An Ideal Husband


Oscar Wilde

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on An Ideal Husband makes teaching easy.

An Ideal Husband: Style 1 key example

Act 1, Part 1
Explanation and Analysis:

Unlike Wilde's novels, which tend to be written in a sumptuous prose that overflows with the sensory imagery of aestheticism, An Ideal Husband confines such language to its stage directions and relies on quick dialogue, vicious sarcasm, and plentiful verbal irony to paint its scathing—and extremely entertaining—portrait of London society. This much is clear from the very opening scene, in Act 1, Part 1:

Mrs. Marchmont: Going on to the Hartlocks’ tonight, Margaret?

Lady Basildon: I suppose so. Are you?

Mrs. Marchmont: Yes. Horribly tedious parties they give, don’t they?

Lady Basildon: Horribly tedious! Never know why I go. Never know why I go anywhere.

Mrs. Marchmont: I come here to be educated.

Lady Basildon: Ah! I hate being educated!

Mrs. Marchmont: So do I. It puts one almost on a level with the commercial classes, doesn’t it?

As Wilde introduces the audience to his characters, he reveals their plain and at times painful posturing through sequences like this—in which the contradictions of the highly performative elite are unmistakable, hilarious, and affirmed through quick and witty repartee. Being educated is, of course, neither undesirable nor working class, and Wilde uses his sharp dialogue to underscore the ridiculousness of such a stance.