Idealism is the process of forming and pursuing ideas and values that are often unrealistic. An idealistic person holds high standards for their future. The vision that an individual has for themselves often plays a part in how their life occurs. Oscar Wilde’s 1895 satire, An Ideal Husband, depicts the lives of idealists and the fruition of their ideals. The play revolves around the tumultuous and highly public lives of Robert and Gertrude Chiltern. Robert is a prestigious member of the House of Commons married to an active and well respected socialite, Gertrude. The pair’s status and marriage are thrown into conflict when Gertrude’s old school nemesis, Laura Cheveley, attempts to blackmail Robert. Wilde’s popular comedy is brimming with witty epigrams, dramatic irony, and subtle symbolism. He demonstrates how the idealism of individuals in nineteenth century British society influences their lives. In the play, Wilde demonstrates that idealism has a significant effect on the destiny of individuals through the depiction of the Chilterns’ monetary and social standards.
Sir Robert Chiltern is a man who has invented a life for himself. He reveals this aspect of his personality as he says, “I had the double misfortune of being well-born and poor, two unforgivable things these days.” (Act 2; 23) Robert did not come from an old, wealthy family. Thus, he acquired the drive and ambition that poverty demands and that his social and professional circles lack. Other characters in the play view Robert as the ideal: a perfectly well-respected man with a clean slate. Little do they know, the skeleton in Sir Robert’s closet is the origin of his success. In his youth, he received nefarious advice from a mentor, and therefore came to possess a la…
…ert stay in the public eye, their marriage is saved by decisions made based upon ideals.
Wilde’s play demonstrates how idealism influences individual’s potentiality to make fate-determining decisions. He does so through the character development of Robert and Gertrude Chiltern. The Chilterns’ idealistic attitudes regarding fiscal, social, and matrimonial issues play large roles in steering the plot to it’s exultant conclusion. For Robert, staying true to his ideals earned him a happy ending. For Gertrude, being gracious and flexible in her ideals led to her to a jubilant outcome. The two married characters bring balance as well as a genuineness to the nature of idealism. Whether an individual is persisting in their convictions or modifying their standards, idealism leads to characters determining their own destinies.
Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband