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Summary of the play - "AN IDEAL HUSBAND" by Oscar Wilde


Summary of the play

AN IDEAL HUSBAND" by Oscar Wilde

"An ideal husband" is a play written by Oscar Wilde. The story is set in London, at the end of XIX century. The events start at a party at Sir Robert Chiltern's house. Robert Chiltern is a politician, who has a good career and is happily married with Gertrude, a woman who loves him and idealises him. He has got a sister, called Mabel. She falls in love with Lord Arthur Goring, a rich and apparently lazy man who always quarrels with his father, Lord Caversham. Lord Goring is a good friend of Sir and Lady Chiltern.

At the party is invited also Mrs Cheveley, an English woman living in Vienna, who was married with Baron Arnheim. She asks Sir Chiltern what he thinks about the project of a canal in Argentina, because she knows that he has to report a speech about this subject at the House of Common the following day. She's interested in it because she's bought a lot of shares concerning this project, so she wants Chiltern to support the scheme. Sir Chiltern answers that the construction of a canal in Argentina is a swindle, so he doesn't want to support this scheme in his speech to the Government. Mrs Cheveley then blackmails him: in fact, she has got a letter that Robert had written in his youth which can destroy his career and his marriage. In that letter, Chiltern wrote to Baron Arnheim secret information concerning the intentions of English Government about the Suez canal (he had stolen this information from the office of Minister Radley, where he was working as a secretary), giving the Baron the possibility of making a lot of money. Sir Chiltern had received a great amount of money from the Baron for this favour, becoming rich and popular. Mrs Cheveley menaces Chiltern: if he doesn't do what she wants, she'll gave the letter to the press, so there will be a great scandal and he'll be ruined.

Robert doesn't know what to do, so he talks to his friend Lord Goring and tells him the truth. Goring says that Chiltern should tell the whole story to his wife, but Chiltern doesn't want her to know anything about this detail of his past. Unluckily Lady Chiltern discovers the situation because Mrs Cheveley tells her about the blackmail. Gertrude is confused, she thought her husband was the ideal man, so she gets very angry and chases him away.

Sir Chiltern goes to Goring's house. At the same time, Lord Goring receives a short letter from Gertrude, where she says that she's coming because she needs his help. Goring tell his butler, Phipps, that a woman will arrive soon, and that she will have to wait for him in the drawing room. After her arrival, nobody else must be accepted. But suddenly, before Gertrude's arrival, Mrs Cheveley knocks at Goring's door. Phipps takes her in the drawing room, and when Gertrude arrives, he tells her that Goring is not there. While Goring and Chiltern are talking, Mrs Cheveley makes a noise: Chiltern notices it and becomes suspicious, so he gets into the drawing-room and finds his enemy there. He thinks it was an agreement between Goring and Mrs Cheveley, so he leaves the house in anger. Goring had been as surprised as Chiltern to find Laura Cheveley instead of Gerturde Chiltern, so he asks Mrs Cheveley what she had come for. She answers that she had come to give him the compromising letter, but in change he should become her husband. Goring doesn't accept this blackmail, but he accepts a bet: he will marry Mrs Cheveley if his friend support the scheme in his speech, but she will give him the letter if Chiltern follows his ideas and does his initial speech. (Lord Goring trusts his friend, that's why he accepts such a bet).

At the crucial moment Chiltern shows his honesty and tell the Government that the Argentina scheme is a swindle. He thinks he's ruined his life, because he doesn't know that he's safe thanks to lord Goring, but then Goring and Gertrude tell him what had happened, and Chiltern feels safe and grateful towards his friend Lord Goring. Mrs Cheveley doesn't accept the defeat and tries a last blackmail sending to Chiltern's office the letter in which Gertrude announced his visit to Goring: she had stolen it from Goring's house while she was waiting for Lord Goring in the drawing-room. Luckily, with a game of words Goring, Lady Chiltern and Mabel make Robert believe that the letter was addressed to him. In the end, Sir and Lady Chiltern come back together, Robert's career is safe and even better (he gets a more important role in politics) and Goring marries Mabel, while mrs Cheveley comes back to Vienna.


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