An Ideal Husband

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Lady Gertrude Chiltern Character Analysis

Sir Robert’s wife, an icy, fastidious woman who takes pride in her finely tuned moral sense. She always categorizes people into “bad” and “good”, and recognizes no middle ground. Her idea of the good, like her husband’s, is determined more by social conventions than by ethical considerations. But when she finds that she has categorized her own husband as “bad,” she begins to reconsider her system. With Lord Goring’s help, she sees that it’s important to forgive people’s flaws - that it’s more important to see people fully than to sort them according to abstractions.

Lady Gertrude Chiltern Quotes in An Ideal Husband

The An Ideal Husband quotes below are all either spoken by Lady Gertrude Chiltern or refer to Lady Gertrude Chiltern. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of An Ideal Husband published in 2000.
Act 1, Part 3 Quotes

Robert, that is all very well for other men, for men who treat life simply as a sordid speculation; but not for you, Robert, not for you. You are different. All your life you have stood apart from others. You have never let the world soil you. To the world, as to myself, you have been an ideal always. Oh! be that ideal still.

Related Characters: Lady Gertrude Chiltern (speaker), Sir Robert Chiltern
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Lady Chiltern has asked her husband why he has agreed to throw his political weight behind the fraudulent Argentine Canal. Robert is too ashamed to tell her the real reason - Mrs. Cheveley's blackmailing scheme - and so he tries to avoid the question by claiming that politics are complicated, and that one must sometimes make moral compromises. Lady Chiltern is horrified by this attitude. She is not at all dandy-ish, and is very solemnly virtuous. She begs Robert to resist the corrupting influence of the political world and to remain the pure, principled man she loves. She even implies that were he to compromise in the way he has described, she would be forced to leave him. 

Lady Chiltern's morality is very abstract and very rigid. It is not based on a philosophy of love and kindness, like Lord Goring's morality, but on a traditional and narrow-minded picture of correct behavior. "You have never let the world soil you," she says to Sir Robert; in her philosophy one must retreat from the world like a nun, instead of encountering it in a kind and decent way. 


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Lady Gertrude Chiltern Character Timeline in An Ideal Husband

The timeline below shows where the character Lady Gertrude Chiltern appears in An Ideal Husband. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, Part 1
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
...party at the Chilterns’ house, a lovely, opulent home in a fashionable part of London. Lady Chiltern , a beautiful woman in her late twenties, is receiving her guests in stiff, formal... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Markby, and a striking red-haired woman named Mrs. Cheveley, who has recently come from Vienna. Lady Chiltern realizes, with visible displeasure, that she went to school with the woman now named Mrs.... (full context)
Act 1, Part 2
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...new friend, Mrs. Cheveley. They talk pleasantly, though Mrs. Cheveley alludes a little condescendingly to Lady Chiltern ’s schoolgirl past, which was distinguished only by “good conduct.” They exchange witticisms, mostly about... (full context)
Act 1, Part 3
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Cheveley about the noble, upstanding character of the Chilterns, then leaves with Lord Caversham. Meanwhile, Lady Chiltern approaches Mrs. Cheveley and asks her what business she had with her husband. Mrs. Cheveley... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
...it – he recognizes it, having given it to someone as a present years before. Lady Chiltern reenters the room. Mabel says her goodbyes and leaves; Lady Chiltern complains to Lord Goring... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lady Chiltern asks Robert, with some distress, why he has agreed to support the Argentine Canal scheme.... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lady Chiltern insists that they are not complicated – one must simply be honest and upstanding in... (full context)
Act 2, Part 1
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...would end their marriage, since she herself is perfect. Lord Goring decides to talk to Lady Chiltern , to try to alter her views on life and perfection. (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lady Chiltern joins them; she has just come home from a meeting of the Women’s Liberal Association,... (full context)
Act 2, Part 2
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lady Chiltern reenters and sits down to talk to Lord Goring about her husband’s mysterious dealings with... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...They make plans to go riding the following morning. As an afterthought, Lord Goring asks Lady Chiltern for a list of the guests from the previous night, and she tells him that... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Markby explains that they have come to inquire about Mrs. Cheveley’s missing diamond brooch, but Lady Chiltern does not know anything about it. Lady Markby uses the occasion to ramble about the... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
...times.” Soon Lady Markby says her goodbyes and leaves to make another social call, and Lady Chiltern invites Mrs. Cheveley to stay and talk. (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
As soon as Lady Markby leaves, Lady Chiltern drops all pretense of pleasantness. She tells Mrs. Cheveley that she does not wish to... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...with satisfaction, she leaves the house. Robert admits that Mrs. Cheveley spoke the truth, and Lady Chiltern cries out that all their life together has been a lie. She loved him because... (full context)
Act 3, Part 1
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...leaves the room. One letter is written on pink paper; it is a message from Lady Chiltern that reads: “I want you. I trust you. I am coming to you.” She intends... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...expecting another woman – a secret lover, perhaps. She glances at the table and recognizes Lady Chiltern ’s handwriting; she reads the letter and takes it as proof that Lady Chiltern and... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...advice. He has realized, he says, that “love is the great thing” – not ambition. Lady Chiltern , Robert says, has never done anything dishonorable, and Robert is afraid that she will... (full context)
Act 3, Part 2
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...drawing room, he sees Mrs. Cheveley; Goring, however, thinks that the woman waiting there is Lady Chiltern . In the conversation that follows, they are referring to two different people. Robert attacks... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...dislike and contempt for her almost involuntarily. She speaks dismissively about Robert and spitefully about Lady Chiltern , whom she claims to hate deeply. Lord Goring says that Robert’s youthful mistake does... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lord Goring tells her that her malice toward Lady Chiltern is unforgivable. Mrs. Cheveley replies that her goal is not to torment Lady Chiltern; she... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...him Robert’s incriminating letter. Anguished and terrified, Mrs. Cheveley hands it over. Then she remembers Lady Chiltern ’s letter – the one she considers proof of Lady Chiltern’s infidelity. She asks Goring... (full context)
Act 4, Part 1
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...his news. A servant comes in to tell him that Sir Robert is at work, Lady Chiltern is still in her room, and Mabel Chiltern has just come home from a morning... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lady Chiltern walks into the room, and Mabel leaves them to speak in private. Lord Goring tells... (full context)
Act 4, Part 2
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...and she decides not to correct him. Lord Goring discreetly leaves the room. Robert tells Lady Chiltern that he no longer fears public disgrace, because he has her love. She happily informs... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Goring sends his father to speak to Mabel in the conservatory. Meanwhile, Lady Chiltern reenters the room. Goring scolds her for encouraging Robert to decline the seat. She should... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Robert comes in, carrying his letter of resignation. Lady Chiltern reads it and rips it up. Using Lord Goring’s own words, she tells Robert that... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Everyone but Robert happily leaves the room to go to lunch. A few minutes later Lady Chiltern comes looking for him. They promise to love one another, and to hold love above... (full context)