Review: An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

PENGUIN, 1986/1895

A dazzling blend of farce and morality, this play explores human frailty and social hypocrisy. Sir Robert Chiltern’s secret is discovered and exposed. He is accused of having exploited government secrets for his own gain early in his political career. With this revelation from Mrs. Cheveley comes the threat of blackmail and the ruin of Sir Robert’s career. Yet in order to be a successful blackmailer, one’s own reputation must be beyond reproach.

The final play in my collection of The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays, An Ideal Husband looks at the married relationships and the idealization of other people. This is a frequent topic in Wilde’s works, especially in one of the plays I read in earlier, Lady Windemere’s Fan. Although slightly longer than the other Wilde plays that I’ve been reading, An Ideal Husband is an entertaining piece that takes only about an afternoon to enjoy.

Unlike the Windemere’s in Lady Windemere’s Fan, the Chilterns are an older, well-situated couple. Sir Robert Chiltern is an esteemed member of parliament and is expected to go higher soon. But when an unexpected guest arrives at one the Mrs Chiltern’s parties, Sir Robert is put to test. He has to face his past that was maybe not as squeaky-clean as his current image. In the fear of losing his position as well as the love of his wife, who adores him, Robert Chiltern has to make a quick decision and negotiate himself out of the mess. The plot offers no more than suspenseful scenes and dramatic revelations that are great fit to stage.

Oscar Wilde belongs to a class of his own and I am quite sad to see that I don’t own a larger reservoir of his works. I finished reading And Ideal Husband at the end of February, and though it isn’t as haunting as The Picture of Dorian Gray, the story is still very much vivid in my head. In the play Wilde pokes fun at the society that encourages men and women to set high expectations for each other and is more focused on the person’s image than their personality. It also explores the gender-based assumptions in a surprising depth. Upon reading Wilde’s satire, I couldn’t help but to see how the play would be adapted to a modern setting and be considered very current. An Ideal Husband is almost a farce, but the witty dialogue and the japes aimed at the society offer also a more critical reading of the play and its characters. I’ll definitely be re-reading the play in the future and will probably find something new every time. I cannot but highly recommend Oscar Wilde and An Ideal Husband for all those who enjoy their wit quick and dry and with a healthy dose of ridicule.


You silly Arthur! If you knew anything about…anything, which you don’t, you would know that I adore you. Everyone in London knows it except you. It is a public scandal the way I adore you. — I wonder you consent to have anything to say to me. I have no character left at all. At least, I feel so happy that I am quite sure I have no character left at all.

Despite the fact that most of the events take indoors, An Ideal Husband is my London stop for Reading England 2015. For more outside action around the city, I’d recommend The Picture of Dorian Gray.

reading england

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