An Ideal Husband

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
A well-dressed, intelligent, manipulative woman who is faintly connected to all three protagonists. She went to school with Lady Chiltern, was briefly engaged to Lord Goring, and has a fateful mutual friend with Sir Robert. Her dandyism superficially resembles Lord Goring’s in its preoccupation with fashion, wit, and pleasure, but there is a fundamental difference between them. Lord Goring seeks to separate conventional values from private values, their appearance from their reality, in order to honor that reality. Mrs. Cheveley seeks to conflate appearance with reality in order to discredit and trivialize moral reality, the empathetic moral core beneath the ornament of politeness. She implies that no such thing exists. This attitude, which initially seems like a sort of sophistication, is finally exposed as blindness.

Mrs. Cheveley Quotes in An Ideal Husband

The An Ideal Husband quotes below are all either spoken by Mrs. Cheveley or refer to Mrs. Cheveley. 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

SIR ROBERT CHILTERN
You prefer to be natural?

MRS. CHEVELEY
Sometimes. But it is such a very difficult pose to keep up.

Related Characters: Sir Robert Chiltern (speaker), Mrs. Cheveley (speaker)
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs when Sir Robert Chiltern meets Mrs. Cheveley for the first time at his own party. They banter carelessly, without apparent purpose or meaning, but certain aspects of the conversation seem to foreshadow the harm Mrs. Cheveley tries to inflict on Sir Robert.

It appears initially that the play's protagonists are the young, charming dandies, and its antagonists the elderly, stodgy conservatives; but in fact the dandies are both antagonists and protagonists - the moral dandy, Lord Goring, is the hero, and the amoral dandy, Mrs. Cheveley, is the villain.

The quote hints at the nature of Mrs. Cheveley's amorality. Though she, like all dandies, believes social behavior is primarily a pose, a theatrical performance, she makes no distinction between the performance of the natural and the performance of the artificial. The natural, to her, is emptied of all moral weight: it is in no way a moral center to return to, and can therefore be worn as a mask just as much as the artificial. For the moral dandies, the natural cannot truly be performed, because it exists apart from social games and amusements. It is a core of values which must be guarded so that it can be accessed in times of crisis.  

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other An Ideal Husband quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Act 1, Part 3 Quotes

Nowadays, with our modern mania for morality, every one has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues—and what is the result? You all go over like ninepins—one after the other.

Related Characters: Mrs. Cheveley (speaker), Sir Robert Chiltern
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Cheveley has revealed her evil intentions to Robert. She knows that he once sold a government secret, when he was very young, and she plans to use her knowledge to force him to vote for a fraudulent scheme - the Argentine Canal. At first he refuses to yield to her demand, but slowly his resolve gets weaker and weaker. In this quote, she mocks his hesitation.

We have said that Mrs. Cheveley is the villain of the play, the amoral dandy, and in this quote she makes her attitude toward moral precepts quite clear. As always with dandies, it is difficult to be certain whether or not she is joking, but in this case her words are borne out by her actions. In Mrs. Cheveley worldview, morality is a fad, something utterly external and ultimately irrelevant. Virtues, she quips, are "deadly" - they are cumbersome as a decoration and potentially stifling to the spirit. She does not believe there are people who actually live by these decorative claims; she thinks even the most pure people "go over like ninepins" into universal human selfishness and meanness at the least prompting. This belief is both her strength and her downfall.  

Act 2, Part 2 Quotes

The art of living. The only really Fine Art we have produced in modern times.

Related Characters: Mrs. Cheveley (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Cheveley and Lady Markby have come to the Chilterns' house to look for Mrs. Cheveley's lost brooch. Lady Markby is quite snobbish and conservative, not a dandy like Mrs. Cheveley. When Lady Markby complains about the generation of contemporary society, Mrs. Cheveley objects that the adults must learn from the children, for it is the children who have mastered "the art of living." 

Though this quote is spoken by the villainous character of the play, it is a good summary of the dandy philosophy. Even the most mundane daily interactions must be performed as small works of art, which means boredom and cliche must be avoided at all cost. In a sense, the other arts pale in comparison; no instrument can be as complex as the human person, the human psyche, which has the denseness of an entire world. And no other art demands such round-the-clock devotion. But we can assume its rewards are proportionally greater, as well. Mrs. Cheveley's mastery of the dandy art makes us ask, however, what kind of relationship can or should exist between dandyism and gentlemanliness, between art and morality?

Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.

Related Characters: Mrs. Cheveley (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

After Lady Markby leaves, Mrs. Cheveley speaks to Lady Chiltern more frankly. Lady Chiltern announces that she no longer wishes to see Mrs. Cheveley at any of her parties, but Mrs. Cheveley is indifferent to the hostile gesture. She mocks Lady Chiltern's stony morality, implying that it is a form of naivete, a kind of evidence that she has made herself blind and deaf to the world. 

Morality, in Lady Chiltern's view, is universal, because it is made up of self-evident truths somewhat like the Biblical Ten Commandments: one must be honest, brave, fair, unwavering, etc. In this quote, Mrs. Cheveley implies the opposite: if morality is only a flare-up of hostility, then it is different for every person, and, worse, different from moment to moment. It is nothing but an ordinary, low human feeling, like jealousy, irritation, or anger, concealed behind a flimsy mask of self-righteousness. We have to admit that Mrs. Cheveley is not entirely wrong; certainly many people in the world are "moral" in the way she describes. But there is another kind of morality which is more deeply rooted than jealousy or anger, and which is a matter of will and conviction rather than emotion. Mrs. Cheveley is very experienced, but she herself has remained blind to this aspect of human nature. 

Get the entire An Ideal Husband LitChart as a printable PDF.
An ideal husband.pdf.medium

Mrs. Cheveley Character Timeline in An Ideal Husband

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Cheveley 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
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...guests enter: a nice older woman named Lady Markby, and a striking red-haired woman named Mrs. Cheveley , who has recently come from Vienna. Lady Chiltern realizes, with visible displeasure, that she... (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
...He chats with Lady Markby, who offers to introduce him to her interesting new friend, Mrs. Cheveley . They talk pleasantly, though Mrs. Cheveley alludes a little condescendingly to Lady Chiltern’s schoolgirl... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Sir Robert asks why Mrs. Cheveley has decided to visit London, and, in the midst of a flutter of verbal play,... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
...not wish to be considered romantic until late middle age. Sir Robert introduces him to Mrs. Cheveley , but the two have met before. Mrs. Cheveley wanders off, and Lord Goring banters... (full context)
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Theme Icon
...husbands, who are too perfect and upstanding to be any fun, and gossip cattily about Mrs. Cheveley and her rapid entrance into London society. (full context)
Act 1, Part 3
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Mrs. Cheveley and Robert Chiltern walk into the living room as the others pass out. She tells... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...report to the House of Commons about the Canal the following evening. To his shock, Mrs. Cheveley tells him that he must lie about the Commission’s report and tell the House that... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Robert is horrified and lost. He repeatedly refuses to do as Mrs. Cheveley asks, but he is also terrified by her threats: he wavers helplessly between bad and... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Meanwhile, the other guests return from dinner. Lady Markby chatters pleasantly to Mrs. Cheveley about the noble, upstanding character of the Chilterns, then leaves with Lord Caversham. Meanwhile, Lady... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
...the room. Mabel says her goodbyes and leaves; Lady Chiltern complains to Lord Goring about Mrs. Cheveley ’s scheming, and he says good night as well. He leaves just as Robert enters. (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...distress, why he has agreed to support the Argentine Canal scheme. At school, she says, Mrs. Cheveley was known for lying and stealing, and for her generally unpleasant and unkind nature –... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...himself – otherwise, she cannot go on loving him. She convinces Robert to write to Mrs. Cheveley and retract his promise. (full context)
Act 2, Part 1
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...now is tell his wife everything. Goring mentions that he was once briefly engaged to Mrs. Cheveley , and tells Robert that he must find a way to fight her, perhaps using... (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
...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 to be a bit more merciful –... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...talk so much about his affairs. Mabel runs out, comes back in, and announces that Mrs. Cheveley is on her way. (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... (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
The butler brings in tea, and Lady Markby rambles about family feuds. Mrs. Cheveley notes that parents nowadays must learn “the art of living” from their children – “the... (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 see her again socially: she doesn’t want to receive... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Just then, Robert walks in, Mrs. Cheveley announces triumphantly that Robert made his fortune by selling a government secret. After observing the... (full context)
Act 3, Part 1
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...arrives. The bell rings, but Lord Goring must rush off to join his father. Soon Mrs. Cheveley walks into the library, radiant and splendidly dressed. She looks into the drawing-room with a... (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. Father and son are still discussing marriage. Lord Caversham explains that... (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 learned that Mrs. Cheveley... (full context)
Act 3, Part 2
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...and decides to look for himself. When he looks into the drawing room, he sees Mrs. Cheveley ; Goring, however, thinks that the woman waiting there is Lady Chiltern. In the conversation... (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... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Finally, Mrs. Cheveley speaks openly: she will give him Robert’s letter if he agrees to marry her. Lord... (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 only visited her, she... (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 refrain from calling:... (full context)
Act 4, Part 1
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...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 burned it. He also admits that... (full context)
Act 4, Part 2
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...no longer fears public disgrace, because he has her love. She happily informs him that Mrs. Cheveley gave his incriminating letter to Lord Goring: Robert is safe. He is overwhelmed by relief.... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...marriage. At first Robert does not grant it, thinking that Goring is in love with Mrs. Cheveley . But Lady Chiltern explains the whole misunderstanding – Goring was waiting for her, and... (full context)