An Ideal Husband


Oscar Wilde

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The Buttonhole Symbol Icon
When Lord Goring comes home at the beginning of the third act, he exchanges a day buttonhole (a small flower arrangement, like a corsage) for an evening one. We shortly learn that the buttonhole, one of “the delicate fopperies of fashion,” is in fact out of fashion at present – no important people wear it. Its unpopularity does not bother Lord Goring, who believes that “fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear.” The buttonhole is meant to mark a person as insignificant or perhaps middle-class, but Lord Goring happily short-circuits the frigid signaling system that connects clothes and social status. Fashion, for him, is not that signaling system: it is the delicate, inscrutable transfer of meaning from person to object. The buttonhole, at that historical moment, is a trivial item, and Lord Goring wishes it to be “more trivial” still. Its triviality is a mark of its freedom from the serious social games of adults, games with interminable rules, harsh sanctions, and very few rewards. The games extend so far and wide that it requires constant vigilance and good humor to distinguish them from life, and Lord Goring’s buttonhole is a sign of that vigilance.

The Buttonhole Quotes in An Ideal Husband

The An Ideal Husband quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Buttonhole. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications edition of An Ideal Husband published in 2000.
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:

And falsehoods [are] the truths of other people.

Related Characters: Lord Arthur Goring (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Buttonhole
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Buttonhole Symbol Timeline in An Ideal Husband

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Buttonhole appears in An Ideal Husband. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 3, Part 1
The Natural and the Artificial Theme Icon
The Trivial and the Serious Theme Icon
...first well-dressed philosopher in the history of thought.” He asks Phipps for a change of buttonhole (a flower one wears on a suit jacket). Lord Goring speaks meditatively and slyly about... (full context)