Both Oscar Wilde and Henry Ibsen hurled criticism at the ‘modal woman’, the Victorian convention of females. Both writer’s work occurring at a period when Great Britain were threatening to conquer the world, with colonisation of other civilisations. While males enjoyed the world’s freedom, Women were moulded into a cast, which all females were expected to fit. ‘The Angel of the House’ was anticipated to flutter around the house, cleaning, cooking and serving the dominant Male and Children. The Female was basically the Man’s procession, while the Woman looked after the household, outside was a Male’s world. Both An Ideal Husband and A Doll’s House, challenge the double standards of men and women.
Wilde uses Lady Chiltern and Mrs.Cheveley as the two contrasting characters, both their attitudes and morals differing significantly. Lady Chiltern, an immaculate, upright and virtuous person, embodying the Victorian new woman. Chiltern worships her ‘perfect’ husband and is highly supportive of his political career. However Sir Robert’s dark secret lurks behind him, with his dodgy history coming back to haunt him, courtesy of a conventional-breaking enemy. Mrs. Cheveley represents the devil within the play, the ‘femme fatale’. Chiltern isn’t an ‘angel of the house’, but cruel, ruthless and duplicitous. Described as ‘lamia-like’ and ‘a product of horrid combinations’, she is intelligent but plagued with deception and falsehood.
During the play’s opening, we acknowledge Mrs. Cheveley’s coldness of heart and character, the audience can instantly recognise she isn’t a typical model female. Cheveley attitude on subjects are evident, claming the London season is too ‘matrimonial’. A woman processing views on marriage were unheard of and absurd. The demon of the play also reveals her unconventional attitude to Sir Robert. Saying that while men can be analysed, women are just adored and liked. But when well presented, Women are powerful and quite dangerous. It’s from this speech that the audience understands Cheveley’s interpretation on life and influence in her role as a woman.
Act one contains an extremely important issue revolving around women at the Victorian Era, the theme of marriage. Lady Chiltern’s marriage to Sir Robert is based on truth and loyalty, “Oh! Be that ideal still”, Chiltern is certain Robert is of perfect morals and characteristics. The view that she possesses, being the past determines the manner which one is perceived, labels Robert’s successful political career’s founded on lies and deceit. Chiltern’s views are absolute and rigid, with no rooms for debate. Her character reflects the society perfectly and she loves her Husband, who is worthy of worship. Due to Chiltern’s absolute morals, she would certainly desert her Husband if the truth were to spill. The same act contains a deliberate attack on society by Wilde, through villain Cheveley. The “Modern mania for morality”, Cheveley questions the passion in morality, how useful to everyday life it is. “In modern life nothing produces such an effect as a good platitude”, Cheveley believes the roles of men and women dampen happiness and spirit.
During Act two, Sir Robert attempts to alter his Wife’s’ incredibly high standards and pure conventions. Robert claims love can occur on Human imperfections and true love intends to cure the lover’s wounds and destroy sins, instead of having a burden of hope and expectations on the Lover. In this act Lady Chiltern enforces her status as a woman of the Era. With Lady Markby criticising the House of Commons and interfering within the ‘mans world’, Lady Chiltern dismisses this idea.
During Act three the audience witnesses behaviour by Cheveley, which the society would deem disgraceful and wrong. Cheveley’s history emerges with her causing havoc in the Chiltern’s household and swindling Goring with a false courtship when they were young. “Romance should never being with a sentiment. It should begin with...
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