Most wit, in this play, consists in saying the opposite of something commonly accepted as truth. This sort of wit insists giddily that if one abstracts enough, each thing is as true as its opposite. It’s a sophistry that serves to show not that truth is unstable, but that generalizations have little to do with truth – though they are enjoyable if one doesn’t take them too seriously.
Older, stodgier characters associate wit and verbal play with triviality. But instead it is a form of broad-mindedness that is close to wisdom, and that expresses itself as deliberate uncertainty. Dandies believe that there is more value in speaking well about nothing – “I love talking about nothing, father,” says Lord Goring, “It is the only thing I know anything about” – than in speaking boringly about ‘important’ issues. But such contrariness does not reduce to faith in emptiness or nothingness: it is not a destructive amorality (except when performed by a truly destructive person like Mrs. Cheveley). Wit and contrariness expose the emptiness of certain customs and proprieties in order to make way for actual human contact, and for genuine moral reasoning.
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness ThemeTracker
Wit, Charm, and Contrariness Quotes in An Ideal Husband
Oh, I love London Society! I think it has immensely improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.
I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.
I like looking at geniuses, and listening to beautiful people.
Ah! I prefer a gentlemanly fool any day. There is more to be said for stupidity than people imagine.
In fact, I usually say what I really think. A great mistake nowadays. It makes one so liable to be misunderstood.
Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.
And falsehoods [are] the truths of other people.
But women who have common sense are so curiously plain, father, aren’t they?
Well, my duty is a thing I never do, on principle. It always depresses me.