Exploring Male and Female Expectations in Oscar Wilde's Play

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The primary theme of this play is love and marriage and Wilde explores the male and female role expectations, beliefs and ideals of domestic relationships of the upper class British society in the late 1890’s.

The social norms of the Victorian era had strict rules for the behaviours of men and women. For women, who were legally their husband’s property until 1884, high standards were expected. They were to run a respectable household, delegate servants, be quite, compassionate, ladylike and virtuous. Women of the upper classes were educated in needlework, French, drawing, painting and social skills. There were no women’s colleges until the 1870’s and women’s education was not wildly accepted until into the 20th century. The Victorian husband was expected to have gone to university and to have become successful in politics or business. He was to be an exemplary role model for others and for society in general.

In the late 1890’s women’s roles were changing. In fact, Oscar Wilde was editor of Women’s World, a magazine that promoted the “new woman”, who was educated, involved in women’s issues and supportive of her husband’s career. The asceticism movement provided another role for the Victorian male, that of the dandy; a wealth male who lived a hedonistic lifestyle and was generally unmarried, pursuing no useful endeavours.

In Wilde’s play, all of these personas are represented. Wilde primarily uses the female conversations to give the audience a picture of how women view their marriage relationships and their opinions of the ideal husband.

In the opening act, Lady Basildon and Mrs. Marchmont’s conversation illustrates the upper class female social position. Lady Basildon states that “she never knows why she goes anywhere” ...

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... Marchmont, secondly lady chiltern’s dellusion of her husband’s perfection, and in the final act we are shown a third version on that Mabel presents when she accepts lord gorings proposal ans states he can be who he chooses. (non meet a common criterion of ideal).

Lady Chiltern maintains her Victorian model in this play as in the outcome she embodies the virtues of the Victorian wife.she has gone from an idyllic image of him to a more realistic one and moved from rejection to reconciliation by forgiving him. As he is not truly repentant of his youth error the audience is left to wonder if the outcome would be the same if the tables were turned.

In conclusion, it would appear there is no formula for an ideal husband, but that in an ideal relationship each spouse would accept each other realistically for who each is; accepting imperfections and forgiving faults.

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