An Ideal Husband

A. Plot

  1. Lord Chiltern a very wealthy member of Parliament and secretary to the crown with a reputation for absolute integrity in a time when corruption was rampant. He has married a very good lady who worships him for his absolute honesty and purity, but in fact he earned his wealth and climbed politically many years ago only after accepting a bribe of £110,000 from Baron Cheveley to disclose a govt secret about construction of the Suez Canal.
  2. Lord Goring is a wealthy, very eligible bachelor who prides himself on doing nothing. He is Chiltern’s closest friend and is gradually falling in love with Chiltern’s sister.
  3. Mrs Cheveley, the widow of the wealthy Austrian Baron who bribed Chiltern in the past, arrives in London with the letter Chiltern wrote to the Baron years before conveying information about the Canal. She had formerly been a school mate of Lady Chiltern, who had learned of her false nature and come to hate her. She had also been a former lover of Goring when she was poor and almost married him, but finally accepted the Baron who had even greater wealth than Goring.
  4. Mrs. Cheveley comes to blackmail Chiltern with the letter. In exchange she wants him to support the proposed Argentine canal scheme now before Parliament, in which she has invested and which he is scheduled to report in Parliament. Chiltern is completely against the scheme because he knows it is just a speculative swindle.
  5. When Mrs. Cheveley threatens Chiltern, he goes to Goring and confesses and asks Goring to speak with his wife urging in general terms that a wife should be understanding of a husband’s deviant past.
  6. When Chiltern refuses Mrs. Cheveley, Mrs Cheveley goes to Lady Chiltern and reveals the truth. Lady Chiltern rejects her husband and sends him away.
  7. Chiltern goes to Goring to seek his advice and support.
  8. Lady Chiltern writes to Goring saying she will come to consult him at his house. Goring tells his man-servant that he is expecting a lady and instructs her to be sent into the adjoining parlour. Meanwhile Cheveley comes unannounced to Goring’s house and Goring’s servant thinks it is the woman who was expected. He shows her into the other parlous adjacent to where Chiltern and Goring are speaking. While waiting, she discovers the letter Lady Chiltern wrote to Goring and she takes it.
  9. While Chiltern is talking to Goring, Goring opens to door to the adjacent room so that Lady Chiltern, whom he believes to be inside, can hear her husband’s genuine repentence. Actually it is Cheveley inside. Chiltern discovers Cheveley is there, suspects Goring of complicity in blackmail, and rushes off.
  10. Cheveley meets Goring and offers to return the letter if he will marry her, but Goring refuses. He is sure his friend will not accept the bribe and speak falsely in Parliament. Cheveley insists he will be false to cover his past. Goring agrees to a wager. If Chiltern speaks falsely in Parliament, he will marry Cheveley. If he speaks true, she offers to return to Goring the letter Chiltern wrote earlier to the Baron.
  11. During the Parliamentary debate, Chiltern speaks truly and eloquently against the Argentine canal. His wife is moved, but unable to admit that she forgives. Mrs. Cheveley accepts defeat and gives Chiltern’s letter to Goring. But before she leaves London, she sends to Lord Chiltern the letter Lady Chiltern wrote to goring as an act of mischief to make him suspect his wife and Goring of having an affair.
  12. Goring tells Lady Chiltern that Cheveley has intercepted her letter and sent it to her husband. Lady Chiltern makes Goring promise not to reveal that she was intending to meet him at his house at night, an improper act for a married woman. Goring reluctantly promises not to disclose the real facts. Just at moment Lord Chiltern, who received the note from Cheveley and has come to confront his wife, walks in and interrupts Goring in the act of making his promise of secrecy to lady Chiltern. Her husband now doubly suspects Goring of deceit and wants to banished him from the house.
  13. Chiltern confronts his wife and Goring with the letter sent to her by Cheveley. Goring falsely says that it was a letter written by Lady Chiltern and sent to Goring’s house intended for her husband. Chiltern’s sister supports the lie by saying that it was she who delivered the letter to Goring’s house. Lady Chiltern lies in support of this explanation. Rereading the letter, Chiltern realizes that it could have been addressed to him and accepts the explanations given.
  14. Just then, Goring’s father comes to offer Chiltern a place in the cabinet based on his eloquent speech against the canal. In order to oblige his wife and win her back, Chiltern refuses saying he plans to retire.
  15. Goring persuades Lady Chiltern to accept her husband’s genuine change of heart and make him accept the cabinet post, which he does.
  16. Goring proposes to Chiltern’s younger sister, who accepts him, but Chiltern refuses his consent because of what he knows of Goring’s past relationship with Mrs. Cheveley and his belief based on his discovery of her at Goring’s house that the relationship continues even now.
  17. Goring is unwilling to explain the confusion because of his promise to Lady Chiltern not to disclose the truth. Finally Lady Chiltern has to confess that she lied to her husband to conceal her intention of seeking Goring’s help and that is why he suspects Goring.
  18. Chiltern is surprised and perhaps relieved to know that his wife was also capable of an innocent lie. Finally all are reconciled. Husband and wife are reconciled. He accepts the cabinet post and agrees to Goring’s marriage with his sister.

B. Comments

  1. The positive cannot accomplish at a higher level without overcoming the threat of the negative. Chiltern was meant for higher accomplishment. As the opportunity emerges, his own dark past rises and confronts him. His ability to handle it successfully was essential for his further progress.
  2. The negative spurs the positive to greater perfection. Mrs. Cheveley’s evil intentions resulted in Chiltern clearing his conscience of the past, making heroic acts of self-sacrifice in first rejecting the blackmail attempt and second in refusing the cabinet post to satisfy his wife of his genuine repentance.
  3. Lord Chiltern had genuinely repented by making the speech. He chose his love for his wife over his career and agreed to retire. Life did not force him to return the money and publicly confess. In life, progress is usually by this means. Everything is based on a false past but society accepts when there is genuine intention to live at a higher level.
  4. Because Lord Chiltern’s love for his wife is genuine, Mrs. Cheveley is moved by her old love of Goring to give up the letter.
  5. Lady Chiltern was forced to lie and confess because she cannot save an impure man through perfect methods of purity, as Krishna had to fight falsehood with some resort to falsehood.
  6. The English man’s value for honour and truth is absolute.
  7. It developed from the value of Individuality which issued from work and its achievements.
  8. Everyone has a past which is Not an irrevocable bar, but an obstacle to be surmounted.
  9. Chiltern had given up bribe-taking in practice, but not in his consciousness. Therefore Mrs. Cheveley comes to rake it up.
  10. Individuals as well as society achieve only when the strength is Organised to contain the mischief of the negative.
  11. The film portrays masterfully the various shades of the forces of life recurring to interfere.
  12. Giving up the past not only is protection in the present but brings further openings.
  13. Giving up the Cabinet post is essential compensation for the earlier fall. As the compensation is more than adequate, he changes his mind to accept the post finally.