Mrs. Cheveley, the ‘heartless’ dandy of the play, thinks that goodness and morality are poses with nothing behind them: she complains that “every one has to pose as a paragon of purity, incorruptibility, and all the other seven deadly virtues.” But Lord Goring, the dandy philosopher, knows that morality can be both a pose and a true condition of inner life. He tries to teach Lady Chiltern to love and forgive her husband, because he believes that love and forgiveness are fundamental to a good, happy life. But he would never say so at a party.
Lord Goring’s earnest efforts to reunite the Chilterns, and his own happy entrance into domestic life with Mabel, show that dandyism and aestheticism do not set themselves against love, kindness, and ordinary happiness – on the contrary, dandyism’s charms and tricks serve to elevate that happiness. Dandyism sets itself against the empty rituals of family morals in defense of real joy.
From beginning to end, Mrs. Cheveley remains the amoral villain of the play, and Lord Goring its sublimely moral hero. The only characters who truly develop in this respect are Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern. In the beginning of the play, both husband and wife see themselves as impeccably moral, because they follow a certain set of socially dictated rules – a mixture of diluted religion and exaggerated propriety. When Robert’s predicament tests their faith in these rules, they become quite confused and helpless: they find that the rules are of no use in an actual crisis. But with Lord Goring’s help, they begin to build a true moral base grounded in complex experience and deep mutual sympathy.
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness ThemeTracker
Love, Morality, and Forgiveness Quotes in An Ideal Husband
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.
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.
Nobody is incapable of doing a foolish thing. Nobody is incapable of doing a wrong thing.
All I do know is that life cannot be understood without much charity, cannot be lived without much charity. It is love, and not German philosophy, that is the true explanation of this world, whatever may be the explanation of the next.
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.