An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde Literature Essay Example

Oscar Wilde was a writer of the transitional epoch, which was reflected in all aspects of his life and work. He became a person that expressed the spirit of Fin-de-Siecle. It was the time of the sudden change in the established beliefs and values as well as the emergence of new kinds of arts. Oscar Wilde’s works remain ambiguous and cause debates among critics, researchers, and authors of numerous books and critical articles. His writing is characterized by the use of permanent motifs, images, and techniques. At the same time, Oscar Wilde worked in a wide range of genres: poems, ballads, novels, fairy tales, and plays. His comedies are still popular among viewers and readers. They are funny, witty and, instructive. The purpose of the paper is to investigate the problems of Wilde’s comedy An Ideal Husband. This play has been recognized as one of the best dramatic works of the writer, even by those critics who did not consider Oscar Wilde a playwright of the high class. The range of issues on which the comedy is based is quite wide. The problems of the comedy are characterized by depth and relevance. In the play, the characters address a wide range of issues such as social life and politics, manners and morals, marriage and family. However, the ease with which the characters deal with troubles expresses special Oscar Wilde’s attitude to the norms of bourgeois society. Wilde did not want to take seriously the principles of this environment. He was very disrespectful towards its shrines, which he through his characters touched at every turn.

The play An Ideal Husband is one of the most famous comedies of Oscar Wilde. It was first performed in January 1895. The study of the problems of the comedy will help to prove that Oscar Wilde is a great playwright who, with his original paradoxical style, raised English drama to the next level.

Biography of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is a poet, playwright, and novelist, who most fully embodied the artistic principles of English aestheticism. Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854 in the family of Sir William Wilde, Dublin ophthalmologist. He was a very prominent figure. Wilde’s father wrote many books on geography, history, and medicine. However, people called him the dirtiest man in Ireland. Oscar’s mother, Jane Francesca Agnes, was a fine lady. In her tastes and manners, there was a tone of immoderate theatricality. In this insincere air, among fake smiles, adultery, theatrical postures, and words, Oscar Wilde grew up. Naturally, the parents gave their son, who came from the privileged class of the Irish, decent education. Oscar Wilde received classic humanitarian education. He studied at Trinity College in Dublin and College of St. Magdalena in Oxford. “When Wilde was still an undergraduate at Oxford, he had already succeeded in becoming an outstanding personality” (Aransaez 16). At Oxford, Wilde created himself. He developed a perfect English accent. After graduation, the future writer settled down in London. Wilde’s university professors, important figures in British culture, largely influenced the formation of his aesthetic views. With the help of his talent, wit, and ability to attract attention, Wilde quickly joined the social life of London. He performed the most necessary revolution for English society – a revolution in fashion. He appeared in personally invented mind-blowing costumes.

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His first collection of poems was written in the spirit of the Pre-Raphaelites. It was published in 1881, shortly before Oscar Wilde went to lecture in North America. His lectures were extremely popular there. Posture and esthetic extremes of Oscar Wilde caught the public’s eye. Moreover, the irreconcilable protest was obviously based on the artist’s rigid position, taking into account the history of art, the conditions of its development, and the actual state.

After the marriage with Constance Lloyd in 1884, the writer published a series of storybooks for children, originally written for his sons. The next period of his life was very fruitful. He wrote many stories and worked as a journalist. In 1890, Wilde published the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. After its release, the British critics wrote hundreds of slashing reviews, incriminating Oscar Wilde that the novel was written for the most depraved members of society and that the author sympathized with vice. In 1891, he published a collection of theoretical articles Intensions. In the articles, Wilde presented his symbol of faith to readers, his aesthetic doctrine. In the same year, he wrote a treatise The Soul of Man under Socialism, which rejected marriage, family, and private property. 1895 became very successful for Wilde’s creative progress. He wrote two brilliant works: An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. In the comedies, the art of Oscar Wilde as a witty conversationalist manifested itself in all brilliance. The dialogues are great. Newspapers called him the best contemporary playwright, praising his mind, originality, and perfection of style.

In 1891, Oscar Wilde became acquainted with Alfred Douglas. Oscar was in love with everything beautiful. He loved the young man too. However, Alfred Douglas was a spoiled aristocrat. Money and Douglas’s whim marked their relations. In the full sense of the word, Wilde supported Douglas. He allowed Alfred to rob himself, who separated him from his family and deprived him of the possibility to create. Douglas’s father took legal action against Oscar Wilde as he believed that he seduced Alfred. In 1895, on a charge of sodomy, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to two-year-imprisonment and hard labor. Prison broke Wilde completely. Relying on the financial support of close friends, released in May 1897, Wilde moved to France and changed his name. In France, he wrote a famous poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol under the pseudonym C.3.3. It was his prison number. The poem was the supreme and final poetic ascent of the priest of aesthetics. Oscar Wilde died in exile in France from acute meningitis caused by an ear infection November 30, 1900. Shortly before his death, Wilde said that he would not survive the XIX century. The British would not tolerate his continued presence.

Problems of the Play An Ideal Husband

The famous play by Oscar Wilde was written in 1893. The author sent the finished work to the Garrick Theatre. Unfortunately, the theater refused to stage it. The next attempt became Haymarket Theatre. At this time, Oscar Wilde was lucky. At the beginning of January 1895, there was the premiere of the play. A few months later, the author was arrested. The theater had to remove posters with his name. After 4 years, An Ideal Husband was published. Again, the author’s name was hidden. He edited his work shortly before publication.

The story takes place in London and covers twenty-four-hour-events. The case revolves around the old Suez Canal, which throws reflections on the life of the characters of the play. The reader is faced with the high English society of the end of the XIX century, its special manner of behavior and life. The play An Ideal Husband is focused on political blackmail, corruption, public morality, and decency.

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The play is usually described as social. At the heart of the play, there is a deep social conflict. In An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde very actively criticizes the social system, which is based on corruption in political life. In the drama of the 90s of the XIX century, the plot is relegated to the background. The center of gravity moves to the soul and the inner life of the hero. In the foreground of the comedy An Ideal Husband, there is a serious and problematic story of Sir Robert Chiltern. Behind the mask of meaningless words, confusing paradoxes, and feigned cynicism, such heroes as Lord Darlington or Lord Goring hide their true face: love, true views, and even deep decency. However, many literary critics believe that this comedy cannot be defined as a social one as problems of this kind are not at the forefront.

The theme of marriage and family is vividly described in the play. The main hero is Sir Robert Chiltern, Baronet and Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Sir Robert is a typical representative of the British high society. Mr. Chiltern makes an impression of quite a decent man. He is a good family man and “an ideal husband” who appreciates marriage bonds and is madly in love with his wife. The opinion of Sir Robert’s wife is very important to him. The wife is a sample of a perfect of woman and wife. Mr. Chiltern keeps Gertrude abreast of all his affairs. It seems that the husband has no secrets from his wife. “Sir Robert Chiltern is considered to be a model statesman and husband because of his honesty and his unshakable integrity by the whole of London Society and above all by his wife” (Aransaez 322). Mrs. Chiltern is a keeper of the family hearth. In her opinion, not only external but also internal well-being of her family is very important. Gertrude values public opinion. She worries for the reputation of her husband. In matters of morality, Mrs. Chiltern’s position is unshakable. If a person has committed villainy, Gertrude will not close her eyes to it because this person is her husband. However, Mrs. Chiltern is capable of forgiveness too.

With the emergence of Mrs. Cheveley at the party, it becomes clear that Sir Robert has a secret, the disclosure of which could suddenly deprive him of his loving wife and successful career. Behind the mask of decency, there is meanness, baseness, and cowardice. Mr. Chiltern is accustomed to his mask and believes in it. Oscar Wilde characterizes Sir Robert Chiltern as a reasonable and respected man, who is forced to consider the proposal of Mrs. Laura Cheveley on the redemption of the letter. “Sir Robert Chiltern conceals an immoral act that he committed years ago to ensure his political and social success and is now blackmailed by witty adventuress – Mrs. Cheveley – who threatens to ruin his career with the publication of the compromising letter” (Aransaez 322). In case of the disclosure, this letter would deprive the hero of every career prospects and love of his wife Gertrude. It would bring shame and humiliation. Instead, Sir Robert Chiltern should withdraw his report in Parliament. In the report, he intended to show the serious shortcomings of the Argentine canal project, which Lady Chiltern explicitly called a scam. The hero faces a very tough choice. His life is on the scales because without love and political career, Chiltern cannot imagine his existence. The reader and the viewer watch the hero’s thoughts, doubts, and hesitations.

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The main hero is a wealthy man. However, Sir Robert Chiltern’s enrichment is connected not only with the dishonest act committed in his youth but also with his personal qualities. At the same time, the author analyzes and weighs a misdemeanor of the character not only as a significant social problem but as a fact of everyday social life, which aggravates the situation of the choice of Robert Chiltern. It is possible to prove this thesis, firstly, by the fact that no one was hurt from this betrayal. Secondly, Mrs. Cheveley, Gertrude, and Lord Goring evaluate the hero not in terms of the damage that he caused to the state but from the position of his morality or immorality. Thirdly, despite the outcome, the financial position of the Chiltern will remain stable. Only his reputation will suffer. As for the profession, he will only have botany or church.

Mrs. Cheveley is a woman with a dubious past and present. The main objective the insidious woman is to arrange her life in any way. According to her, the goal always justifies the means. Mrs. Cheveley starts one adventure after another. For s vile woman, there are no moral principles. The author describes her character as a work of art, in which signs of too many schools can be seen. In spite of all Mrs Cheveley’ deceit, the viewer cannot help admiring her.

Mrs. Cheveley’s blackmail practically connects Robert Chiltern. She does not leave him any choice. The heroine convincingly argues that after the publication of the letter to Baron Arnheim, Sir Robert will ruin his career. Most parts of her monologues are dedicated to arguments about everyone’s dependence on hypocritical position of others. In these statements of Mrs. Cheveley, other topics of the play are raised: the issue of sin and redemption as well as the theme of society, its values, and morality. These topics are typical for Oscar Wilde’s works.

Sir Robert Chiltern is extremely susceptible to the arguments of reason. After talking with his wife, he takes her arguments. He is afraid of losing her love. Thus, Robert Chiltern writes a letter to Mrs. Cheveley, in which he refuses to support the project of the Argentine channel. The choice is made. Nevertheless, readers see that it is not real. Chiltern made the choice under the influence of his wife and not as a result of self-reflection. Wilde’s remark stresses dubiousness of this decision. The author highlights it in an ironic way. “The Servant puts out the lights. The room becomes almost dark. The only light there is comes from the great chandelier that hangs over the staircase and illumines the tapestry of the Triumph of Love” (Wilde 148).
The main thing in the comedy is an internal conflict, which has the primary semantic meaning and also proves that the author is not interested in the analysis of social problems. The complication of internal conflict is presented in the episode where Gertrude shows her husband that she could not accept his dishonesty. Chiltern will be deprived of her love. The climax coincides with the culmination of the external conflict. However, the denouement is when heroes find greater love. At the end of the play, Robert and Gertrude decided to make peace. Mrs.Cheveley’s plan failed.

Despite the fact that social problems in this work are not central, they are intertwined with moral problems. The author analyzes society very critically. The tragedy is in the very existence of society corroded by corruption. In terms of condemning the vices of society, the denouement of the external conflict, the presentation of the portfolio of the minister to Sir Robert Chiltern, is absurd. Only in An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde turns from humor to satire. The author quite sarcastically shows the appearance of English statesmen and the doubtful paths that lead them to power in bourgeois society.

Another theme depicted in the play is political intrigue. The author looks at the events through the eyes of Lord Goring. He is a person who does not have any political views. Nevertheless, he carefully watches what is happening around. It is the intention of the writer to see and describe. “In An Ideal Husband, Wilde deals with the theme of political intrigue and blackmail in the variation presented in ideal-husband dramas” (Aransaez 322). Using clever wit and political intrigue, the author shows the picture of the society of that time that fights with problems, which are very relevant nowadays.

In the play, Oscar Wilde portrays England of the end of the XIX century. By the title of the play, the reader can see the author’s attitude to the society in which he lives. Wilde sees perfect society as an ideal family in which ideal husband loves his ideal wife. Later, however, it appears that perfect society is built on fraud and theft. The Chilterns and people who came at the party all are representatives of English society in miniature. The head of the family is a fraud. With the help of a big scam, on which Sir Robert ventured in the distant past, he managed to get rich and got the highest state post. His marriage to Gertrude helped Mr. Chiltern support the image of a respectable person.
The author notes that degradation of morals touches not only men but also women. Mrs. Cheveley bears little resemblance to the virtuous mother and wife. This lady is very unprincipled. She does not miss a single opportunity to improve her financial situation. In her character, Oscar Wilde embodied the image of the modern woman. Mrs. Cheveley needs neither a husband nor a strong advocate or family. The modern woman will not wait for a marriage proposal from a wealthy man. She offers him a marriage. If a man does not agree, she will find another way to get what she wants. However, there are also women who have not lost traditional understanding of their role in society, such as Gertrude, Chiltern, and Mabel. Nevertheless, the author realizes that in most cases happens the opposite. Honest and decent women lose everything and treacherous and cunning Mrs. Cheveley remains perfectly satisfied with her life by means of theft, blackmail, and fraud.

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Conclusion

Oscar Wilde is the great English writer who won fame as one of the brightest and most outstanding personalities of his time. He belonged to the writers who initiated a new approach to literature, which was based on independence from accepted moral and aesthetic judgments, the desire to uncover ambiguity of the mind and soul, and the eternal struggle with critics and publishers.

Wilde’s drama is a drama of high class, which has a wide range of topical issues. In his works, readers can find sources of many problems of contemporary culture. In recent decades, there is a growing interest to the personality of the writer. A significant role is largely played by his scandalous reputation.
An Ideal Husband is the most mature work described as a social comedy. The author did not choose the genre of comedy accidentally. He laughed at his contemporaries, their ostentatious honesty, and generosity. The action of Oscar Wilde’s play An Ideal Husband takes place in a single day during which there are serious love passions and political intrigues. Oscar Wilde’s comedy has a happy ending. Good triumphs. Evil fails to achieve its goal.