Thursday, September 30, 2010

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

Does anyone else gets pissy when they read lines like his one of Lady Chiltern's?

"A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. Our liives revolve around the curve of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life progresses."
Seriously, I realise that this was normal at the time An Ideal Husband was written, but I'm unable to rise above my modern views! I also realise that it might be Wilde making fun of society, which his comedies were for... But it still really pisses me off! Anyone with me?

Other than that, I really like Oscar Wilde's societal comedies. This is my second one, after The Importance of Being Earnest, and I enjoyed it just as much. I love the way he uses language to draw his characters. Which in a play is doubly important, but when someone does it this well I am still amazed.

Very enjoyable, quick read. And if you know anything about Victorian London and want to see someone make fun of it, this play will put a smile on your face!

By the way, did you know that Oscar Wilde was Irish? I always thought that he was English, that's what I remember from school, but I was corrected on this very, very quickly.

I read this on a free book application on my iPhone, to see if I mind reading electronically before I invest in a Kindle... I prefer regular books, but it's certainly nice to have access to all kinds of reading material wherever you go. I think the Kindle is a definite yes.

4 comments:

Alexandra said...

**Alex raises her hand** I'm with you! I do feel difficulties in getting into the it-was-normal-at-the-time frame of mind.

Do you know that there's planning a theatre adaptation in London. I think it's going to be BIG!

PS: I'm based in Brussels too. We should go for a waffle sometime!

joanna said...

No, I didn't know about the theatre adaptation, I'll look that up!

We should totally meet up, let's email!

Eric Leslie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Leslie said...

No idea whether you'll read this comment so long after the fact, but I stumbled across this blog post while searching for references to that line, because we're doing the show locally and that's one of the bits we're trying to figure out exactly how to handle.

For anyone who hasn't read the play this will be totally dull, but since you have, this is the best we've come up with:

Goring actually says those lines first, in his confidential tete-a-tete with Gertrude where he's trying to convince her not to make her husband resign from public life. The full monologue: "A man's life is of more value than a woman's. It has larger issues, wider scope, greater ambitions. A woman's life revolves in curves of emotions. It is upon lines of intellect that a man's life progresses. Don't make any terrible mistake, Lady Chiltern. A woman who can keep a man's love, and love him in return, has done all the world wants of women, or should want of them."

Certainly comes off as extremely rough and chauvanist, and to have her then repeat those lines as though parroting them to her husband seems even worse. However:

Goring is shown repeatedly throughout the play to not much care for or respect things like intellect (or at least, high-minded intellect as praised by political society) and ambition. He views them as corrupting influences. It is Gertrude's husband, Robert, who cares deeply about these things, and his built his life around pursuing them.

If read in that light, it comes across a bit more as Goring saying, "You and I know better than to think that power and ambition are the be-all end-all of life, but to your husband they are everything. If you love him, you need to let what's important to him be important to you." Gertrude, being a clever woman (which Goring does respect and admire), repeats those lines to her husband not out of submission, but as a statement of her priorities. She will put his desires above her own - not always, one hopes, but at least in this instance. What is love, if not a willingness to do that?

The final bit about "A woman who can keep a man's love, and love him in return, has done all the world wants of women, or should want of them." is equally problematic, but Goring has just been accepted by his love Mabel as a fiance, so I tend to think he's romantically soliloquizing about her there, more than lecturing.

At least, that's as far as we've got with it so far. It's a work in progress. :) If this play is still on your mind at all, let me know what you think.

(Re-posted to check the "e-mail me follow up comments" box.) ;)