An Ideal Husband

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Lord Arthur Goring Character Analysis

The play’s hero, an idle bachelor, a tireless seeker of pleasure, a mild-mannered social critic, and a shining wit: the exemplary dandy philosopher. He earns the title of dandy by applying the dandy’s principal modes – joy, humor – to the pursuit of truth. Truth, he finds, is often occluded by propriety and cliché, and with the point of his wit he tries to scrape them off. He is primarily concerned with the truth of human relationships, their delights and boredoms. He is far from “heartless,” as his father Lord Caversham believes, since he holds his friends dearer than anything else. In his admirable romance with Mabel, his philosophy seems to find its reward.

Lord Arthur Goring Quotes in An Ideal Husband

The An Ideal Husband quotes below are all either spoken by Lord Arthur Goring or refer to Lord Arthur Goring. 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 2 Quotes

Oh! I am not at all romantic. I am not old enough. I leave romance to my seniors.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Goring makes the above remark to Mrs. Cheveley, to whom he is introduced at Robert Chiltern's party, though he has previously met her elsewhere. The relation between them at this point appears to be friendly but not at all warm. 

Although Lord Goring, a man of uncertain age, seems to be more or less adult, he claims here to be too young for romance. This quote is an example of the dandy's beloved art of paradox and surprise. Though love and romance are thought conventionally to be the province of the young, Lord Goring declares confidently that they are the business of "seniors." What does he mean? If you have read to the end of the play, you know that he is certainly not immune to love. When he says 'romance,' he means not love itself, but its boring, lukewarm, sentimental rituals, the pretty words and dull occasions required in polite society. Love is youthful, and youth is mischievous; therefore Lord Goring refuses to participate in games which do not amuse him.

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I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Goring is speaking to his father, Lord Caversham, who is scolding him for leading a wayward, empty-headed life. He wants his son to pursue some sort of serious occupation, to fill his life with the objects and attributes of serious adulthood (wife, children, politics, large furniture).

Lord Goring's manner with his father is as light-footed as always, and, like Mabel, he defends himself with the very object of his defense: wit, paradox, and delight. When his father exhorts him to enter into the solid world of adulthood, Lord Goring replies that he loves not solid things but "nothing," the ephemeral, iridescent nothing that passes between people when they are really enjoying each other's company. He implies that this "nothing" is the only thing that can be known, since it is actually felt, whereas customary, polite behaviors and adult objects are hidden behind a veil of indifference. 


LORD CAVERSHAM
You seem to me to be living entirely for pleasure.

LORD GORING
What else is there to live for, father? Nothing ages like happiness.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker), Lord Caversham (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Goring continues to lightheartedly defend himself from his well-meaning father, who now accuses him of hedonism (a life solely devoted to the pursuit of pleasure). Lord Caversham, out of long habit, firmly believes that serious things are important, and important things are not fun. Lord Goring tries to show him the folly of his reasoning. What remains of these serious things, as we grow older? Of course we may feel proud of our accomplishments, but only if they gave us pleasure in the first place - not immediate gratification, necessarily, but pleasure nonetheless. This sort of pleasure turns into a more long-term happiness: in other words, pleasure and happiness are continuous, as they are in the quote itself. We know from later events in the play that Lord Goring's definition of pleasure and happiness goes beyond fashionable parties - that it also extends to difficult and important moral issues. One can be serious occasionally, but happiness still acts as a moral compass.

Act 2, Part 1 Quotes

Ah! I prefer a gentlemanly fool any day. There is more to be said for stupidity than people imagine.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Sir Robert has promised his wife to rescind his support of the Argentine Canal, but he fears that Mrs. Cheveley will publicly disgrace him if he does not support it. He describes his problem to Lord Goring, who recommends that Sir Robert explain everything to his wife, but Sir Robert says his wife would never forgive him if she knew the truth. Sir Robert then starts to describe how he was lured into selling the government secret in the first place; he was encouraged by a man named Baron Arnheim, who preached a philosophy of money and power as a means to freedom. Lord Goring exclaims that the Baron is a "scoundrel," but Robert counters that he was a highly intelligent and well-educated man. In response to this comment, Lord Goring says the above quote.

Although Lord Goring thoroughly enjoys wit and intelligence, ultimately it is not wit he values most, but a kind of basic goodness - in his words, a gentlemanliness. His joking manner conceals a serious attachment to traditional ideas of right and wrong. 

In fact, I usually say what I really think. A great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood. 

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Goring continues to listen to Sir Robert's predicament: he has made contradictory promises to his wife, who wants him to do the honorable thing and come out against the Argentine Canal, and to Mrs. Cheveley, who through blackmail has made him promise to support the Canal. Lord Goring continues to insist that Sir Robert should tell his wife the truth. The quote above is an offhand comment, mocking Sir Robert's defensive qualification that part of the money he received for the government secret was used to donate to charities. 

The quote reveals quite a lot about Lord Goring's life philosophy. He tries to say what he believes, and would like to be honest and straightforward at all times; but the fact of the matter is that it is impossible to communicate anything in a straightforward way. Conversation, and language itself, is too full of traps and ambiguities, prejudices, moods, and misunderstandings, to allow for anything like simplicity. So, paradoxically, the best way to communicate what one believes is through joking and paradox - speech patterns that cut through the build-up of convention generally coating ordinary speech. 

Act 2, Part 2 Quotes

Nobody is incapable of doing a foolish thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong thing.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Goring is speaking to Lady Chiltern about her husband. She still has no idea of his past dishonesty, and believes firmly in his integrity. Lord Goring is trying to discern whether she really would respond to the truth as badly as Sir Robert predicts. He hints that all ambitious politicians must occasionally make mistakes in moral judgment; Lady Chiltern protests that her husband is the exception, and Lord Goring responds with this quote. 

Lady Chiltern and Lord Goring are both moralists, but their moral compasses function very differently. Lady Chiltern abides by a strict, childlike picture of right and wrong, and expects the world to bend itself to this picture. Lord Goring, on the other hand, is an observer of human nature, and takes life as it is for his guide. Here again, we see his belief in the natural, since in the quote he describes an aspect of universal human nature.  He doesn't try to force people into ill-fitting moral categories, but looks at life with a clear, generous eye, and tries to envision the best possible version of it. If everyone makes mistakes, he implies, we shouldn't ignore the truth in favor of an ideal - we must learn to be forgiving. 

All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation of the next.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Goring continues his conversation with Lady Chiltern. Lord Goring believes life must be "understood," rather than judged; when we try to impose our own moral frameworks on the world, we obscure its most truthful and poignant details. And no matter how much we devote ourselves to the frameworks, they never seem to fit. This is true for both Lady Chiltern's simplistic moral system and for the most complex and profound "German philosophy." Life cannot be known or lived by intellect alone; we must use our sense of mercy, not for the sake of the next world, but for the sake of the here and now.

This quote sheds light on Lord Goring's earlier comment in praise of the "gentlemanly fool." A person who is "gentlemanly," who is kind and generous in his relationships, has a kind of worldly knowledge that is more valuable, according to Goring, than any amount of academic intelligence. 

Act 3, Part 1 Quotes

One sees that [Lord Goring] stands in immediate relation to modern life, makes it indeed, and so masters it. He is the first well-dressed philosopher in the history of thought.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring
Related Symbols: The Buttonhole
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes from the narrator, who is obviously very fond of Lord Goring, his fashionable hero. Thus far Lord Goring has been somewhat peripheral to the more striking conflict between Sir Chiltern, Lady Chiltern, and Mrs. Cheveley, but now we have a chance to see him alone at home, in his domain, bantering with his butler. 

Unlike Lady Chiltern, who holds herself at any icy remove from life, Lord Goring "stands in immediate relation" to life; but he doesn't succumb to it blindly - he "masters it." He himself helps to create the conditions of modern life, a task given to every new generation. It is a heavy task, because it requires one to disregard the rules and regulations of past eras while learning enough from them to be able to exceed them. More than anything, it requires a cheerful aversion to authority - a quality Lord Goring has to excess. 

The second sentence of the quote is not exactly accurate at face value. Many philosophers have had excellent style. But in Lord Goring, the two qualities - philosophy and fashion - become as one. His philosophy itself is well-dressed, and his clothes are philosophical. The wild and ephemeral rules of fashion guide his deepest thoughts, and the earnest weight of belief affects his choice of attire.

And falsehoods [are] the truths of other people.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Buttonhole
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Goring is speaking to his butler about his buttonhole, which is a small flower arrangement worn on a lapel. The introductory note calls Goring a philosopher, but in this funny dialogue he does not seem to be attempting profundity, or even considering whether or not he means what he says. He is entertaining himself and, arguably, his butler. 

But as usual, the off-the-cuff, paradoxical jokes turn out to bear more weight than it would seem. We observe that Lord Goring's jokes, in this quote, have the same structure as Mrs. Cheveley's comment on morality in Act II ("Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."). As elsewhere, the play challenges us by creating a subtle web of likenesses between the hero and the villain. What Mrs. Cheveley believes about morality, Lord Goring believes about fashion: people we dislike are immoral, people we dislike are unfashionable. Yet we have seen that for Lord Goring, there is a gap between art/philosophy and morality: he appreciates brilliance, but would always prefer "a gentlemanly" - kindly - "fool." Art and philosophy - "the truths of other people" - are an iridescent, shifting veil over the incommunicable human heart. 

But women who have common sense are so curiously plain, father, aren’t they? 

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker), Lord Caversham
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Caversham has come to visit his son at an inconvenient moment, just as Lord Goring is expecting Lady Chiltern for a serious conversation about her marriage. Lord Caversham urges his son to get married and settled down, like the exemplary Sir Robert. The advice has an ironic sound in this moment of the play, when Sir Robert's integrity, career, reputation, and marriage are all teetering on the edge of collapse. Lord Caversham advises his son to use common sense in the matter of marriage, and Lord Goring responds with the above quote. 

Common sense is commonly understood as a universal quality of basic understanding. It is common sense that salt does not taste good in a cup of tea, for example. Part of what is known as common sense is a basic knowledge of physical and chemical laws and the properties of the human body; in other words, the knowledge we acquire in early childhood. The other part is a nebulous web of beliefs, and, like any belief thought to be universal, is usually a painfully narrow reflection of a certain time and place. Lord Goring is saying that women (and men, presumably, but this quote is also an echo of the sexist undercurrent in the play's society) who embody the deadened conventional aspect of their society instead of the tumult of human nature are "curiously plain" - curious in their apparently complete self-negation, and totally devoid of charm. 

Act 4, Part 1 Quotes

Youth isn’t an affectation. Youth is an art.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

Lord Goring is waiting in Sir Robert's drawing room to speak to him about his conversation with Mrs. Cheveley, who has hatched a new plot against him and his wife - a new blackmailing scheme involving Lady Chiltern's note to Lord Goring, which Mrs. Cheveley takes for a love letter. Once again Lord Caversham interrupts Sir Goring and the plot to scold Lord Goring for his dissolute lifestyle. He continues to insist that Lord Goring should follow in Sir Robert's footsteps, and mentions that Sir Robert has just risen to an even higher rank in his political career by giving a rousing and intelligent speech against the Argentine Canal. Once again, Lord Caversham is a source of dramatic irony, since the audience knows it is actually Lord Goring who is responsible for Sir Robert's speech.

When Lord Goring explains that he is too young to be useful, Lord Caversham complains about this "affectation of youth," and Lord Goring responds with the above quote. This epigram hearkens back, once again, to a quote by Mrs. Cheveley, discussed above, in which she calls the art of living "the only fine art." Youth is not an affectation, because it isn't a mask one can simply put on and take off; it a complicated, demanding role that takes great skill and subtlety. The type of youth Lord Goring practices is not a set of stony conventions, but a unique, difficult, delightful role, which he himself invents. 

Act 4, Part 2 Quotes

An ideal husband! Oh, I don’t think I should like that. It sounds like something in the next world….He can be what he chooses. All I want is to be . . . to be . . . oh! a real wife to him.

Related Characters: Mabel Chiltern (speaker), Lord Arthur Goring
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

Mabel Chiltern has accepted Lord Goring's proposal of marriage, and has made friends with his father, the cranky Lord Caversham. Lord Caversham warns his son that he must be "an ideal husband" to Mabel, but Mabel objects that she does not want such a husband. We can guess that an ideal husband is someone who resembles Robert: successful, upstanding, and burdened by abstract criteria of goodness. Mabel, however, wants Lord Goring to be his ordinary, earthly self, not "something in the next world." She prefers delight to purity. And she herself does not want to be an ideal wife, but a "real wife." Theirs is to be a marriage which "stands in immediate relation to modern life." 

Lord Caversham's comment about the "common sense" in Mabel's words is then somewhat ambiguous. We have seen common sense roundly reviled throughout the play: it is boring, deadening, and unattractive. A pessimistic reading of the line would hold that ordinary domestic life threatens to turn Mabel and Goring into ordinary adults. But an optimistic reading would argue that it isn't Mabel and Goring who are changing, but Lord Caversham. 

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Lord Arthur Goring Character Timeline in An Ideal Husband

The timeline below shows where the character Lord Arthur Goring 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
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
Lord Caversham enters the party and asks after his son, Lord Goring. He complains about his son’s leisurely, purposeless life, and Mabel Chiltern – Sir Chiltern’s flower-like... (full context)
Act 1, Part 2
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The next guest to enter is Lord Goring, a handsome man over thirty. The stage notes specify that he is “a flawless dandy,”... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
Lord Caversham walks up to his son, Lord Goring. He chides his son for his idle, pleasure-seeking lifestyle, but Lord Goring explains lightly that... (full context)
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
Lady Basildon and Mrs. Marchmont come to talk to Lord Goring. They are surprised to see him at a “political party,” but he explains that no... (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
...likes “looking at geniuses, and listening to beautiful people,” and everyone seems to agree. Lord Goring walks away with Mabel, who complains that he has not been sufficiently attentive. The two... (full context)
Act 1, Part 3
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Lord Goring and Mabel Chiltern flirt pleasantly in the living room. Mabel finds a diamond brooch or... (full context)
Act 2, Part 1
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...the second act takes place in Sir Robert Chiltern’s morning-room, where Sir Robert and Lord Goring are discussing Robert’s predicament. Goring tells Robert that he should have been completely honest with... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...were his misdeed to become public, and complains that the act was essentially harmless; Lord Goring points out gently that the misdeed harmed him, above all. Sir Robert goes on trying... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...one thing truly worth having. Robert still sees the wisdom in this idea, though Lord Goring finds it “thoroughly shallow.” Robert is torn between remorse and stubborn pride. (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Finally, Robert asks his friend for advice. A confession, Lord Goring says, would ruin his career forever; what he must do now is tell his wife... (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
...from a meeting of the Women’s Liberal Association, which advocates labor and women’s rights. Lord Goring jokes that they must have thorough discussions of hats, and she scolds him good-humoredly. She... (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 Mrs. Cheveley. Awkwardly, Lord Goring tries to tell her... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Mabel Chiltern enters and forbids Lord Goring from acting seriously – it is “unbecoming.” They make plans to go riding the following... (full context)
Act 3, Part 1
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
The third act opens onto Lord Goring’s library, where the impressively inscrutable butler named Phipps is tidying up some newspapers. Lord Goring... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Phipps hands Goring three letters and leaves the room. One letter is written on pink paper; it is... (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
Just then, Lord Caversham enters. For Lord Goring, it is a very inconvenient time. Lord Caversham intends to have a serious talk with... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
His father walks ahead into the room. Lord Goring takes Phipps aside and tells him that a lady is coming to visit him that... (full context)
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Suddenly, Lord Goring and Lord Caversham walk back into the library, and Mrs. Cheveley hides in the drawing-room.... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Just then, Sir Robert walks in. He tells Goring despairingly that Mrs. Cheveley has revealed his shameful secret to his wife. He has also... (full context)
Act 3, Part 2
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Suddenly, Robert hears a noise in the drawing-room. Goring assures him there’s no one, but Robert feels apprehensive and decides to look for himself.... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
A content-looking Mrs. Cheveley enters the library. Lord Goring is shocked to see her. He tells her he wants to give her some advice,... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...speaks openly: she will give him Robert’s letter if he agrees to marry her. Lord Goring waves her off, expressing his dislike and contempt for her almost involuntarily. She speaks dismissively... (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... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lord Goring tells Mrs. Cheveley he will now call the police. Only on one condition will he... (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
The fourth act takes place in Sir Robert’s morning-room, where Lord Goring waits restlessly to share his news. A servant comes in to tell him that Sir... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...tells his son to go into politics, and then once again tells him to marry. Goring explains that he is too young for such dull things; when his father says that... (full context)
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
Mabel Chiltern comes in. She pointedly ignores Lord Goring, and asks Lord Caversham sympathetically about Lady Caversham’s hats, which she seems to consider a... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
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Mabel continues to prod Lord Goring about their missed date, but he charms her out of her ill spirits. He prepares... (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 Lady Chiltern that Mrs. Cheveley gave him the incriminating letter, and that he has... (full context)
Act 4, Part 2
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...his wife’s expression of love and trust, and she decides not to correct him. Lord Goring discreetly leaves the room. Robert tells Lady Chiltern that he no longer fears public disgrace,... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lord Goring comes back into the room, and Robert thanks him effusively. A servant comes in to... (full context)
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Goring sends his father to speak to Mabel in the conservatory. Meanwhile, Lady Chiltern reenters the... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...carrying his letter of resignation. Lady Chiltern reads it and rips it up. Using Lord Goring’s own words, she tells Robert that she does not want him to sacrifice his career,... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...and also by Robert’s change of heart about the Cabinet seat. He threatens to cut Goring off if he is not “an ideal husband” to Mabel, but Mabel interjects to say... (full context)