s short statements such as ‘Personally I have a great admiration for stupidity. It is a sort of fellow feeling I suppose’. This juxtaposition reverses gender expectations, redefining the masculine identity.
Furthermore, the plays positive depiction of Lord Goring represents the ‘dandy’ as a valid male identity. The fringe aesthetic movement, of which Wilde was a key member, was frequently satirised by the conventional press, therefore Wilde interrogates Victorian gender identity expectations. The audience is endeared to Lord Goring through his comic dialogue–for example Lord Goring’s insistence in Act Three that his buttonhole is ‘too trivial’ and that it makes him look ‘a little too old’, combined with the Butler Phipps’ ‘yes, my lord’ replies is highly amusing. He also states whilst ‘looking at himself in the glass’ that “My father tells me that even I have faults. Perhaps I have. I don’t know”. To an audience watching the play, this image is extremely funny. Lord Goring is the source of many paradoxical statements, such as the famous ‘I love talking about nothing, father. It’s the only thing I know anything about’. Therefore, through Wilde’s use of comedy, he endears us as audiences to the character of Lord Goring. Wilde’s humour makes the ‘dandy’ as an identity more palatable for a Victorian audience, thereby interrogating the traditional powerful ‘hero’ identity of men.
Although Wilde is progressive in this respect, he is conservative in his interrogation of the ‘New Woman’ identity, foregrounded through the character of Lady Chiltern. Lady Chiltern ventures into the public sphere, involving herself with the Women’s Liberal Association and issues such as “Factory Acts, the Parliamentary franchise” and championing “the higher Education of women”. However, Wilde debunks this blossoming Victorian women identity. In the end of the play,. Lady Chiltern in dialogue disturbingly (for a modern audience) parrots Lord Goring’s statement that ‘a man’s life is of more value than a woman’s’, stating that “how women help the world” is through forgiving their men. The curtain closes upon the image of Lady Gertrude ‘leaning over the back of the chair’ her husband, Sir Robert, is seated upon – an image which could be interpreted as Lady Chiltern’s relegation to the role of supporter of her husband. It implies that Lady Chiltern will no longer attempt to influence her husband in the public sphere due to the havoc this has caused, ending on a resoundingly conservative note lamenting the growing political influence and ‘new woman’ identity.
Some may point to Mrs Cheveley, the villainess of the play, as evidence of Wilde’s encouragement of a strong female identity. Initially, Mrs Cheveley is characterised as independent– manipulating the male characters when she ‘drops her fan’ and Sir Robert is required to pick it up for her. She is depicted as powerful as seen in her position in Act One where she is ‘leaning back on the sofa’ in languid arrogance, as well as her militaristic dialogue where she refers to the ‘war’ she is winning against her ‘enemy’, Sir Robert in the ‘game of politics’ However, Mrs Cheveley is ultimately punished by Wilde, as a result of her attempts to exert agency in the ‘man’s world’ of politics. After the failure of her manipulations, she is silenced for the entirety of Act Four, implying her banishment from polite society, and evincing Wilde’s interrogation of the ‘new woman’ identity of women engaged in political life.
The Victorian era was infamous for its moral absolutes, one aspect of which was the idealisation of the ‘wife’ and ‘husband’ identity – an idealisation Wilde interrogates through his forwarding of a new, imperfect identity. Lady Chiltern in the play repeatedly makes idealised statements of her husband such as that “Robert is as incapable of doing a foolish thing as he is of doing a wrong thing”, whilst the audience is well aware that this was not the case due to his sale of a Cabinet secret for great personal gain. Wilde’s use of dramatic irony therefore portrays Lady Gertrude as na?ve, ridiculing these repeated statements. She then undergoes a character development at the hands of Wilde, ‘reforming’ in the end to forgive her husband, and blaming herself for “setting him up too high”, affirming the idea that we should not expect our partners to be perfect in the resolution. This idea is epitomised in Mabel Chiltern’s statement at the end of the play that she would not like “an ideal husband”, stating that “he can be what he chooses” and that all she wants to be is “a real wife”. The resolution of the play is the message the play wishes to leave, and it is clear that Wilde is advocating for an ‘imperfect’ identity in marriage, with acceptance and acknowledgement of faults forming our perception of our partner – their identity.
One Has to Compromise… Everyone Does
In “Anatomy of Criticism”, Northrop Frye explains a formula that describes the structure of dramatic comedy. Two key points in the formula are the use of “obstructing characters” and the “movement from pistis to gnosis”. An “obstructing character” is anything physical or intangible that blocks a relationship, and “pistis to gnosis” is a shift from belief to knowledge. In Oscar Wilde’s play “An Ideal Husband”, Wilde effectively incorporates both of these elements.
Mrs. Cheveley is a character in “An Ideal Husband” who attempts to obstruct the marriage of Robert and Lady Chiltern. Robert Chiltern is “deeply respected by…many” (183), especially his wife; Lady Chiltern states that to her, he has “been an ideal always” (204). However, Lady Chiltern is unaware of the “fraud” (229) that made her husband’s fortune. “Out of malice” (249), Mrs. Cheveley reveals the fraud to Lady Chiltern: “Get him to tell you how he sold to a stockbroker a Cabinet secret” (229). This is a major blow to the marriage of Robert and Lady Chiltern, as “break[ing] her idol…put poison in her heart” (249).
The union of Robert and Lady Chiltern is not the only relationship Mrs. Cheveley tries to obstruct: together, Mrs. Cheveley and Tommy Tafford hope to disrupt the relationship between Mabel Chiltern and Lord Goring. Mabel and Lord Goring have strong romantic feelings for each other: Lord Goring states that Mabel is “the one person in London I really like” (257), and Mabel wishes to “remain with” Lord Goring (258). Unbeknownst to Mabel, Lord Goring and Mrs. Cheveley had a relationship some time ago: “Arthur, you loved me once…and asked me to be your wife” (246). Once again interested in Lord Goring, Mrs. Cheveley tries to convince him to “marry” (247) her, but he “decline[s]” (248). Tommy Tafford is a man who “does nothing but propose” (220) to Mabel, but is cordially turned down at every proposal, as Mabel “make[s] it a rule never to accept Tommy” (259). In the spirit of comedy, the obstructed lovers prevail (Creese), and Mabel accepts Lord Goring’s proposal: “I am so glad” (258).
Not all of the obstructions in “An Ideal Husband” are physical. For example, Mrs. Cheveley’s infidelity is what obstructs her relationship with Lord Goring. Some time ago, Mrs. Cheveley and Lord Goring had a serious relationship: “I did love you…and you loved me” (247), and Goring went so far as to ask Mrs. Cheveley to “be [his] wife” (246). However, the relationship came to an abrupt end after Lord Goring witnessed Mrs. Cheveley “trying to have a violent flirtation” (246) with Lord Mortlake. Mrs. Cheveley’s infidelity ruined her past relationship with Lord Goring, and made any future relationship impossible: he states that he “cannot forgive” (249) her.
Frye’s formula is also exemplified in “An Ideal Husband” in the movement from pistis to gnosis, shown through Sir Robert Chiltern’s transformation from a dishonorable man to an honorable one. Early in Chiltern’s career, he took part in a “very nasty scandal” (196) by “selling a Cabinent secret” (195), something that he admits “most men would call shameful and dishonorable” (208). He continues his dishonorable ways by refusing to tell his wife the truth of his past: “There is nothing in my past life that you might not know” (205). However, as his wife discovers that he “began [his] life with fraud” (230), Chiltern faces reality and accepts that he will eventually die “a lonely dishonored death” (231). It is at this point that Chiltern becomes honorable. Whereas before he planned on making a “rational compromise” (204) and giving his “public support of the Argentine scheme” (196) to keep Mrs. Cheveley from ruining his name, Chiltern instead does the right thing and discredits the scheme in his “speech…at the House” (264), even knowing that “public disgrace might be the result” (264). Instead, he finds “public honor” (264).
The movement from pistis to gnosis is also shown through the beliefs of Lady Chiltern: Lady Chiltern shifts her beliefs from strict Puritinism to open-minded understanding. Lady Chiltern is a “noble and gentle” (249) woman, one whose strict beliefs are characterized by her statement “circumstances should never alter principles” (204). Lady Chiltern holds her husband in high regard; to her, he is “a thing pure, noble, honest, [and] without stain” (230). She thus refuses to believe that he could commit any immoral action, and even requests that he “lie to [her]” (230) when she finds out the truth about his past. However, Lady Chiltern transforms into an accepting and understanding person after her husband tells her that she “ruined” (231) his life by placing him on a “monstrous pedestal” (231). As evidence of this change, she later tells Robert Chiltern that she still “admire[s] him immensely” (266), even though he acted immorally in the past.
In “An Ideal Husband”, Wilde is clearly trying to stress his belief that everyone, no matter how seemingly perfect, is flawed (Creese). Mrs. Cheveley, an obviously evil and flawed woman, fails at everything she does. Chiltern is threatened with losing everything he has gained because he will not admit to his flawed past, and does not find happiness until he accepts the possibility of failure. Most importantly, Lady Chiltern finds flaws in her uncompromising Puritan belief system: perhaps the most controversial point that Wilde hoped to impress upon his Victorian audience.