An Ideal Husband

Pdf fan Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
A well-liked, busy politician known for his integrity in both public and private life. In the beginning of the play, he seems to be entirely in control of his fate. He is successful, esteemed, and happily married to Lady Chiltern: his life seems to be following some universally desirable plan. But the sudden crisis in his life brought about by Mrs. Cheveley’s blackmail reveals not only his past indiscretions but also his profound inner confusion on matters of goodness, ambition, and love. He has floated along on the currents of other people’s ideas – Baron Arnheim’s ideas about power and ambition, society’s ideas about honor and success. The crisis finally forces him to think deeply about his values. By the end of the play, his socially determined belief system has given way to a private, inner system, which settles him more surely in both his marriage and his career.

Sir Robert Chiltern Quotes in An Ideal Husband

The An Ideal Husband quotes below are all either spoken by Sir Robert Chiltern or refer to Sir Robert 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 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.  

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. 


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

Sir Robert Chiltern Character Timeline in An Ideal Husband

The timeline below shows where the character Sir Robert 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
The first act opens during a party at the Chilterns’ house, a lovely, opulent home in a fashionable part of London. Lady Chiltern, a beautiful... (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
...after his son, Lord Goring. He complains about his son’s leisurely, purposeless life, and Mabel ChilternSir Chiltern’s flower-like younger sister – jumps in to defend him. She notes that... (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
...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
Sir Robert Chiltern enters the room – a handsome, worried-looking man in early middle age. He chats... (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... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Romance, Boredom, and Delight Theme Icon
...that he, too, does 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,... (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 him she... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Sir Robert thinks the investment a bad one, and mentions that he is to give a report... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Robert is horrified and lost. He repeatedly refuses to do as Mrs. Cheveley asks, but he... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...dinner. Lady Markby chatters pleasantly to Mrs. Cheveley about the noble, upstanding character of the Chilterns, then leaves with Lord Caversham. Meanwhile, Lady Chiltern approaches Mrs. Cheveley and asks her what... (full context)
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 between... (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
The beginning of 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... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Sir Robert speaks resentfully of the shame that would befall him were his misdeed to become public,... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Robert reveals that it was Baron Arnheim that put the idea in his head. He describes... (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;... (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
Mabel Chiltern enters and forbids Lord Goring from acting seriously – it is “unbecoming.” They make plans... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...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
...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
Just then, Robert walks in, Mrs. Cheveley announces triumphantly that Robert made his fortune by selling a government... (full context)
Act 3, Part 1
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...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)
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
...and announces that he must get married, and right away – he should follow Sir Robert’s example. He is already thirty-four, after all – though here Goring interrupts to say that... (full context)
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...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 Lord... (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... (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... (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
...her dressmaker,” she announces. Lord Goring guesses that she has come to sell him Sir Robert’s incriminating letter. She vaguely confirms his guess and begins talking about their earlier short-lived romance,... (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 Goring waves her off, expressing his dislike... (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
...the police. Only on one condition will he refrain from calling: if she gives him Robert’s incriminating letter. Anguished and terrified, Mrs. Cheveley hands it over. Then she remembers Lady Chiltern’s... (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... (full context)
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lord Caversham brusquely changes the subject. He informs his son that Lord Chiltern has been highly praised for his speech against the Argentine Canal: The Times has honored... (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... (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
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Robert walks in with the pink letter in his hands. Because the letter is not addressed,... (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 announce Lord Caversham’s entrance. Lord Caversham congratulates... (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.... (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 engagement,... (full context)