An Ideal Husband

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Mabel Chiltern Character Analysis

Sir Robert Chiltern’s sister, a lovely, funny young woman. Mabel takes frivolousness as seriously as Lord Goring. She is the only person in the play who can truly match wits with him, and their inscrutable, delightful wordplay is the form cast by their romance. Mabel and Lord Goring get engaged near the end of the play.

Mabel Chiltern Quotes in An Ideal Husband

The An Ideal Husband quotes below are all either spoken by Mabel Chiltern or refer to Mabel 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 1 Quotes

Oh, I love London Society! I think it has immensely improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.

Related Characters: Mabel Chiltern (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

In the moments before this quote, Lord Caversham, a traditional-minded elderly gentleman, speaks about Lord Goring to the young and charming Mabel Chiltern. As he speaks, Lord Caversham complains to her about the social life of the younger generation, and Mabel responds with this quip.

Mabel's defense of London society rests, simply, in the delight and amusement it gives her, which are themselves the new society's highest values. In other ways, too, her response mirrors the new society: her amusement shows itself in the paradoxical, counter-intuitive, silly quality of her answer, for one would not expect a clever and prosperous young woman to praise insanity and stupidity. Yet though her praise seems irrational, it also paints a delightful picture.

Mabel mentions that society has "immensely improved." It is interesting to imagine the prior society, from which the new one has evolved, as the opposite of the new: where the new society Mabel praises has "beautiful idiots," we might imagine the older society filled with grey-faced scholars, and where the new society has "brilliant lunatics," we can imagine the old full of boring, sensible couples. Paired with its alternative, Mabel's praise seems all the more reasonable, though no less amusing for it. 

 

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Act 2, Part 2 Quotes

When Tommy wants to be romantic he talks to one just like a doctor.

Related Characters: Mabel Chiltern (speaker), Tommy Trafford
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Mabel Chiltern is talking to Lady Chiltern, her sister-in-law, about her annoying suitor, Tommy. Tommy is successful and well-off, but Mabel finds him very dull. Her feelings on romance resemble those of Lord Goring and Lady Cheveley, who believe romance is for old and proper people. Mabel has just reprimanded her other suitor, Lord Goring, for speaking too seriously. Like Lord Goring, she does not feel that youth and love have much to do with seriousness, at least the sort of external seriousness practiced by the older set. 

Tommy resembles a doctor when he speaks romantically because both medicine and a certain kind of romance operate according to a set of rules and procedures, removing any element of fun or play. In medicine and romance, there is a straightforward, oft-repeated relationship between the participants, which cuts out the excitement and uncertainty courtship requires. A medicinal courtship is the process by which the social order tames love, and which tends to muddle its partitions. The dandies' joking disdain of romance is a veiled resistance to larger social structures. 



Act 4, Part 1 Quotes

Well, my duty is a thing I never do, on principle. It always depresses me.

Related Characters: Mabel Chiltern (speaker)
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Mabel Chiltern and Lord Goring are carrying on their very funny courtship. Lord Goring had been forced to miss his riding date with Mabel earlier that morning, and she scolds him with mock ill-humor. She observes that he continues to look delighted, and he admits he always has a delighted look when he is near her. Then they have the above exchange.

Duty, like common sense, is depressing because it is generally a form of narrow-mindedness posing as universality. It is so dull and oppressive to dip into this conventional stream, that when they encounter anything resembling duty or common sense, Mabel and the other dandies try their best to do just the opposite. It is not a perfect system, but it protects them from what they collectively dread - the boredom of bad art. 

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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Mabel Chiltern Character Timeline in An Ideal Husband

The timeline below shows where the character Mabel 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
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
...asks after his son, Lord Goring. He complains about his son’s leisurely, purposeless life, and Mabel Chiltern – Sir Chiltern’s flower-like younger sister – jumps in to defend him. She notes... (full context)
Act 1, Part 2
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
...the two have met before. Mrs. Cheveley wanders off, and Lord Goring banters sweetly with Mabel Chiltern, who jokingly chides him for his “bad qualities,” which, she implies are both too... (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
Mabel joins the conversation. Mrs. Marchmont remarks that she likes “looking at geniuses, and listening to... (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 bracelet stuck... (full context)
Act 2, Part 2
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... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lady Markby and Mrs. Cheveley enter. Mabel briefly says hello and runs off to pose in a tableau – a performance in... (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
...him that Sir Robert is at work, Lady Chiltern is still in her room, and Mabel Chiltern has just come home from a morning outing. The servant also says that Lord... (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... (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
Mabel continues to prod Lord Goring about their missed date, but he charms her out of... (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... (full context)
Act 4, Part 2
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... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Robert thanks Goring for all he’s done. In return, Goring asks Robert for his sister Mabel’s hand in marriage. At first Robert does not grant it, thinking that Goring is in... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lord Caversham and Mabel Chiltern enter the room. Lord Caversham is shocked and delighted by the news of the... (full context)