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An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde: Summary & Overview

Instructor: Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

''An Ideal Husband'' is a play written by Oscar Wilde. It is a comedy that takes place over a short period of time and involves blackmail and corruption. Learn more about the story and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Introduction

When we get married, most people believe they are marrying their soul mate - the person who was made for them. We feel like we really know the person we are marrying and more than likely see that person as an 'ideal' mate. (Some would call this phase of the relationship 'the honeymoon phase'). At some point in the relationship, your mate might do something you don't agree with, and it might seem as though you don't know your mate at all. What do you do in that situation? Do you divorce or separate yourself from your mate, or do you continue in your relationship with different expectations?

An Ideal Husband is a comedic play written by Oscar Wilde which explores this issue and more. The story takes place in London, England, and is a story of blackmail and corruption (some characters in the story believe they can control other people to benefit themselves while others are disappointed when they can't control the actions of others). In the end, these characters live happily ever after but not before experiencing turmoil and confusion.

Plot Summary

When the story opens, Sir Robert Chiltern and Lady Gertrude Chiltern are having a dinner party at their home in Grosvenor Square. Sir Chiltern is a member of the House of Commons. A number of people attend the party at the Chiltern house, including Mrs. Cheveley, a childhood enemy of Lady Chiltern. Mrs. Cheveley has an ulterior motive; she plans to blackmail Sir Chiltern so that he will support a scheme for building a canal, which would benefit her. She feels she can blackmail Sir Chiltern because the letter she has will show that Sir Chiltern earned his wealth illegally.

When approached by Mrs. Cheveley, Sir Chiltern becomes afraid of losing his career and wife; he decides to do whatever Mrs. Cheveley asks of him to avoid negative consequences. Mrs. Cheveley uses her control over Sir Chiltern to upset his wife Lady Chiltern, who insists that Sir Chiltern not go along with anything Mrs. Cheveley says. Lady Chiltern is not aware of her husband's criminal dealings from the past, and she does not know her husband is being blackmailed. Lady Chiltern believes her husband to be 'an ideal husband' who is the model spouse; she does not want him to do anything that could ruin his life. In the end, Sir Chiltern decides to listen to his wife's suggestion.

The next day, Lord Goring , whom Mrs. Cheveley had been engaged to in the past, tries to convince Sir Chiltern to come clean about his actions to his wife in order to stop Mrs. Cheveley's blackmail. He also tries to convince Lady Chiltern to be more understanding and forgiving of her husband. Shortly after Lord Goring leaves their home, Mrs. Cheveley arrives to retrieve her brooch, which was lost during the dinner party. She also informs Lady Chiltern of her husband's indiscretions, and Lady Chiltern is disgusted by his actions and does not forgive him.

Lady Chiltern then writes a letter to Lord Goring asking him for help and letting him know she wants to talk to him. The letter Lady Chiltern writes could be perceived as a love note. After Lord Goring receives this letter, he gets unexpected visits from Mrs. Cheveley, his father, and Sir Chiltern. When Mrs. Cheveley arrives, she is taken to Lord Goring's room to wait for him. When Sir Chiltern sees Mrs. Cheveley in Lord Goring's room, he believes they are having an affair together and leaves. Mrs. Cheveley takes the opportunity to proposition Lord Goring into marrying her in exchange for the blackmail note she has against Sir Chiltern. Lord Goring refuses Mrs. Cheveley's request and believes Mrs. Cheveley is making a mockery out of love.

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