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 science and end with a settlement”, Cheveley believes financial success should always be a higher priority then love and romance. Her proposal to Goring is a vulgar transaction, like a business deed, offering to save Sir Robert for his hand in marriage. The audience don’t fully understand whether Cheveley still loves Goring and with his attempts to distract her from the idea, Cheveley still is keen. Wilde cleverly includes a sense of irony, when the monster is uncovered behind the door for Sir Robert to meet. The term ‘femme fatal’ could be certainly applied here, with no virtues associated with women evident. She smashes all the conventions of women, the double standards definitely not applicant here.
The final act, delivers a restoration of married life, no ending disruption, like practically the whole novel. Sir Robert protects his public life, The Chiltern’s come together and Goring and Mabel unite together. While Cheveley believes the intimate note from Lady Chiltern to Lord Goring is a ‘middle class romance’. It acts maybe as a second marriage certificate and a restoration of the Chiltern’s married life. While the household is restored, it’s done in a stereo-typical manner.
Goring says that both male and female counterparts shouldn’t stick to rigid moral codes, especially in the extreme case of Sir Robert, with so much in the balance. Chiltern’s morals are again evident as she disagrees with Robert’s resignation from public life, the deeper issues and bigger ambitions differ vastly from Women’s “curves of emotion”. Women aren’t meant to punish men, but forgive and forget them.
Wilde intelligently includes a critique of marriage into the joyful act. In Goring and Mabel’s marriage, it’s perhaps a foil to the Chilterns. While the ‘ideal husband’ belongs in another time, Goring can be what he wants, but she will be a ‘real wife’. The ideal behaviour of couples in marriage is defeated, but Mabel’s personality suggests they resist the notion of duty, clear from responsibility and principle. Due to this Mabel ends up in a different position to Lady Chiltern, who accepts her duties to her husband.
Overall I believe Wilde does raise a number of issues regarding attitudes to women. His portrayal of Mrs. Cheveley does contradict the ‘modal woman’ of the era. While from first appearance, Cheveley is mean and ambitious and Lady Chiltern is morally correct and virtuous, Wilde picks floors in this role. Expecting the ‘ideal husband’ or ‘ideal Wife’ is incorrect and denies logic and realism. The play ends well, but follow strict, rigid codes may eventually lead to disaster.
The question of what can be learnt about the role of women and attitudes to marriage in the late nineteenth-century largely depends on our perspective of the period. In a sense there is no one view of the values and culture of the period which was characterised by enormous social and economic change as huge advances were made in industrialisation and technology. Ibsen includes the theme of the ‘sacrificial role of women’ into the play, interoperated as enduring limited freedom and missing out on education. Nora represents the ‘modal women’, held among the economic classes in society.
Queen Victoria, a strong and powerful monarch, presided over a rapidly expanding Great Britain, as the population almost doubled from 16.8 to 30.5 million. The roles of Women are essential regarding this question, with the Victorian Era determining a huge contrast between themselves and their male counterparts. Females were modelled into a cast of purity, for their clean, genuine and bright bodies to fill conventions as the ‘Angel of the House’. Women’s roles, relating to Great Britain’s pursuit of glory, were to attend the house, have children and act as a ‘Domestic Goddess’. This play is set within a comfortable middle class house in Scandinavia, with Christmas vastly approaching. The play begins positive, with the main centralised character, Nora, thrilled for her Husband’s new position as the bank manager. The audience instantly recognise Tovald’s behaviour towards Nora, by labelling her ‘My little skylark’ and ‘little squirrel’. The patronising names both assert his domination over his Wife and attack her confidence and self-esteem. ‘Little birds that like to flitter money’, Tovald demonstrates his greed but blames in on society’s inferior race, likening Nora to an infant who’s incompetent and irresponsible with money. The title now appears clear, Nora is Tovald’s doll, which decorates his house and can be manipulated. With Nora’s father deceased, he keeps his Wife dependant upon him with doling out small quantities of cash and preventing her influence from the outside world.
During Nora’s conversation with her friend Mrs Linde, we acknowledge Nora’s selfish and childlike character. This is evident as Nora refused to write to Mrs. Linde after her husband had died, Nora’s world revolving around her house. Nora’s comment regarding herself and Tovald to have ‘pots and pots’ of money, illustrates her deficiency of intelligence, both hurtful to her friend and for truly believing Tovald. Ibsen shows the audience the starting point for Nora’s devolvement, in terms of education, maturation and riding of her naivety. Mrs. Linde’s marriage is also based on financial issues, rather then true love. Ibsen criticises relationships based on financial issues, which love, dignity and personal ambitions are sacrificed for wealth.
During Act one, we learn about the influence Nora possesses, but of her character and attitude. While Nora lies about consuming a macaroon, the practically unnecessary fib shows she is prepared to break conventions, even if so mild. The deceit and tension between their marriage is clear too. With the communication with Mrs.Linde, we learn about Nora’s dark and corrupted past. The loan Nora signed to save Tovald can be understood, a motive to save a life and defy the law can be sympathised with. Tovald’s absolute morals and stereo-types of males and females are obvious and the truth would destroy him. Nora’s deception would be unnecessary if Tovald hadn’t decided to inflict complete control over her. The audience can glimpse slightly at Nora’s evolving attitude, when she reveals the secret to Mrs. Linde, “Only because I’m a woman, Doesn’t mean I have no influence!”. Nora seems to poses more determination and authority as she loved working like a man trying to pay Krogstad’s debt off. Nora is proud by the sacrifice made to her Husband, happy to reveal her secret. When Krogstad accused Nora of forging her Father’s signature, she takes great pride in her behaviour, rather then usual conventional shame. This independent action influenced her Husband dramatically, Nora’s maturity and self-awareness is growing. Nora’s attitude towards Krogstad is almost arrogant and rude, she refuses to get intimidated and persuaded, despite her being a woman.
Nora’s power on Tovald is limited, with her Husband refusing to accept any business advice. While Mrs. Linde is handed a position to keep his ‘little squirrel’ happy, Tovald makes references to Nora’s father, suggesting his Wife isn’t intelligent enough to take responsibility.
Further criticism is made to the Victorian period, as Tovald prefers Nora ‘happy and welcoming’, as opposed to working and having real purpose. The rigidly and absolutist of Tovald is evident, he represents he Victorian man perfectly, involved in the business world, a inferior wife to clean and take custody of the children and have a good reputation in society. Tovald’s views never differ, promoting Nora’s uprising as she acknowledges she will never develop or grow. I believe Nora understands the Era well, by playing up to her role and pet names, for her advantage. By conforming to Tovald’s unjust standards might persuade him to give in. Nora adapts this sense of false security on other characters, such as Dr. Rank. Nora’s flirtation with Rank entangles him, irresistible to any demand. Dr. Rank confesses his love for Nora, but she retains from exploiting this issue, her moral integrity and conscious shine through.
Ibsen underlines an attitude about the relationship between Parents and Children in this scene. Tovald firmly believes ‘young criminals results from a household of lies’. Nora also believes any guilt actions will influence the children, this is a faulty statement from the Victorian period to prevent crimes being committed.