In class on Wednesday we talked about “The Ideal Husband” looking at all the different characters in the play and how they try to fit into the ideal of their roles. I want to focus this blog specifically on the women and how they interact with this idea of the “ideal”. Professor Kinyon mentioned how we constantly chase after this perception, but in the end, it does not really exist because humanity exists as imperfect beings. The futile chase towards the ideal only leads to deception and self hiding. Wilde himself is a great example of concealing crucial aspects of the self to present as something ideal worth emulating. Some of his most defining character traits were hidden away to appeal to the general society. In the same way, I believe Wilde portrays the characters in his play very similarly to reveal this aspect of not only himself, but society as a whole. This obsession with presenting as perfection is nothing but a farce when you get a glimpse behind the scenes.
Lady Chiltern is an example of someone so lost in the facade that she’s lost herself and her priorities. She epitomizes the vain woman in an unconventional manner being characterized as a very pious woman, but I think because she is presented to be this holier-than-thou figure we can glimpse into the self-obsession necessary to create such an ideal. She tricked herself into believing that her whole life was perfectly good where not even her husband could have a skeleton hiding in the closet. By thinking this way, Lady Chiltern is indirectly revealing to the audience her vanity in the midst of her supposed pure goodness. This contrasts the general perception of the vain woman, who is cast out by society for being too obsessed with herself which is what we connected the homosexual to since there must be an element of self love to pursue romantic relations with the same gender.
I believe Wilde created Lady Chiltern to highlight to the audience that the upper class is guilty of the same self-love that those of lower status are ostracized for. Since she does not express her self-love in the way we normally expect someone to, like how Lord Goring acts, it is easy to miss Lady Chiltern’s narcissism which we discussed in class. Wilde can wield her character as a double edged sword to criticize the wealthy for their hypocrisy, while simultaneously highlighting the idea of hiding in plain sight. The author himself eventually had his mask cracked and endured imprisonment for his own imperfections, but Bosie, who was a member of this upper class, never suffered the same rejection because of his status. As was mentioned in class, these decadents have so much money with nothing to do that they can afford to pursue this “ideal” facade with no repercussions to be had.
With the conclusion of this play we see how Lady Chiltern is never outed nor faced with confronting her shortcomings in the same way Robert is. Her facade, which she has all the time in the world to perfect, stays intact to preserve her image of the ideal. This play represents a victory for the vain woman who can hide in plain sight. She has always known the luxury of money, and with that power comes the ability to act as you please with little to no repercussions.
One thought on “Ideal?”
I think your post makes some really interesting points regarding exposure of one’s true self. I agree with the connection you draw between Lady Chiltern and Bosie, how their privilege and class status shields them from exposure. When Wilde’s queer identity was exposed through the trials, he was not afforded the same advantages. However, I think it may be interesting to think of how Wilde chooses to expose himself to the public in certain instances. “Love in a Dark Place” talks about how Wilde never truly conveyed his emotions and feelings in his writings until “De Profundis.” He maintained a facade, like you talk about in this post, through his poetry and plays; he convinced the world he lived a decadent life and kept them from looking beyond the surface. I just wonder how we can compare Wilde exposing himself in “De Profundis,” once we read it, to the instances of exposure in these two plays. Is exposing oneself the ultimate act of agency?