A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde
THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY
Sir John Pontefract
Lord Alfred Rufford
Mr. Kelvil, M.P.
The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny, D.D.
Lady Caroline Pontefract
Miss Hester Worsley
THE SCENES OF THE PLAY
ACT I. The Terrace at Hunstanton Chase.
ACT II. The Drawing-room at Hunstanton Chase.
ACT III. The Hall at Hunstanton Chase.
ACT IV. Sitting-room in Mrs. Arbuthnot's House at Wrockley.
TIME: The Present.
PLACE: The Shires.
The action of the play takes place within twenty-four hours.
LONDON: HAYMARKET THEATRE
Lessee and Manager: Mr. H Beerbohm Tree
April 19th, 1893
Lord Illingworth, Mr. Tree
Sir John Pontefract, Mr. E. Holman Clark
Lord Alfred Rufford, Mr. Ernest Lawford
Mr. Kelvil, M.P., Mr. Charles Allan.
The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny, D.D., Mr. Kemble
Gerald Arbuthnot, Mr. Terry
Farquhar, Butler, Mr. Hay
Francis, Footman, Mr. Montague
Lady Hunstanton, Miss Rose Leclercq
Lady Caroline Pontefract, Miss Le Thiere
Lady Stutfield, Miss Blanche Horlock
Mrs. Allonby, Mrs. Tree
Miss Hester Worsley, Miss Julia Neilson
Alice, Maid, Miss Kelly
Mrs. Arbuthnot, Mrs. Bernard-Beere
Lawn in front of the terrace at Hunstanton.
[SIR JOHN and LADY CAROLINE PONTEFRACT, MISS WORSLEY, on chairs
under large yew tree.]
LADY CAROLINE. I believe this is the first English country house
you have stayed at, Miss Worsley?
HESTER. Yes, Lady Caroline.
LADY CAROLINE. You have no country houses, I am told, in America?
HESTER. We have not many.
LADY CAROLINE. Have you any country? What we should call country?
HESTER. [Smiling.] We have the largest country in the world, Lady
Caroline. They used to tell us at school that some of our states
are as big as France and England put together.
LADY CAROLINE. Ah! you must find it very draughty, I should fancy.
[To SIR JOHN.] John, you should have your muffler. What is the
use of my always knitting mufflers for you if you won't wear them?
SIR JOHN. I am quite warm, Caroline, I assure you.
LADY CAROLINE. I think not, John. Well, you couldn't come to a
more charming place than this, Miss Worsley, though the house is
excessively damp, quite unpardonably damp, and dear Lady Hunstanton
is sometimes a little lax about the people she asks down here. [To
SIR JOHN.] Jane mixes too much. Lord Illingworth, of course, is a
man of high distinction. It is a privilege to meet him. And that
member of Parliament, Mr. Kettle -
SIR JOHN. Kelvil, my love, Kelvil.
LADY CAROLINE. He must be quite respectable. One has never heard
his name before in the whole course of one's life, which speaks
volumes for a man, nowadays. But Mrs. Allonby is hardly a very
HESTER. I dislike Mrs. Allonby. I dislike her more than I can
LADY CAROLINE. I am not sure, Miss Worsley, that foreigners like
yourself should cultivate likes or dislikes about the people they
are invited to meet. Mrs. Allonby is very well born. She is a
niece of Lord Brancaster's. It is said, of course, that she ran
away twice before she was married. But you know how unfair people
often are. I myself don't believe she ran away more than once.
HESTER. Mr. Arbuthnot is very charming.
LADY CAROLINE. Ah, yes! the young man who has a post in a bank.
Lady Hunstanton is most kind in asking him here, and Lord
Illingworth seems to have taken quite a fancy to him. I am not
sure, however, that Jane is right in taking him out of his
position. In my young days, Miss Worsley, one never met any one in
society who worked for their living. It was not considered the
HESTER. In America those are the people we respect most.
LADY CAROLINE. I have no doubt of it.
HESTER. Mr. Arbuthnot has a beautiful nature! He is so simple, so
sincere. He has one of the most beautiful natures I have ever come
across. It is a privilege to meet HIM.
LADY CAROLINE. It is not customary in England, Miss Worsley, for a
young lady to speak with such enthusiasm of any person of the
opposite sex. English women conceal their feelings till after they
are married. They show them then.
HESTER. Do you, in England, allow no friendship to exist between a
young man and a young girl?
[Enter LADY HUNSTANTON, followed by Footman with shawls and a
LADY CAROLINE. We think it very inadvisable. Jane, I was just
saying what a pleasant party you have asked us to meet. You have a
wonderful power of selection. It is quite a gift.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Dear Caroline, how kind of you! I think we all
do fit in very nicely together. And I hope our charming American
visitor will carry back pleasant recollections of our English
country life. [To Footman.] The cushion, there, Francis. And my
shawl. The Shetland. Get the Shetland. [Exit Footman for shawl.]
[Enter GERALD ARBUTHNOT.]
GERALD. Lady Hunstanton, I have such good news to tell you. Lord
Illingworth has just offered to make me his secretary.
LADY HUNSTANTON. His secretary? That is good news indeed, Gerald.
It means a very brilliant future in store for you. Your dear
mother will be delighted. I really must try and induce her to come
up here to-night. Do you think she would, Gerald? I know how
difficult it is to get her to go anywhere.
GERALD. Oh! I am sure she would, Lady Hunstanton, if she knew
Lord Illingworth had made me such an offer.
[Enter Footman with shawl.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. I will write and tell her about it, and ask her
to come up and meet him. [To Footman.] Just wait, Francis.
LADY CAROLINE. That is a very wonderful opening for so young a man
as you are, Mr. Arbuthnot.
GERALD. It is indeed, Lady Caroline. I trust I shall be able to
show myself worthy of it.
LADY CAROLINE. I trust so.
GERALD. [To HESTER.] YOU have not congratulated me yet, Miss
HESTER. Are you very pleased about it?
GERALD. Of course I am. It means everything to me - things that
were out of the reach of hope before may be within hope's reach
HESTER. Nothing should be out of the reach of hope. Life is a
LADY HUNSTANTON. I fancy, Caroline, that Diplomacy is what Lord
Illingworth is aiming at. I heard that he was offered Vienna. But
that may not be true.
LADY CAROLINE. I don't think that England should be represented
abroad by an unmarried man, Jane. It might lead to complications.
LADY HUNSTANTON. You are too nervous, Caroline. Believe me, you
are too nervous. Besides, Lord Illingworth may marry any day. I
was in hopes he would have married lady Kelso. But I believe he
said her family was too large. Or was it her feet? I forget
which. I regret it very much. She was made to be an ambassador's
LADY CAROLINE. She certainly has a wonderful faculty of
remembering people's names, and forgetting their faces.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Well, that is very natural, Caroline, is it not?
[To Footman.] Tell Henry to wait for an answer. I have written a
line to your dear mother, Gerald, to tell her your good news, and
to say she really must come to dinner.
GERALD. That is awfully kind of you, Lady Hunstanton. [To
HESTER.] Will you come for a stroll, Miss Worsley?
HESTER. With pleasure [Exit with GERALD.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. I am very much gratified at Gerald Arbuthnot's
good fortune. He is quite a PROTEGE of mine. And I am
particularly pleased that Lord Illingworth should have made the
offer of his own accord without my suggesting anything. Nobody
likes to be asked favours. I remember poor Charlotte Pagden making
herself quite unpopular one season, because she had a French
governess she wanted to recommend to every one.
LADY CAROLINE. I saw the governess, Jane. Lady Pagden sent her to
me. It was before Eleanor came out. She was far too good-looking
to be in any respectable household. I don't wonder Lady Pagden was
so anxious to get rid of her.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, that explains it.
LADY CAROLINE. John, the grass is too damp for you. You had
better go and put on your overshoes at once.
SIR JOHN. I am quite comfortable, Caroline, I assure you.
LADY CAROLINE. You must allow me to be the best judge of that,
John. Pray do as I tell you.
[SIR JOHN gets up and goes off.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. You spoil him, Caroline, you do indeed!
[Enter MRS. ALLONBY and LADY STUTFIELD.]
[To MRS. ALLONBY.] Well, dear, I hope you like the park. It is
said to be well timbered.
MRS. ALLONBY. The trees are wonderful, Lady Hunstanton.
LADY STUTFIELD. Quite, quite wonderful.
MRS. ALLONBY. But somehow, I feel sure that if I lived in the
country for six months, I should become so unsophisticated that no
one would take the slightest notice of me.
LADY HUNSTANTON. I assure you, dear, that the country has not that
effect at all. Why, it was from Melthorpe, which is only two miles
from here, that Lady Belton eloped with Lord Fethersdale. I
remember the occurrence perfectly. Poor Lord Belton died three
days afterwards of joy, or gout. I forget which. We had a large
party staying here at the time, so we were all very much interested
in the whole affair.
MRS. ALLONBY. I think to elope is cowardly. It's running away
from danger. And danger has become so rare in modern life.
LADY CAROLINE. As far as I can make out, the young women of the
present day seem to make it the sole object of their lives to be
always playing with fire.
MRS. ALLONBY. The one advantage of playing with fire, Lady
Caroline, is that one never gets even singed. It is the people who
don't know how to play with it who get burned up.
LADY STUTFIELD. Yes; I see that. It is very, very helpful.
LADY HUNSTANTON. I don't know how the world would get on with such
a theory as that, dear Mrs. Allonby.
LADY STUTFIELD. Ah! The world was made for men and not for women.
MRS. ALLONBY. Oh, don't say that, Lady Stutfield. We have a much
better time than they have. There are far more things forbidden to
us than are forbidden to them.
LADY STUTFIELD. Yes; that is quite, quite true. I had not thought
[Enter SIR JOHN and MR. KELVIL.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. Well, Mr. Kelvil, have you got through your work?
KELVIL. I have finished my writing for the day, Lady Hunstanton.
It has been an arduous task. The demands on the time of a public
man are very heavy nowadays, very heavy indeed. And I don't think
they meet with adequate recognition.
LADY CAROLINE. John, have you got your overshoes on?
SIR JOHN. Yes, my love.
LADY CAROLINE. I think you had better come over here, John. It is
SIR JOHN. I am quite comfortable, Caroline.
LADY CAROLINE. I think not, John. You had better sit beside me.
[SIR JOHN rises and goes across.]
LADY STUTFIELD. And what have you been writing about this morning,
KELVIL. On the usual subject, Lady Stutfield. On Purity.
LADY STUTFIELD. That must be such a very, very interesting thing
to write about.
KELVIL. It is the one subject of really national importance,
nowadays, Lady Stutfield. I purpose addressing my constituents on
the question before Parliament meets. I find that the poorer
classes of this country display a marked desire for a higher
LADY STUTFIELD. How quite, quite nice of them.
LADY CAROLINE. Are you in favour of women taking part in politics,
SIR JOHN. Kelvil, my love, Kelvil.
KELVIL. The growing influence of women is the one reassuring thing
in our political life, Lady Caroline. Women are always on the side
of morality, public and private.
LADY STUTFIELD. It is so very, very gratifying to hear you say
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, yes! - the moral qualities in women - that is
the important thing. I am afraid, Caroline, that dear Lord
Illingworth doesn't value the moral qualities in women as much as
[Enter LORD ILLINGWORTH.]
LADY STUTFIELD. The world says that Lord Illingworth is very, very
LORD ILLINGWORTH. But what world says that, Lady Stutfield? It
must be the next world. This world and I are on excellent terms.
[Sits down beside MRS. ALLONBY.]
LADY STUTFIELD. Every one I know says you are very, very wicked.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is perfectly monstrous the way people go
about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one's back that
are absolutely and entirely true.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Dear Lord Illingworth is quite hopeless, Lady
Stutfield. I have given up trying to reform him. It would take a
Public Company with a Board of Directors and a paid Secretary to do
that. But you have the secretary already, Lord Illingworth,
haven't you? Gerald Arbuthnot has told us of his good fortune; it
is really most kind of you.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Oh, don't say that, Lady Hunstanton. Kind is a
dreadful word. I took a great fancy to young Arbuthnot the moment
I met him, and he'll be of considerable use to me in something I am
foolish enough to think of doing.
LADY HUNSTANTON. He is an admirable young man. And his mother is
one of my dearest friends. He has just gone for a walk with our
pretty American. She is very pretty, is she not?
LADY CAROLINE. Far too pretty. These American girls carry off all
the good matches. Why can't they stay in their own country? They
are always telling us it is the Paradise of women.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is, Lady Caroline. That is why, like Eve,
they are so extremely anxious to get out of it.
LADY CAROLINE. Who are Miss Worsley's parents?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. American women are wonderfully clever in
concealing their parents.
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear Lord Illingworth, what do you mean? Miss
Worsley, Caroline, is an orphan. Her father was a very wealthy
millionaire or philanthropist, or both, I believe, who entertained
my son quite hospitably, when he visited Boston. I don't know how
he made his money, originally.
KELVIL. I fancy in American dry goods.
LADY HUNSTANTON. What are American dry goods?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. American novels.
LADY HUNSTANTON. How very singular! . . . Well, from whatever
source her large fortune came, I have a great esteem for Miss
Worsley. She dresses exceedingly well. All Americans do dress
well. They get their clothes in Paris.
MRS. ALLONBY. They say, Lady Hunstanton, that when good Americans
die they go to Paris.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Indeed? And when bad Americans die, where do
they go to?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Oh, they go to America.
KELVIL. I am afraid you don't appreciate America, Lord
Illingworth. It is a very remarkable country, especially
considering its youth.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. The youth of America is their oldest tradition.
It has been going on now for three hundred years. To hear them
talk one would imagine they were in their first childhood. As far
as civilisation goes they are in their second.
KELVIL. There is undoubtedly a great deal of corruption in
American politics. I suppose you allude to that?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I wonder.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Politics are in a sad way everywhere, I am told.
They certainly are in England. Dear Mr. Cardew is ruining the
country. I wonder Mrs. Cardew allows him. I am sure, Lord
Illingworth, you don't think that uneducated people should be
allowed to have votes?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I think they are the only people who should.
KELVIL. Do you take no side then in modern politics, Lord
LORD ILLINGWORTH. One should never take sides in anything, Mr.
Kelvil. Taking sides is the beginning of sincerity, and
earnestness follows shortly afterwards, and the human being becomes
a bore. However, the House of Commons really does very little
harm. You can't make people good by Act of Parliament, - that is
KELVIL. You cannot deny that the House of Commons has always shown
great sympathy with the sufferings of the poor.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. That is its special vice. That is the special
vice of the age. One should sympathise with the joy, the beauty,
the colour of life. The less said about life's sores the better,
KELVIL. Still our East End is a very important problem.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Quite so. It is the problem of slavery. And we
are trying to solve it by amusing the slaves.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Certainly, a great deal may be done by means of
cheap entertainments, as you say, Lord Illingworth. Dear Dr.
Daubeny, our rector here, provides, with the assistance of his
curates, really admirable recreations for the poor during the
winter. And much good may be done by means of a magic lantern, or
a missionary, or some popular amusement of that kind.
LADY CAROLINE. I am not at all in favour of amusements for the
poor, Jane. Blankets and coals are sufficient. There is too much
love of pleasure amongst the upper classes as it is. Health is
what we want in modern life. The tone is not healthy, not healthy
KELVIL. You are quite right, Lady Caroline.
LADY CAROLINE. I believe I am usually right.
MRS. ALLONBY. Horrid word 'health.'
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Silliest word in our language, and one knows so
well the popular idea of health. The English country gentleman
galloping after a fox - the unspeakable in full pursuit of the
KELVIL. May I ask, Lord Illingworth, if you regard the House of
Lords as a better institution than the House of Commons?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. A much better institution, of course. We in the
House of Lords are never in touch with public opinion. That makes
us a civilised body.
KELVIL. Are you serious in putting forward such a view?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Quite serious, Mr. Kelvil. [To MRS. ALLONBY.]
Vulgar habit that is people have nowadays of asking one, after one
has given them an idea, whether one is serious or not. Nothing is
serious except passion. The intellect is not a serious thing, and
never has been. It is an instrument on which one plays, that is
all. The only serious form of intellect I know is the British
intellect. And on the British intellect the illiterates play the
LADY HUNSTANTON. What are you saying, Lord Illingworth, about the
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I was merely talking to Mrs. Allonby about the
leading articles in the London newspapers.
LADY HUNSTANTON. But do you believe all that is written in the
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I do. Nowadays it is only the unreadable that
occurs. [Rises with MRS. ALLONBY.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. Are you going, Mrs. Allonby?
MRS. ALLONBY. Just as far as the conservatory. Lord Illingworth
told me this morning that there was an orchid there m beautiful as
the seven deadly sins.
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear, I hope there is nothing of the kind. I
will certainly speak to the gardener.
[Exit MRS. ALLONBY and LORD ILLINGWORTH.]
LADY CAROLINE. Remarkable type, Mrs. Allonby.
LADY HUNSTANTON. She lets her clever tongue run away with her
LADY CAROLINE. Is that the only thing, Jane, Mrs. Allonby allows
to run away with her?
LADY HUNSTANTON. I hope so, Caroline, I am sure.
[Enter LORD ALFRED.]
Dear Lord Alfred, do join us. [LORD ALFRED sits down beside LADY
LADY CAROLINE. You believe good of every one, Jane. It is a great
LADY STUTFIELD. Do you really, really think, Lady Caroline, that
one should believe evil of every one?
LADY CAROLINE. I think it is much safer to do so, Lady Stutfield.
Until, of course, people are found out to be good. But that
requires a great deal of investigation nowadays.
LADY STUTFIELD. But there is so much unkind scandal in modern
LADY CAROLINE. Lord Illingworth remarked to me last night at
dinner that the basis of every scandal is an absolutely immoral
KELVIL. Lord Illingworth is, of course, a very brilliant man, but
he seems to me to be lacking in that fine faith in the nobility and
purity of life which is so important in this century.
LADY STUTFIELD. Yes, quite, quite important, is it not?
KELVIL. He gives me the impression of a man who does not
appreciate the beauty of our English home-life. I would say that
he was tainted with foreign ideas on the subject.
LADY STUTFIELD. There is nothing, nothing like the beauty of home-
life, is there?
KELVIL. It is the mainstay of our moral system in England, Lady
Stutfield. Without it we would become like our neighbours.
LADY STUTFIELD. That would be so, so sad, would it not?
KELVIL. I am afraid, too, that Lord Illingworth regards woman
simply as a toy. Now, I have never regarded woman as a toy. Woman
is the intellectual helpmeet of man in public as in private life.
Without her we should forget the true ideals. [Sits down beside
LADY STUTFIELD. I am so very, very glad to hear you say that.
LADY CAROLINE. You a married man, Mr. Kettle?
SIR JOHN. Kelvil, dear, Kelvil.
KELVIL. I am married, Lady Caroline.
LADY CAROLINE. Family?
LADY CAROLINE. How many?
[LADY STUTFIELD turns her attention to LORD ALFRED.]
LADY CAROLINE. Mrs. Kettle and the children are, I suppose, at the
seaside? [SIR JOHN shrugs his shoulders.]
KELVIL. My wife is at the seaside with the children, Lady
LADY CAROLINE. You will join them later on, no doubt?
KELVIL. If my public engagements permit me.
LADY CAROLINE. Your public life must be a great source of
gratification to Mrs. Kettle.
SIR JOHN. Kelvil, my love, Kelvil.
LADY STUTFIELD. [To LORD ALFRED.] How very, very charming those
gold-tipped cigarettes of yours are, Lord Alfred.
LORD ALFRED. They are awfully expensive. I can only afford them
when I'm in debt.
LADY STUTFIELD. It must be terribly, terribly distressing to be in
LORD ALFRED. One must have some occupation nowadays. If I hadn't
my debts I shouldn't have anything to think about. All the chaps I
know are in debt.
LADY STUTFIELD. But don't the people to whom you owe the money
give you a great, great deal of annoyance?
LORD ALFRED. Oh, no, they write; I don't.
LADY STUTFIELD. How very, very strange.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, here is a letter, Caroline, from dear Mrs.
Arbuthnot. She won't dine. I am so sorry. But she will come in
the evening. I am very pleased indeed. She is one of the sweetest
of women. Writes a beautiful hand, too, so large, so firm. [Hands
letter to LADY CAROLINE.]
LADY CAROLINE. [Looking at it.] A little lacking in femininity,
Jane. Femininity is the quality I admire most in women.
LADY HUNSTANTON. [Taking back letter and leaving it on table.]
Oh! she is very feminine, Caroline, and so good too. You should
hear what the Archdeacon says of her. He regards her as his right
hand in the parish. [Footman speaks to her.] In the Yellow
Drawing-room. Shall we all go in? Lady Stutfield, shall we go in
LADY STUTFIELD. With pleasure, Lady Hunstanton. [They rise and
proceed to go off. SIR JOHN offers to carry LADY STUTFIELD'S
LADY CAROLINE. John! If you would allow your nephew to look after
Lady Stutfield's cloak, you might help me with my workbasket.
[Enter LORD ILLINGWORTH and MRS. ALLONBY.]
SIR JOHN. Certainly, my love. [Exeunt.]
MRS. ALLONBY. Curious thing, plain women are always jealous of
their husbands, beautiful women never are!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Beautiful women never have time. They are
always so occupied in being jealous of other people's husbands.
MRS. ALLONBY. I should have thought Lady Caroline would have grown
tired of conjugal anxiety by this time! Sir John is her fourth!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. So much marriage is certainly not becoming.
Twenty years of romance make a woman look like a ruin; but twenty
years of marriage make her something like a public building.
MRS. ALLONBY. Twenty years of romance! Is there such a thing?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Not in our day. Women have become too
brilliant. Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour
in the woman.
MRS. ALLONBY. Or the want of it in the man.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. You are quite right. In a Temple every one
should be serious, except the thing that is worshipped.
MRS. ALLONBY. And that should be man?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Women kneel so gracefully; men don't.
MRS. ALLONBY. You are thinking of Lady Stutfield!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I assure you I have not thought of Lady
Stutfield for the last quarter of an hour.
MRS. ALLONBY. Is she such a mystery?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. She is more than a mystery - she is a mood.
MRS. ALLONBY. Moods don't last.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is their chief charm.
[Enter HESTER and GERALD.]
GERALD. Lord Illingworth, every one has been congratulating me,
Lady Hunstanton and Lady Caroline, and . . . every one. I hope I
shall make a good secretary.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. You will be the pattern secretary, Gerald.
[Talks to him.]
MRS. ALLONBY. You enjoy country life, Miss Worsley?
HESTER. Very much indeed.
MRS. ALLONBY. Don't find yourself longing for a London dinner-
HESTER. I dislike London dinner-parties.
MRS. ALLONBY. I adore them. The clever people never listen, and
the stupid people never talk.
HESTER. I think the stupid people talk a great deal.
MRS. ALLONBY. Ah, I never listen!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. My dear boy, if I didn't like you I wouldn't
have made you the offer. It is because I like you so much that I
want to have you with me.
[Exit HESTER with GERALD.]
Charming fellow, Gerald Arbuthnot!
MRS. ALLONBY. He is very nice; very nice indeed. But I can't
stand the American young lady.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Why?
MRS. ALLONBY. She told me yesterday, and in quite a loud voice
too, that she was only eighteen. It was most annoying.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. One should never trust a woman who tells one her
real age. A woman who would tell one that, would tell one
MRS. ALLONBY. She is a Puritan besides -
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Ah, that is inexcusable. I don't mind plain
women being Puritans. It is the only excuse they have for being
plain. But she is decidedly pretty. I admire her immensely.
[Looks steadfastly at MRS. ALLONBY.]
MRS. ALLONBY. What a thoroughly bad man you must be!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. What do you call a bad man?
MRS. ALLONBY. The sort of man who admires innocence.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. And a bad woman?
MRS. ALLONBY. Oh! the sort of woman a man never gets tired of.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. You are severe - on yourself.
MRS. ALLONBY. Define us as a sex.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Sphinxes without secrets.
MRS. ALLONBY. Does that include the Puritan women?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Do you know, I don't believe in the existence of
Puritan women? I don't think there is a woman in the world who
would not be a little flattered if one made love to her. It is
that which makes women so irresistibly adorable.
MRS. ALLONBY. You think there is no woman in the world who would
object to being kissed?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Very few.
MRS. ALLONBY. Miss Worsley would not let you kiss her.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Are you sure?
MRS. ALLONBY. Quite.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. What do you think she'd do if I kissed her?
MRS. ALLONBY. Either marry you, or strike you across the face with
her glove. What would you do if she struck you across the face
with her glove?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Fall in love with her, probably.
MRS. ALLONBY. Then it is lucky you are not going to kiss her!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Is that a challenge?
MRS. ALLONBY. It is an arrow shot into the air.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Don't you know that I always succeed in whatever
MRS. ALLONBY. I am sorry to hear it. We women adore failures.
They lean on us.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. You worship successes. You cling to them.
MRS. ALLONBY. We are the laurels to hide their baldness.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. And they need you always, except at the moment
MRS. ALLONBY. They are uninteresting then.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. How tantalising you are! [A pause.]
MRS. ALLONBY. Lord Illingworth, there is one thing I shall always
like you for.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Only one thing? And I have so many bad
MRS. ALLONBY. Ah, don't be too conceited about them. You may lose
them as you grow old.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I never intend to grow old. The soul is born
old but grows young. That is the comedy of life.
MRS. ALLONBY. And the body is born young and grows old. That is
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Its comedy also, sometimes. But what is the
mysterious reason why you will always like me?
MRS. ALLONBY. It is that you have never made love to me.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I have never done anything else.
MRS. ALLONBY. Really? I have not noticed it.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. How fortunate! It might have been a tragedy for
both of us.
MRS. ALLONBY. We should each have survived.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. One can survive everything nowadays, except
death, and live down anything except a good reputation.
MRS. ALLONBY. Have you tried a good reputation?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is one of the many annoyances to which I have
never been subjected.
MRS. ALLONBY. It may come.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Why do you threaten me?
MRS. ALLONBY. I will tell you when you have kissed the Puritan.
FRANCIS. Tea is served in the Yellow Drawing-room, my lord.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Tell her ladyship we are coming in.
FRANCIS. Yes, my lord.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Shall we go in to tea?
MRS. ALLONBY. Do you like such simple pleasures?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I adore simple pleasures. They are the last
refuge of the complex. But, if you wish, let us stay here. Yes,
let us stay here. The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman
in a garden.
MRS. ALLONBY. It ends with Revelations.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. You fence divinely. But the button has come of
MRS. ALLONBY. I have still the mask.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It makes your eyes lovelier.
MRS. ALLONBY. Thank you. Come.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. [Sees MRS. ARBUTHNOT'S letter on table, and
takes it up and looks at envelope.] What a curious handwriting!
It reminds me of the handwriting of a woman I used to know years
MRS. ALLONBY. Who?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Oh! no one. No one in particular. A woman of
no importance. [Throws letter down, and passes up the steps of the
terrace with MRS. ALLONBY. They smile at each other.]
Drawing-room at Hunstanton, after dinner, lamps lit. Door L.C.
[Ladies seated on sofas.]
MRS. ALLONBY. What a comfort it is to have got rid of the men for
LADY STUTFIELD. Yes; men persecute us dreadfully, don't they?
MRS. ALLONBY. Persecute us? I wish they did.
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear!
MRS. ALLONBY. The annoying thing is that the wretches can be
perfectly happy without us. That is why I think it is every
woman's duty never to leave them alone for a single moment, except
during this short breathing space after dinner; without which I
believe we poor women would be absolutely worn to shadows.
[Enter Servants with coffee.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. Worn to shadows, dear?
MRS. ALLONBY. Yes, Lady Hunstanton. It is such a strain keeping
men up to the mark. They are always trying to escape from us.
LADY STUTFIELD. It seems to me that it is we who are always trying
to escape from them. Men are so very, very heartless. They know
their power and use it.
LADY CAROLINE. [Takes coffee from Servant.] What stuff and
nonsense all this about men is! The thing to do is to keep men in
their proper place.
MRS. ALLONBY. But what is their proper place, Lady Caroline?
LADY CAROLINE. Looking after their wives, Mrs. Allonby.
MRS. ALLONBY. [Takes coffee from Servant.] Really? And if
they're not married?
LADY CAROLINE. If they are not married, they should be looking
after a wife. It's perfectly scandalous the amount of bachelors
who are going about society. There should be a law passed to
compel them all to marry within twelve months.
LADY STUTFIELD. [Refuses coffee.] But if they're in love with
some one who, perhaps, is tied to another?
LADY CAROLINE. In that case, Lady Stutfield, they should be
married off in a week to some plain respectable girl, in order to
teach them not to meddle with other people's property.
MRS. ALLONBY. I don't think that we should ever be spoken of as
other people's property. All men are married women's property.
That is the only true definition of what married women's property
really is. But we don't belong to any one.
LADY STUTFIELD. Oh, I am so very, very glad to hear you say so.
LADY HUNSTANTON. But do you really think, dear Caroline, that
legislation would improve matters in any way? I am told that,
nowadays, all the married men live like bachelors, and all the
bachelors like married men.
MRS. ALLONBY. I certainly never know one from the other.
LADY STUTFIELD. Oh, I think one can always know at once whether a
man has home claims upon his life or not. I have noticed a very,
very sad expression in the eyes of so many married men.
MRS. ALLONBY. Ah, all that I have noticed is that they are
horribly tedious when they are good husbands, and abominably
conceited when they are not.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Well, I suppose the type of husband has
completely changed since my young days, but I'm bound to state that
poor dear Hunstanton was the most delightful of creatures, and as
good as gold.
MRS. ALLONBY. Ah, my husband is a sort of promissory note; I'm
tired of meeting him.
LADY CAROLINE. But you renew him from time to time, don't you?
MRS. ALLONBY. Oh no, Lady Caroline. I have only had one husband
as yet. I suppose you look upon me as quite an amateur.
LADY CAROLINE. With your views on life I wonder you married at
MRS. ALLONBY. So do I.
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear child, I believe you are really very
happy in your married life, but that you like to hide your
happiness from others.
MRS. ALLONBY. I assure you I was horribly deceived in Ernest.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Oh, I hope not, dear. I knew his mother quite
well. She was a Stratton, Caroline, one of Lord Crowland's
LADY CAROLINE. Victoria Stratton? I remember her perfectly. A
silly fair-haired woman with no chin.
MRS. ALLONBY. Ah, Ernest has a chin. He has a very strong chin, a
square chin. Ernest's chin is far too square.
LADY STUTFIELD. But do you really think a man's chin can be too
square? I think a man should look very, very strong, and that his
chin should be quite, quite square.
MRS. ALLONBY. Then you should certainly know Ernest, Lady
Stutfield. It is only fair to tell you beforehand he has got no
conversation at all.
LADY STUTFIELD. I adore silent men.
MRS. ALLONBY. Oh, Ernest isn't silent. He talks the whole time.
But he has got no conversation. What he talks about I don't know.
I haven't listened to him for years.
LADY STUTFIELD. Have you never forgiven him then? How sad that
seems! But all life is very, very sad, is it not?
MRS. ALLONBY. Life, Lady Stutfield, is simply a MAUVAIS QUART
D'HEURE made up of exquisite moments.
LADY STUTFIELD. Yes, there are moments, certainly. But was it
something very, very wrong that Mr. Allonby did? Did he become
angry with you, and say anything that was unkind or true?
MRS. ALLONBY. Oh dear, no. Ernest is invariably calm. That is
one of the reasons he always gets on my nerves. Nothing is so
aggravating as calmness. There is something positively brutal
about the good temper of most modern men. I wonder we women stand
it as well as we do.
LADY STUTFIELD. Yes; men's good temper shows they are not so
sensitive as we are, not so finely strung. It makes a great
barrier often between husband and wife, does it not? But I would
so much like to know what was the wrong thing Mr. Allonby did.
MRS. ALLONBY. Well, I will tell you, if you solemnly promise to
tell everybody else.
LADY STUTFIELD. Thank you, thank you. I will make a point of
MRS. ALLONBY. When Ernest and I were engaged, he swore to me
positively on his knees that he had never loved any one before in
the whole course of his life. I was very young at the time, so I
didn't believe him, I needn't tell you. Unfortunately, however, I
made no enquiries of any kind till after I had been actually
married four or five months. I found out then that what he had
told me was perfectly true. And that sort of thing makes a man so
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear!
MRS. ALLONBY. Men always want to be a woman's first love. That is
their clumsy vanity. We women have a more subtle instinct about
things. What we like is to be a man's last romance.
LADY STUTFIELD. I see what you mean. It's very, very beautiful.
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear child, you don't mean to tell me that you
won't forgive your husband because he never loved any one else?
Did you ever hear such a thing, Caroline? I am quite surprised.
LADY CAROLINE. Oh, women have become so highly educated, Jane,
that nothing should surprise us nowadays, except happy marriages.
They apparently are getting remarkably rare.
MRS. ALLONBY. Oh, they're quite out of date.
LADY STUTFIELD. Except amongst the middle classes, I have been
MRS. ALLONBY. How like the middle classes!
LADY STUTFIELD. Yes - is it not? - very, very like them.
LADY CAROLINE. If what you tell us about the middle classes is
true, Lady Stutfield, it redounds greatly to their credit. It is
much to be regretted that in our rank of life the wife should be so
persistently frivolous, under the impression apparently that it is
the proper thing to be. It is to that I attribute the unhappiness
of so many marriages we all know of in society.
MRS. ALLONBY. Do you know, Lady Caroline, I don't think the
frivolity of the wife has ever anything to do with it. More
marriages are ruined nowadays by the common sense of the husband
than by anything else. How can a woman be expected to be happy
with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear!
MRS. ALLONBY. Man, poor, awkward, reliable, necessary man belongs
to a sex that has been rational for millions and millions of years.
He can't help himself. It is in his race. The History of Woman is
very different. We have always been picturesque protests against
the mere existence of common sense. We saw its dangers from the
LADY STUTFIELD. Yes, the common sense of husbands is certainly
most, most trying. Do tell me your conception of the Ideal
Husband. I think it would be so very, very helpful.
MRS. ALLONBY. The Ideal Husband? There couldn't be such a thing.
The institution is wrong.
LADY STUTFIELD. The Ideal Man, then, in his relations to US.
LADY CAROLINE. He would probably be extremely realistic.
MRS. CAROLINE. The Ideal Man! Oh, the Ideal Man should talk to us
as if we were goddesses, and treat us as if we were children. He
should refuse all our serious requests, and gratify every one of
our whims. He should encourage us to have caprices, and forbid us
to have missions. He should always say much more than he means,
and always mean much more than he says.
LADY HUNSTANTON. But how could he do both, dear?
MRS. ALLONBY. He should never run down other pretty women. That
would show he had no taste, or make one suspect that he had too
much. No; he should be nice about them all, but say that somehow
they don't attract him.
LADY STUTFIELD. Yes, that is always very, very pleasant to hear
about other women.
MRS. ALLONBY. If we ask him a question about anything, he should
give us an answer all about ourselves. He should invariably praise
us for whatever qualities he knows we haven't got. But he should
be pitiless, quite pitiless, in reproaching us for the virtues that
we have never dreamed of possessing. He should never believe that
we know the use of useful things. That would be unforgiveable.
But he should shower on us everything we don't want.
LADY CAROLINE. As far as I can see, he is to do nothing but pay
bills and compliments.
MRS. ALLONBY. He should persistently compromise us in public, and
treat us with absolute respect when we are alone. And yet he
should be always ready to have a perfectly terrible scene, whenever
we want one, and to become miserable, absolutely miserable, at a
moment's notice, and to overwhelm us with just reproaches in less
than twenty minutes, and to be positively violent at the end of
half an hour, and to leave us for ever at a quarter to eight, when
we have to go and dress for dinner. And when, after that, one has
seen him for really the last time, and he has refused to take back
the little things he has given one, and promised never to
communicate with one again, or to write one any foolish letters, he
should be perfectly broken-hearted, and telegraph to one all day
long, and send one little notes every half-hour by a private
hansom, and dine quite alone at the club, so that every one should
know how unhappy he was. And after a whole dreadful week, during
which one has gone about everywhere with one's husband, just to
show how absolutely lonely one was, he may be given a third last
parting, in the evening, and then, if his conduct has been quite
irreproachable, and one has behaved really badly to him, he should
be allowed to admit that he has been entirely in the wrong, and
when he has admitted that, it becomes a woman's duty to forgive,
and one can do it all over again from the beginning, with
LADY HUNSTANTON. How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a
single word you say.
LADY STUTFIELD. Thank you, thank you. It has been quite, quite
entrancing. I must try and remember it all. There are such a
number of details that are so very, very important.
LADY CAROLINE. But you have not told us yet what the reward of the
Ideal Man is to be.
MRS. ALLONBY. His reward? Oh, infinite expectation. That is
quite enough for him.
LADY STUTFIELD. But men are so terribly, terribly exacting, are
MRS. ALLONBY. That makes no matter. One should never surrender.
LADY STUTFIELD. Not even to the Ideal Man?
MRS. ALLONBY. Certainly not to him. Unless, of course, one wants
to grow tired of him.
LADY STUTFIELD. Oh! . . . yes. I see that. It is very, very
helpful. Do you think, Mrs. Allonby, I shall ever meet the Ideal
Man? Or are there more than one?
MRS. ALLONBY. There are just four in London, Lady Stutfield.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Oh, my dear!
MRS. ALLONBY. [Going over to her.] What has happened? Do tell
LADY HUNSTANTON [in a low voice] I had completely forgotten that
the American young lady has been in the room all the time. I am
afraid some of this clever talk may have shocked her a little.
MRS. ALLONBY. Ah, that will do her so much good!
LADY HUNSTANTON. Let us hope she didn't understand much. I think
I had better go over and talk to her. [Rises and goes across to
HESTER WORSLEY.] Well, dear Miss Worsley. [Sitting down beside
her.] How quiet you have been in your nice little corner all this
time! I suppose you have been reading a book? There are so many
books here in the library.
HESTER. No, I have been listening to the conversation.
LADY HUNSTANTON. You mustn't believe everything that was said, you
HESTER. I didn't believe any of it
LADY HUNSTANTON. That is quite right, dear.
HESTER. [Continuing.] I couldn't believe that any women could
really hold such views of life as I have heard to-night from some
of your guests. [An awkward pause.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. I hear you have such pleasant society in America.
Quite like our own in places, my son wrote to me.
HESTER. There are cliques in America as elsewhere, Lady
Hunstanton. But true American society consists simply of all the
good women and good men we have in our country.
LADY HUNSTANTON. What a sensible system, and I dare say quite
pleasant too. I am afraid in England we have too many artificial
social barriers. We don't see as much as we should of the middle
and lower classes.
HESTER. In America we have no lower classes.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Really? What a very strange arrangement!
MRS. ALLONBY. What is that dreadful girl talking about?
LADY STUTFIELD. She is painfully natural, is she not?
LADY CAROLINE. There are a great many things you haven't got in
America, I am told, Miss Worsley. They say you have no ruins, and
MRS. ALLONBY. [To LADY STUTFIELD.] What nonsense! They have
their mothers and their manners.
HESTER. The English aristocracy supply us with our curiosities,
Lady Caroline. They are sent over to us every summer, regularly,
in the steamers, and propose to us the day after they land. As for
ruins, we are trying to build up something that will last longer
than brick or stone. [Gets up to take her fan from table.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. What is that, dear? Ah, yes, an iron Exhibition,
is it not, at that place that has the curious name?
HESTER. [Standing by table.] We are trying to build up life, Lady
Hunstanton, on a better, truer, purer basis than life rests on
here. This sounds strange to you all, no doubt. How could it
sound other than strange? You rich people in England, you don't
know how you are living. How could you know? You shut out from
your society the gentle and the good. You laugh at the simple and
the pure. Living, as you all do, on others and by them, you sneer
at self-sacrifice, and if you throw bread to the poor, it is merely
to keep them quiet for a season. With all your pomp and wealth and
art you don't know how to live - you don't even know that. You
love the beauty that you can see and touch and handle, the beauty
that you can destroy, and do destroy, but of the unseen beauty of
life, of the unseen beauty of a higher life, you know nothing. You
have lost life's secret. Oh, your English society seems to me
shallow, selfish, foolish. It has blinded its eyes, and stopped
its ears. It lies like a leper in purple. It sits like a dead
thing smeared with gold. It is all wrong, all wrong.
LADY STUTFIELD. I don't think one should know of these things. It
is not very, very nice, is it?
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear Miss Worsley, I thought you liked English
society so much. You were such a success in it. And you were so
much admired by the best people. I quite forget what Lord Henry
Weston said of you - but it was most complimentary, and you know
what an authority he is on beauty.
HESTER. Lord Henry Weston! I remember him, Lady Hunstanton. A
man with a hideous smile and a hideous past. He is asked
everywhere. No dinner-party is complete without him. What of
those whose ruin is due to him? They are outcasts. They are
nameless. If you met them in the street you would turn your head
away. I don't complain of their punishment. Let all women who
have sinned be punished.
[MRS. ARBUTHNOT enters from terrace behind in a cloak with a lace
veil over her head. She hears the last words and starts.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear young lady!
HESTER. It is right that they should be punished, but don't let
them be the only ones to suffer. If a man and woman have sinned,
let them both go forth into the desert to love or loathe each other
there. Let them both be branded. Set a mark, if you wish, on
each, but don't punish the one and let the other go free. Don't
have one law for men and another for women. You are unjust to
women in England. And till you count what is a shame in a woman to
be an infamy in a man, you will always be unjust, and Right, that
pillar of fire, and Wrong, that pillar of cloud, will be made dim
to your eyes, or be not seen at all, or if seen, not regarded
LADY CAROLINE. Might I, dear Miss Worsley, as you are standing up,
ask you for my cotton that is just behind you? Thank you.
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear Mrs. Arbuthnot! I am so pleased you have
come up. But I didn't hear you announced.
MRS. ALLONBY. Oh, I came straight in from the terrace, Lady
Hunstanton, just as I was. You didn't tell me you had a party.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Not a party. Only a few guests who are staying
in the house, and whom you must know. Allow me. [Tries to help
her. Rings bell.] Caroline, this is Mrs. Arbuthnot, one of my
sweetest friends. Lady Caroline Pontefract, Lady Stutfield, Mrs.
Allonby, and my young American friend, Miss Worsley, who has just
been telling us all how wicked we are.
HESTER. I am afraid you think I spoke too strongly, Lady
Hunstanton. But there are some things in England -
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear young lady, there was a great deal of
truth, I dare say, in what you said, and you looked very pretty
while you said it, which is much more important, Lord Illingworth
would tell us. The only point where I thought you were a little
hard was about Lady Caroline's brother, about poor Lord Henry. He
is really such good company.
Take Mrs. Arbuthnot's things.
[Exit Footman with wraps.]
HESTER. Lady Caroline, I had no idea it was your brother. I am
sorry for the pain I must have caused you - I -
LADY CAROLINE. My dear Miss Worsley, the only part of your little
speech, if I may so term it, with which I thoroughly agreed, was
the part about my brother. Nothing that you could possibly say
could be too bad for him. I regard Henry as infamous, absolutely
infamous. But I am bound to state, as you were remarking, Jane,
that he is excellent company, and he has one of the best cooks in
London, and after a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's
LADY HUNSTANTON [to MISS WORSLEY] Now, do come, dear, and make
friends with Mrs. Arbuthnot. She is one of the good, sweet, simple
people you told us we never admitted into society. I am sorry to
say Mrs. Arbuthnot comes very rarely to me. But that is not my
MRS. ALLONBY. What a bore it is the men staying so long after
dinner! I expect they are saying the most dreadful things about
LADY STUTFIELD. Do you really think so?
MRS. ALLONBY. I was sure of it.
LADY STUTFIELD. How very, very horrid of them! Shall we go onto
MRS. ALLONBY. Oh, anything to get away from the dowagers and the
dowdies. [Rises and goes with LADY STUTFIELD to door L.C.] We are
only going to look at the stars, Lady Hunstanton.
LADY HUNSTANTON. You will find a great many, dear, a great many.
But don't catch cold. [To MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] We shall all miss
Gerald so much, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. But has Lord Illingworth really offered to make
Gerald his secretary?
LADY HUNSTANTON. Oh, yes! He has been most charming about it. He
has the highest possible opinion of your boy. You don't know Lord
Illingworth, I believe, dear.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I have never met him.
LADY HUNSTANTON. You know him by name, no doubt?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I am afraid I don't. I live so much out of the
world, and see so few people. I remember hearing years ago of an
old Lord Illingworth who lived in Yorkshire, I think.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, yes. That would be the last Earl but one.
He was a very curious man. He wanted to marry beneath him. Or
wouldn't, I believe. There was some scandal about it. The present
Lord Illingworth is quite different. He is very distinguished. He
does - well, he does nothing, which I am afraid our pretty American
visitor here thinks very wrong of anybody, and I don't know that he
cares much for the subjects in which you are so interested, dear
Mrs. Arbuthnot. Do you think, Caroline, that Lord Illingworth is
interested in the Housing of the Poor?
LADY CAROLINE. I should fancy not at all, Jane.
LADY HUNSTANTON. We all have our different tastes, have we not?
But Lord Illingworth has a very high position, and there is nothing
he couldn't get if he chose to ask for it. Of course, he is
comparatively a young man still, and he has only come to his title
within - how long exactly is it, Caroline, since Lord Illingworth
LADY CAROLINE. About four years, I think, Jane. I know it was the
same year in which my brother had his last exposure in the evening
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, I remember. That would be about four years
ago. Of course, there were a great many people between the present
Lord Illingworth and the title, Mrs. Arbuthnot. There was - who
was there, Caroline?
LADY CAROLINE. There was poor Margaret's baby. You remember how
anxious she was to have a boy, and it was a boy, but it died, and
her husband died shortly afterwards, and she married almost
immediately one of Lord Ascot's sons, who, I am told, beats her.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, that is in the family, dear, that is in the
family. And there was also, I remember, a clergyman who wanted to
be a lunatic, or a lunatic who wanted to be a clergyman, I forget
which, but I know the Court of Chancery investigated the matter,
and decided that he was quite sane. And I saw him afterwards at
poor Lord Plumstead's with straws in his hair, or something very
odd about him. I can't recall what. I often regret, Lady
Caroline, that dear Lady Cecilia never lived to see her son get the
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Lady Cecilia?
LADY HUNSTANTON. Lord Illingworth's mother, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot,
was one of the Duchess of Jerningham's pretty daughters, and she
married Sir Thomas Harford, who wasn't considered a very good match
for her at the time, though he was said to be the handsomest man in
London. I knew them all quite intimately, and both the sons,
Arthur and George.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It was the eldest son who succeeded, of course,
LADY HUNSTANTON. No, dear, he was killed in the hunting field. Or
was it fishing, Caroline? I forget. But George came in for
everything. I always tell him that no younger son has ever had
such good luck as he has had.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Lady Hunstanton, I want to speak to Gerald at
once. Might I see him? Can he be sent for?
LADY HUNSTANTON. Certainly, dear. I will send one of the servants
into the dining-room to fetch him. I don't know what keeps the
gentlemen so long. [Rings bell.] When I knew Lord Illingworth
first as plain George Harford, he was simply a very brilliant young
man about town, with not a penny of money except what poor dear
Lady Cecilia gave him. She was quite devoted to him. Chiefly, I
fancy, because he was on bad terms with his father. Oh, here is
the dear Archdeacon. [To Servant.] It doesn't matter.
[Enter SIR JOHN and DOCTOR DAUBENY. SIR JOHN goes over to LADY
STUTFIELD, DOCTOR DAUBENY to LADY HUNSTANTON.]
THE ARCHDEACON. Lord Illingworth has been most entertaining. I
have never enjoyed myself more. [Sees MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] Ah, Mrs.
LADY HUNSTANTON. [To DOCTOR DAUBENY.] You see I have got Mrs.
Arbuthnot to come to me at last.
THE ARCHDEACON. That is a great honour, Lady Hunstanton. Mrs.
Daubeny will be quite jealous of you.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, I am so sorry Mrs. Daubeny could not come
with you to-night. Headache as usual, I suppose.
THE ARCHDEACON. Yes, Lady Hunstanton; a perfect martyr. But she
is happiest alone. She is happiest alone.
LADY CAROLINE. [To her husband.] John! [SIR JOHN goes over to
his wife. DOCTOR DAUBENY talks to LADY HUNSTANTON and MRS.
[MRS. ARBUTHNOT watches LORD ILLINGWORTH the whole time. He has
passed across the room without noticing her, and approaches MRS.
ALLONBY, who with LADY STUTFIELD is standing by the door looking on
to the terrace.]
LORD ILLINGWORTH. How is the most charming woman in the world?
MRS. ALLONBY. [Taking LADY STUTFIELD by the hand.] We are both
quite well, thank you, Lord Illingworth. But what a short time you
have been in the dining-room! It seems as if we had only just
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I was bored to death. Never opened my lips the
whole time. Absolutely longing to come in to you.
MRS. ALLONBY. You should have. The American girl has been giving
us a lecture.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Really? All Americans lecture, I believe. I
suppose it is something in their climate. What did she lecture
MRS. ALLONBY. Oh, Puritanism, of course.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I am going to convert her, am I not? How long
do you give me?
MRS. ALLONBY. A week.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. A week is more than enough.
[Enter GERALD and LORD ALFRED.]
GERALD. [Going to MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] Dear mother!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald, I don't feel at all well. See me home,
Gerald. I shouldn't have come.
GERALD. I am so sorry, mother. Certainly. But you must know Lord
Illingworth first. [Goes across room.]
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Not to-night, Gerald.
GERALD. Lord Illingworth, I want you so much to know my mother.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. With the greatest pleasure. [To MRS. ALLONBY.]
I'll be back in a moment. People's mothers always bore me to
death. All women become like their mothers. That is their
MRS. ALLONBY. No man does. That is his.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. What a delightful mood you are in to-night!
[Turns round and goes across with GERALD to MRS. ARBUTHNOT. When
he sees her, he starts back in wonder. Then slowly his eyes turn
GERALD. Mother, this is Lord Illingworth, who has offered to take
me as his private secretary. [MRS. ARBUTHNOT bows coldly.] It is
a wonderful opening for me, isn't it? I hope he won't be
disappointed in me, that is all. You'll thank Lord Illingworth,
mother, won't you?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Lord Illingworth in very good, I am sure, to
interest himself in you for the moment.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. [Putting his hand on GERALD's shoulder.] Oh,
Gerald and I are great friends already, Mrs . . . Arbuthnot.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. There can be nothing in common between you and my
son, Lord Illingworth.
GERALD. Dear mother, how can you say so? Of course Lord
Illingworth is awfully clever and that sort of thing. There is
nothing Lord Illingworth doesn't know.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. My dear boy!
GERALD. He knows more about life than any one I have ever met. I
feel an awful duffer when I am with you, Lord Illingworth. Of
course, I have had so few advantages. I have not been to Eton or
Oxford like other chaps. But Lord Illingworth doesn't seem to mind
that. He has been awfully good to me, mother.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Lord Illingworth may change his mind. He may not
really want you as his secretary.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. You must remember, as you said yourself, you have
had so few advantages.
MRS. ALLONBY. Lord Illingworth, I want to speak to you for a
moment. Do come over.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Will you excuse me, Mrs. Arbuthnot? Now, don't
let your charming mother make any more difficulties, Gerald. The
thing is quite settled, isn't it?
GERALD. I hope so. [LORD ILLINGWORTH goes across to MRS.
MRS. ALLONBY. I thought you were never going to leave the lady in
LORD ILLINGWORTH. She is excessively handsome. [Looks at MRS.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Caroline, shall we all make a move to the music-
room? Miss Worsley is going to play. You'll come too, dear Mrs.
Arbuthnot, won't you? You don't know what a treat is in store for
you. [To DOCTOR DAUBENY.] I must really take Miss Worsley down
some afternoon to the rectory. I should so much like dear Mrs.
Daubeny to hear her on the violin. Ah, I forgot. Dear Mrs.
Daubeny's hearing is a little defective, is it not?
THE ARCHDEACON. Her deafness is a great privation to her. She
can't even hear my sermons now. She reads them at home. But she
has many resources in herself, many resources.
LADY HUNSTANTON. She reads a good deal, I suppose?
THE ARCHDEACON. Just the very largest print. The eyesight is
rapidly going. But she's never morbid, never morbid.
GERALD. [To LORD ILLINGWORTH.] Do speak to my mother, Lord
Illingworth, before you go into the music-room. She seems to
think, somehow, you don't mean what you said to me.
MRS. ALLONBY. Aren't you coming?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. In a few moments. Lady Hunstanton, if Mrs.
Arbuthnot would allow me, I would like to say a few words to her,
and we will join you later on.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, of course. You will have a great deal to say
to her, and she will have a great deal to thank you for. It is not
every son who gets such an offer, Mrs. Arbuthnot. But I know you
appreciate that, dear.
LADY CAROLINE. John!
LADY HUNSTANTON. Now, don't keep Mrs. Arbuthnot too long, Lord
Illingworth. We can't spare her.
[Exit following the other guests. Sound of violin heard from
LORD ILLINGWORTH. So that is our son, Rachel! Well, I am very
proud of him. He in a Harford, every inch of him. By the way, why
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. One name is as good as another, when one has no
right to any name.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I suppose so - but why Gerald?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. After a man whose heart I broke - after my father.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Well, Rachel, what in over is over. All I have
got to say now in that I am very, very much pleased with our boy.
The world will know him merely as my private secretary, but to me
he will be something very near, and very dear. It is a curious
thing, Rachel; my life seemed to be quite complete. It was not so.
It lacked something, it lacked a son. I have found my son now, I
am glad I have found him.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. You have no right to claim him, or the smallest
part of him. The boy is entirely mine, and shall remain mine.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. My dear Rachel, you have had him to yourself for
over twenty years. Why not let me have him for a little now? He
is quite as much mine as yours.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Are you talking of the child you abandoned? Of
the child who, as far as you are concerned, might have died of
hunger and of want?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. You forget, Rachel, it was you who left me. It
was not I who left you.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I left you because you refused to give the child a
name. Before my son was born, I implored you to marry me.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I had no expectations then. And besides,
Rachel, I wasn't much older than you were. I was only twenty-two.
I was twenty-one, I believe, when the whole thing began in your
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. When a man is old enough to do wrong he should be
old enough to do right also.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. My dear Rachel, intellectual generalities are
always interesting, but generalities in morals mean absolutely
nothing. As for saying I left our child to starve, that, of
course, is untrue and silly. My mother offered you six hundred a
year. But you wouldn't take anything. You simply disappeared, and
carried the child away with you.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I wouldn't have accepted a penny from her. Your
father was different. He told you, in my presence, when we were in
Paris, that it was your duty to marry me.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Oh, duty is what one expects from others, it is
not what one does oneself. Of course, I was influenced by my
mother. Every man is when he is young.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I am glad to hear you say so. Gerald shall
certainly not go away with you.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. What nonsense, Rachel!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Do you think I would allow my son -
LORD ILLINGWORTH. OUR son.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. My son [LORD ILLINGWORTH shrugs his shoulders] -
to go away with the man who spoiled my youth, who ruined my life,
who has tainted every moment of my days? You don't realise what my
past has been in suffering and in shame.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. My dear Rachel, I must candidly say that I think
Gerald's future considerably more important than your past.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald cannot separate his future from my past.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. That is exactly what he should do. That is
exactly what you should help him to do. What a typical woman you
are! You talk sentimentally, and you are thoroughly selfish the
whole time. But don't let us have a scene. Rachel, I want you to
look at this matter from the common-sense point of view, from the
point of view of what is best for our son, leaving you and me out
of the question. What is our son at present? An underpaid clerk
in a small Provincial Bank in a third-rate English town. If you
imagine he is quite happy in such a position, you are mistaken. He
is thoroughly discontented.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He was not discontented till he met you. You have
made him so.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Of course, I made him so. Discontent is the
first step in the progress of a man or a nation. But I did not
leave him with a mere longing for things he could not get. No, I
made him a charming offer. He jumped at it, I need hardly say.
Any young man would. And now, simply because it turns out that I
am the boy's own father and he my own son, you propose practically
to ruin his career. That is to say, if I were a perfect stranger,
you would allow Gerald to go away with me, but as he is my own
flesh and blood you won't. How utterly illogical you are!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I will not allow him to go.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. How can you prevent it? What excuse can you
give to him for making him decline such an offer as mine? I won't
tell him in what relations I stand to him, I need hardly say. But
you daren't tell him. You know that. Look how you have brought
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I have brought him up to be a good man.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Quite so. And what is the result? You have
educated him to be your judge if he ever finds you out. And a
bitter, an unjust judge he will be to you. Don't be deceived,
Rachel. Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they
judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. George, don't take my son away from me. I have
had twenty years of sorrow, and I have only had one thing to love
me, only one thing to love. You have had a life of joy, and
pleasure, and success. You have been quite happy, you have never
thought of us. There was no reason, according to your views of
life, why you should have remembered us at all. Your meeting us
was a mere accident, a horrible accident. Forget it. Don't come
now, and rob me of . . . of all I have in the whole world. You are
so rich in other things. Leave me the little vineyard of my life;
leave me the walled-in garden and the well of water; the ewe-lamb
God sent me, in pity or in wrath, oh! leave me that. George, don't
take Gerald from me.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Rachel, at the present moment you are not
necessary to Gerald's career; I am. There is nothing more to be
said on the subject.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I will not let him go.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Here is Gerald. He has a right to decide for
GERALD. Well, dear mother, I hope you have settled it all with
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I have not, Gerald.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Your mother seems not to like your coming with
me, for some reason.
GERALD. Why, mother?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I thought you were quite happy here with me,
Gerald. I didn't know you were so anxious to leave me.
GERALD. Mother, how can you talk like that? Of course I have been
quite happy with you. But a man can't stay always with his mother.
No chap does. I want to make myself a position, to do something.
I thought you would have been proud to see me Lord Illingworth's
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I do not think you would be suitable as a private
secretary to Lord Illingworth. You have no qualifications.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I don't wish to seem to interfere for a moment,
Mrs. Arbuthnot, but as far as your last objection is concerned, I
surely am the best judge. And I can only tell you that your son
has all the qualifications I had hoped for. He has more, in fact,
than I had even thought of. Far more. [MRS. ARBUTHNOT remains
silent.] Have you any other reason, Mrs. Arbuthnot, why you don't
wish your son to accept this post?
GERALD. Have you, mother? Do answer.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. If you have, Mrs. Arbuthnot, pray, pray say it.
We are quite by ourselves here. Whatever it is, I need not say I
will not repeat it.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. If you would like to be alone with your son, I
will leave you. You may have some other reason you don't wish me
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I have no other reason.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Then, my dear boy, we may look on the thing as
settled. Come, you and I will smoke a cigarette on the terrace
together. And Mrs. Arbuthnot, pray let me tell you, that I think
you have acted very, very wisely.
[Exit with GERALD. MRS. ARBUTHNOT is left alone. She stands
immobile with a look of unutterable sorrow on her face.]
The Picture Gallery at Hunstanton. Door at back leading on to
[LORD ILLINGWORTH and GERALD, R.C. LORD ILLINGWORTH lolling on a
sofa. GERALD in a chair.]
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Thoroughly sensible woman, your mother, Gerald.
I knew she would come round in the end.
GERALD. My mother is awfully conscientious, Lord Illingworth, and
I know she doesn't think I am educated enough to be your secretary.
She is perfectly right, too. I was fearfully idle when I was at
school, and I couldn't pass an examination now to save my life.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. My dear Gerald, examinations are of no value
whatsoever. If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if
he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.
GERALD. But I am so ignorant of the world, Lord Illingworth.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Don't be afraid, Gerald. Remember that you've
got on your side the most wonderful thing in the world - youth!
There is nothing like youth. The middle-aged are mortgaged to
Life. The old are in life's lumber-room. But youth is the Lord of
Life. Youth has a kingdom waiting for it. Every one is born a
king, and most people die in exile, like most kings. To win back
my youth, Gerald, there is nothing I wouldn't do - except take
exercise, get up early, or be a useful member of the community.
GERALD. But you don't call yourself old, Lord Illingworth?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I am old enough to be your father, Gerald.
GERALD. I don't remember my father; he died years ago.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. So Lady Hunstanton told me.
GERALD. It is very curious, my mother never talks to me about my
father. I sometimes think she must have married beneath her.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. [Winces slightly.] Really? [Goes over and puts
his hand on GERALD'S shoulder.] You have missed not having a
father, I suppose, Gerald?
GERALD. Oh, no; my mother has been so good to me. No one ever had
such a mother as I have had.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I am quite sure of that. Still I should imagine
that most mothers don't quite understand their sons. Don't
realise, I mean, that a son has ambitions, a desire to see life, to
make himself a name. After all, Gerald, you couldn't be expected
to pass all your life in such a hole as Wrockley, could you?
GERALD. Oh, no! It would be dreadful!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. A mother's love is very touching, of course, but
it is often curiously selfish. I mean, there is a good deal of
selfishness in it.
GERALD. [Slowly.] I suppose there is.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Your mother is a thoroughly good woman. But
good women have such limited views of life, their horizon is so
small, their interests are so petty, aren't they?
GERALD. They are awfully interested, certainly, in things we don't
care much about.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I suppose your mother is very religious, and
that sort of thing.
GERALD. Oh, yes, she's always going to church.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Ah! she is not modern, and to be modern is the
only thing worth being nowadays. You want to be modern, don't you,
Gerald? You want to know life as it really is. Not to be put of
with any old-fashioned theories about life. Well, what you have to
do at present is simply to fit yourself for the best society. A
man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.
The future belongs to the dandy. It is the exquisites who are
going to rule.
GERALD. I should like to wear nice things awfully, but I have
always been told that a man should not think too much about his
LORD ILLINGWORTH. People nowadays are so absolutely superficial
that they don't understand the philosophy of the superficial. By
the way, Gerald, you should learn how to tie your tie better.
Sentiment is all very well for the button-hole. But the essential
thing for a necktie is style. A well-tied tie is the first serious
step in life.
GERALD. [Laughing.] I might be able to learn how to tie a tie,
Lord Illingworth, but I should never be able to talk as you do. I
don't know how to talk.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Oh! talk to every woman as if you loved her, and
to every man as if he bored you, and at the end of your first
season you will have the reputation of possessing the most perfect
GERALD. But it is very difficult to get into society isn't it?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. To get into the best society, nowadays, one has
either to feed people, amuse people, or shock people - that is all!
GERALD. I suppose society is wonderfully delightful!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. To be in it is merely a bore. But to be out of
it simply a tragedy. Society is a necessary thing. No man has any
real success in this world unless he has got women to back him, and
women rule society. If you have not got women on your side you are
quite over. You might just as well be a barrister, or a
stockbroker, or a journalist at once.
GERALD. It is very difficult to understand women, is it not?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. You should never try to understand them. Women
are pictures. Men are problems. If you want to know what a woman
really means - which, by the way, is always a dangerous thing to do
- look at her, don't listen to her.
GERALD. But women are awfully clever, aren't they?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. One should always tell them so. But, to the
philosopher, my dear Gerald, women represent the triumph of matter
over mind - just as men represent the triumph of mind over morals.
GERALD. How then can women have so much power as you say they
LORD ILLINGWORTH. The history of women is the history of the worst
form of tyranny the world has ever known. The tyranny of the weak
over the strong. It is the only tyranny that lasts.
GERALD. But haven't women got a refining influence?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Nothing refines but the intellect.
GERALD. Still, there are many different kinds of women, aren't
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Only two kinds in society: the plain and the
GERALD. But there are good women in society, aren't there?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Far too many.
GERALD. But do you think women shouldn't be good?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. One should never tell them so, they'd all become
good at once. Women are a fascinatingly wilful sex. Every woman
is a rebel, and usually in wild revolt against herself.
GERALD. You have never been married, Lord Illingworth, have you?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Men marry because they are tired; women because
they are curious. Both are disappointed.
GERALD. But don't you think one can be happy when one is married?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Perfectly happy. But the happiness of a married
man, my dear Gerald, depends on the people he has not married.
GERALD. But if one is in love?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. One should always be in love. That is the
reason one should never marry.
GERALD. Love is a very wonderful thing, isn't it?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. When one is in love one begins by deceiving
oneself. And one ends by deceiving others. That is what the world
calls a romance. But a really GRANDE PASSION is comparatively rare
nowadays. It is the privilege of people who have nothing to do.
That is the one use of the idle classes in a country, and the only
possible explanation of us Harfords.
GERALD. Harfords, Lord Illingworth?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. That is my family name. You should study the
Peerage, Gerald. It is the one book a young man about town should
know thoroughly, and it is the best thing in fiction the English
have ever done. And now, Gerald, you are going into a perfectly
new life with me, and I want you to know how to live. [MRS.
ARBUTHNOT appears on terrace behind.] For the world has been made
by fools that wise men should live in it!
[Enter L.C. LADY HUNSTANTON and DR. DAUBENY.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! here you are, dear Lord Illingworth. Well, I
suppose you have been telling our young friend, Gerald, what his
new duties are to be, and giving him a great deal of good advice
over a pleasant cigarette.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I have been giving him the best of advice, Lady
Hunstanton, and the best of cigarettes.
LADY HUNSTANTON. I am so sorry I was not here to listen to you,
but I suppose I am too old now to learn. Except from you, dear
Archdeacon, when you are in your nice pulpit. But then I always
know what you are going to say, so I don't feel alarmed. [Sees
MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] Ah! dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, do come and join us.
Come, dear. [Enter MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] Gerald has been having such a
long talk with Lord Illingworth; I am sure you must feel very much
flattered at the pleasant way in which everything has turned out
for him. Let us sit down. [They sit down.] And how is your
beautiful embroidery going on?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I am always at work, Lady Hunstanton.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Mrs. Daubeny embroiders a little, too, doesn't
THE ARCHDEACON. She was very deft with her needle once, quite a
Dorcas. But the gout has crippled her fingers a good deal. She
has not touched the tambour frame for nine or ten years. But she
has many other amusements. She is very much interested in her own
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! that is always a nice distraction, in it not?
Now, what are you talking about, Lord Illingworth? Do tell us.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I was on the point of explaining to Gerald that
the world has always laughed at its own tragedies, that being the
only way in which it has been able to bear them. And that,
consequently, whatever the world has treated seriously belongs to
the comedy side of things.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Now I am quite out of my depth. I usually am
when Lord Illingworth says anything. And the Humane Society is
most careless. They never rescue me. I am left to sink. I have a
dim idea, dear Lord Illingworth, that you are always on the side of
the sinners, and I know I always try to be on the side of the
saints, but that is as far as I get. And after all, it may be
merely the fancy of a drowning person.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. The only difference between the saint and the
sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! that quite does for me. I haven't a word to
say. You and I, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot, are behind the age. We can't
follow Lord Illingworth. Too much care was taken with our
education, I am afraid. To have been well brought up is a great
drawback nowadays. It shuts one out from so much.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I should be sorry to follow Lord Illingworth in
any of his opinions.
LADY HUNSTANTON. You are quite right, dear.
[GERALD shrugs his shoulders and looks irritably over at his
mother. Enter LADY CAROLINE.]
LADY CAROLINE. Jane, have you seen John anywhere?
LADY HUNSTANTON. You needn't be anxious about him, dear. He is
with Lady Stutfield; I saw them some time ago, in the Yellow
Drawing-room. They seem quite happy together. You are not going,
Caroline? Pray sit down.
LADY CAROLINE. I think I had better look after John.
[Exit LADY CAROLINE.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. It doesn't do to pay men so much attention. And
Caroline has really nothing to be anxious about. Lady Stutfield is
very sympathetic. She is just as sympathetic about one thing as
she is about another. A beautiful nature.
[Enter SIR JOHN and MRS. ALLONBY.]
Ah! here is Sir John! And with Mrs. Allonby too! I suppose it was
Mrs. Allonby I saw him with. Sir John, Caroline has been looking
everywhere for you.
MRS. ALLONBY. We have been waiting for her in the Music-room, dear
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! the Music-room, of course. I thought it was
the Yellow Drawing-room, my memory is getting so defective. [To
the ARCHDEACON.] Mrs. Daubeny has a wonderful memory, hasn't she?
THE ARCHDEACON. She used to be quite remarkable for her memory,
but since her last attack she recalls chiefly the events of her
early childhood. But she finds great pleasure in such
retrospections, great pleasure.
[Enter LADY STUTFIELD and MR. KELVIL.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! dear Lady Stutfield! and what has Mr. Kelvil
been talking to you about?
LADY STUTFIELD. About Bimetallism, as well as I remember.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Bimetallism! Is that quite a nice subject?
However, I know people discuss everything very freely nowadays.
What did Sir John talk to you about, dear Mrs. Allonby?
MRS. ALLONBY. About Patagonia.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Really? What a remote topic! But very
improving, I have no doubt.
MRS. ALLONBY. He has been most interesting on the subject of
Patagonia. Savages seem to have quite the same views as cultured
people on almost all subjects. They are excessively advanced.
LADY HUNSTANTON. What do they do?
MRS. ALLONBY. Apparently everything.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Well, it is very gratifying, dear Archdeacon, is
it not, to find that Human Nature is permanently one. - On the
whole, the world is the same world, is it not?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. The world is simply divided into two classes -
those who believe the incredible, like the public - and those who
do the improbable -
MRS. ALLONBY. Like yourself?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Yes; I am always astonishing myself. It is the
only thing that makes life worth living.
LADY STUTFIELD. And what have you been doing lately that
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I have been discovering all kinds of beautiful
qualities in my own nature.
MRS. ALLONBY. Ah! don't become quite perfect all at once. Do it
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I don't intend to grow perfect at all. At
least, I hope I shan't. It would be most inconvenient. Women love
us for our defects. If we have enough of them, they will forgive
us everything, even our gigantic intellects.
MRS. ALLONBY. It is premature to ask us to forgive analysis. We
forgive adoration; that is quite as much as should be expected from
[Enter LORD ALFRED. He joins LADY STUTFIELD.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! we women should forgive everything, shouldn't
we, dear Mrs. Arbuthnot? I am sure you agree with me in that.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I do not, Lady Hunstanton. I think there are many
things women should never forgive.
LADY HUNSTANTON. What sort of things?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. The ruin of another woman's life.
[Moves slowly away to back of stage.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah! those things are very sad, no doubt, but I
believe there are admirable homes where people of that kind are
looked after and reformed, and I think on the whole that the secret
of life is to take things very, very easily.
MRS. ALLONBY. The secret of life is never to have an emotion that
LADY STUTFIELD. The secret of life is to appreciate the pleasure
of being terribly, terribly deceived.
KELVIL. The secret of life is to resist temptation, Lady
LORD ILLINGWORTH. There is no secret of life. Life's aim, if it
has one, is simply to be always looking for temptations. There are
not nearly enough. I sometimes pass a whole day without coming
across a single one. It is quite dreadful. It makes one so
nervous about the future.
LADY HUNSTANTON. [Shakes her fan at him.] I don't know how it is,
dear Lord Illingworth, but everything you have said to-day seems to
me excessively immoral. It has been most interesting, listening to
LORD ILLINGWORTH. All thought is immoral. Its very essence is
destruction. If you think of anything, you kill it. Nothing
survives being thought of.
LADY HUNSTANTON. I don't understand a word, Lord Illingworth. But
I have no doubt it is all quite true. Personally, I have very
little to reproach myself with, on the score of thinking. I don't
believe in women thinking too much. Women should think in
moderation, as they should do all things in moderation.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Moderation is a fatal thing, Lady Hunstanton.
Nothing succeeds like excess.
LADY HUNSTANTON. I hope I shall remember that. It sounds an
admirable maxim. But I'm beginning to forget everything. It's a
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is one of your most fascinating qualities,
Lady Hunstanton. No woman should have a memory. Memory in a woman
is the beginning of dowdiness. One can always tell from a woman's
bonnet whether she has got a memory or not.
LADY HUNSTANTON. How charming you are, dear Lord Illingworth. You
always find out that one's most glaring fault is one's most
important virtue. You have the most comforting views of life.
FARQUHAR. Doctor Daubeny's carriage!
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear Archdeacon! It is only half-past ten.
THE ARCHDEACON. [Rising.] I am afraid I must go, Lady Hunstanton.
Tuesday is always one of Mrs. Daubeny's bad nights.
LADY HUNSTANTON. [Rising.] Well, I won't keep you from her.
[Goes with him towards door.] I have told Farquhar to put a brace
of partridge into the carriage. Mrs. Daubeny may fancy them.
THE ARCHDEACON. It is very kind of you, but Mrs. Daubeny never
touches solids now. Lives entirely on jellies. But she is
wonderfully cheerful, wonderfully cheerful. She has nothing to
[Exit with LADY HUNSTANTON.]
MRS. ALLONBY. [Goes over to LORD ILLINGWORTH.] There is a
beautiful moon to-night.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Let us go and look at it. To look at anything
that is inconstant is charming nowadays.
MRS. ALLONBY. You have your looking-glass.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is unkind. It merely shows me my wrinkles.
MRS. ALLONBY. Mine is better behaved. It never tells me the
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Then it is in love with you.
[Exeunt SIR JOHN, LADY STUTFIELD, MR. KELVIL and LORD ALFRED.]
GERALD. [To LORD ILLINGWORTH] May I come too?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Do, my dear boy. [Moves towards with MRS.
ALLONBY and GERALD.]
[LADY CAROLINE enters, looks rapidly round and goes off in opposite
direction to that taken by SIR JOHN and LADY STUTFIELD.]
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald!
GERALD. What, mother!
[Exit LORD ILLINGWORTH with MRS. ALLONBY.]
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It is getting late. Let us go home.
GERALD. My dear mother. Do let us wait a little longer. Lord
Illingworth is so delightful, and, by the way, mother, I have a
great surprise for you. We are starting for India at the end of
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Let us go home.
GERALD. If you really want to, of course, mother, but I must bid
good-bye to Lord Illingworth first. I'll be back in five minutes.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Let him leave me if he chooses, but not with him -
not with him! I couldn't bear it. [Walks up and down.]
HESTER. What a lovely night it is, Mrs. Arbuthnot.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Is it?
HESTER. Mrs. Arbuthnot, I wish you would let us be friends. You
are so different from the other women here. When you came into the
Drawing-room this evening, somehow you brought with you a sense of
what is good and pure in life. I had been foolish. There are
things that are right to say, but that may be said at the wrong
time and to the wrong people.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I heard what you said. I agree with it, Miss
HESTER. I didn't know you had heard it. But I knew you would
agree with me. A woman who has sinned should be punished,
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Yes.
HESTER. She shouldn't be allowed to come into the society of good
men and women?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. She should not.
HESTER. And the man should be punished in the same way?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. In the same way. And the children, if there are
children, in the same way also?
HESTER. Yes, it is right that the sins of the parents should be
visited on the children. It is a just law. It is God's law.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It is one of God's terrible laws.
[Moves away to fireplace.]
HESTER. You are distressed about your son leaving you, Mrs.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Yes.
HESTER. Do you like him going away with Lord Illingworth? Of
course there is position, no doubt, and money, but position and
money are not everything, are they?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. They are nothing; they bring misery.
HESTER. Then why do you let your son go with him?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He wishes it himself.
HESTER. But if you asked him he would stay, would he not?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He has set his heart on going.
HESTER. He couldn't refuse you anything. He loves you too much.
Ask him to stay. Let me send him in to you. He is on the terrace
at this moment with Lord Illingworth. I heard them laughing
together as I passed through the Music-room.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Don't trouble, Miss Worsley, I can wait. It is of
HESTER. No, I'll tell him you want him. Do - do ask him to stay.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He won't come - I know he won't come.
[Enter LADY CAROLINE. She looks round anxiously. Enter GERALD.]
LADY CAROLINE. Mr. Arbuthnot, may I ask you is Sir John anywhere
on the terrace?
GERALD. No, Lady Caroline, he is not on the terrace.
LADY CAROLINE. It is very curious. It is time for him to retire.
[Exit LADY CAROLINE.]
GERALD. Dear mother, I am afraid I kept you waiting. I forgot all
about it. I am so happy to-night, mother; I have never been so
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. At the prospect of going away?
GERALD. Don't put it like that, mother. Of course I am sorry to
leave you. Why, you are the best mother in the whole world. But
after all, as Lord Illingworth says, it is impossible to live in
such a place as Wrockley. You don't mind it. But I'm ambitions; I
want something more than that. I want to have a career. I want to
do something that will make you proud of me, and Lord Illingworth
is going to help me. He is going to do everything for me.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald, don't go away with Lord Illingworth. I
implore you not to. Gerald, I beg you!
GERALD. Mother, how changeable you are! You don't seem to know
your own mind for a single moment. An hour and a half ago in the
Drawing-room you agreed to the whole thing; now you turn round and
make objections, and try to force me to give up my one chance in
life. Yes, my one chance. You don't suppose that men like Lord
Illingworth are to be found every day, do you, mother? It is very
strange that when I have had such a wonderful piece of good luck,
the one person to put difficulties in my way should be my own
mother. Besides, you know, mother, I love Hester Worsley. Who
could help loving her? I love her more than I have ever told you,
far more. And if I had a position, if I had prospects, I could - I
could ask her to - Don't you understand now, mother, what it means
to me to be Lord Illingworth's secretary? To start like that is to
find a career ready for one - before one - waiting for one. If I
were Lord Illingworth's secretary I could ask Hester to be my wife.
As a wretched bank clerk with a hundred a year it would be an
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I fear you need have no hopes of Miss Worsley. I
know her views on life. She has just told them to me. [A pause.]
GERALD. Then I have my ambition left, at any rate. That is
something - I am glad I have that! You have always tried to crush
my ambition, mother - haven't you? You have told me that the world
is a wicked place, that success is not worth having, that society
is shallow, and all that sort of thing - well, I don't believe it,
mother. I think the world must be delightful. I think society
must be exquisite. I think success is a thing worth having. You
have been wrong in all that you taught me, mother, quite wrong.
Lord Illingworth is a successful man. He is a fashionable man. He
is a man who lives in the world and for it. Well, I would give
anything to be just like Lord Illingworth.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I would sooner see you dead.
GERALD. Mother, what is your objection to Lord Illingworth? Tell
me - tell me right out. What is it?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He is a bad man.
GERALD. In what way bad? I don't understand what you mean.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I will tell you.
GERALD. I suppose you think him bad, because he doesn't believe
the same things as you do. Well, men are different from women,
mother. It is natural that they should have different views.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It is not what Lord Illingworth believes, or what
he does not believe, that makes him bad. It is what he is.
GERALD. Mother, is it something you know of him? Something you
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It is something I know.
GERALD. Something you are quite sure of?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Quite sure of.
GERALD. How long have you known it?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. For twenty years.
GERALD. Is it fair to go back twenty years in any man's career?
And what have you or I to do with Lord Illingworth's early life?
What business is it of ours?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. What this man has been, he is now, and will be
GERALD. Mother, tell me what Lord Illingworth did? If he did
anything shameful, I will not go away with him. Surely you know me
well enough for that?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald, come near to me. Quite close to me, as
you used to do when you were a little boy, when you were mother's
own boy. [GERALD sits down betide his mother. She runs her
fingers through his hair, and strokes his hands.] Gerald, there
was a girl once, she was very young, she was little over eighteen
at the time. George Harford - that was Lord Illingworth's name
then - George Harford met her. She knew nothing about life. He -
knew everything. He made this girl love him. He made her love him
so much that she left her father's house with him one morning. She
loved him so much, and he had promised to marry her! He had
solemnly promised to marry her, and she had believed him. She was
very young, and - and ignorant of what life really is. But he put
the marriage off from week to week, and month to month. - She
trusted in him all the while. She loved him. - Before her child
was born - for she had a child - she implored him for the child's
sake to marry her, that the child might have a name, that her sin
might not be visited on the child, who was innocent. He refused.
After the child was born she left him, taking the child away, and
her life was ruined, and her soul ruined, and all that was sweet,
and good, and pure in her ruined also. She suffered terribly - she
suffers now. She will always suffer. For her there is no joy, no
peace, no atonement. She is a woman who drags a chain like a
guilty thing. She is a woman who wears a mask, like a thing that
is a leper. The fire cannot purify her. The waters cannot quench
her anguish. Nothing can heal her! no anodyne can give her sleep!
no poppies forgetfulness! She is lost! She is a lost soul! - That
is why I call Lord Illingworth a bad man. That is why I don't want
my boy to be with him.
GERALD. My dear mother, it all sounds very tragic, of course. But
I dare say the girl was just as much to blame as Lord Illingworth
was. - After all, would a really nice girl, a girl with any nice
feelings at all, go away from her home with a man to whom she was
not married, and live with him as his wife? No nice girl would.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [After a pause.] Gerald, I withdraw all my
objections. You are at liberty to go away with Lord Illingworth,
when and where you choose.
GERALD. Dear mother, I knew you wouldn't stand in my way. You are
the best woman God ever made. And, as for Lord Illingworth, I
don't believe he is capable of anything infamous or base. I can't
believe it of him - I can't.
HESTER. [Outside.] Let me go! Let me go! [Enter HESTER in
terror, and rushes over to GERALD and flings herself in his arms.]
HESTER. Oh! save me - save me from him!
GERALD. From whom?
HESTER. He has insulted me! Horribly insulted me! Save me!
GERALD. Who? Who has dared - ?
[LORD ILLINGWORTH enters at back of stage. HESTER breaks from
GERALD'S arms and points to him.]
GERALD [He is quite beside himself with rage and indignation.]
Lord Illingworth, you have insulted the purest thing on God's
earth, a thing as pure as my own mother. You have insulted the
woman I love most in the world with my own mother. As there is a
God in Heaven, I will kill you!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [Rushing across and catching hold of him] No! no!
GERALD. [Thrusting her back.] Don't hold me, mother. Don't hold
me - I'll kill him!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald!
GERALD. Let me go, I say!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Stop, Gerald, stop! He is your own father!
[GERALD clutches his mother's hands and looks into her face. She
sinks slowly on the ground in shame. HESTER steals towards the
door. LORD ILLINGWORTH frowns and bites his lip. After a time
GERALD raises his mother up, puts his am round her, and leads her
from the room.]
Sitting-room at Mrs. Arbuthnot's. Large open French window at
back, looking on to garden. Doors R.C. and L.C.
[GERALD ARBUTHNOT writing at table.]
[Enter ALICE R.C. followed by LADY HUNSTANTON and MRS. ALLONBY.]
ALICE. Lady Hunstanton and Mrs. Allonby.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Good morning, Gerald.
GERALD. [Rising.] Good morning, Lady Hunstanton. Good morning,
LADY HUNSTANTON. [Sitting down.] We came to inquire for your dear
mother, Gerald. I hope she is better?
GERALD. My mother has not come down yet, Lady Hunstanton.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Ah, I am afraid the heat was too much for her
last night. I think there must have been thunder in the air. Or
perhaps it was the music. Music makes one feel so romantic - at
least it always gets on one's nerves.
MRS. ALLONBY. It's the same thing, nowadays.
LADY HUNSTANTON. I am so glad I don't know what you mean, dear. I
am afraid you mean something wrong. Ah, I see you're examining
Mrs. Arbuthnot's pretty room. Isn't it nice and old-fashioned?
MRS. ALLONBY. [Surveying the room through her lorgnette.] It
looks quite the happy English home.
LADY HUNSTANTON. That's just the word, dear; that just describes
it. One feels your mother's good influence in everything she has
about her, Gerald.
MRS. ALLONBY. Lord Illingworth says that all influence is bad, but
that a good influence is the worst in the world.
LADY HUNSTANTON. When Lord Illingworth knows Mrs. Arbuthnot better
he will change his mind. I must certainly bring him here.
MRS. ALLONBY. I should like to see Lord Illingworth in a happy
LADY HUNSTANTON. It would do him a great deal of good, dear. Most
women in London, nowadays, seem to furnish their rooms with nothing
but orchids, foreigners, and French novels. But here we have the
room of a sweet saint. Fresh natural flowers, books that don't
shock one, pictures that one can look at without blushing.
MRS. ALLONBY. But I like blushing.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Well, there IS a good deal to be said for
blushing, if one can do it at the proper moment. Poor dear
Hunstanton used to tell me I didn't blush nearly often enough. But
then he was so very particular. He wouldn't let me know any of his
men friends, except those who were over seventy, like poor Lord
Ashton: who afterwards, by the way, was brought into the Divorce
Court. A most unfortunate case.
MRS. ALLONBY. I delight in men over seventy. They always offer
one the devotion of a lifetime. I think seventy an ideal age for a
LADY HUNSTANTON. She is quite incorrigible, Gerald, isn't she?
By-the-by, Gerald, I hope your dear mother will come and see me
more often now. You and Lord Illingworth start almost immediately,
GERALD. I have given up my intention of being Lord Illingworth's
LADY HUNSTANTON. Surely not, Gerald! It would be most unwise of
you. What reason can you have?
GERALD. I don't think I should be suitable for the post.
MRS. ALLONBY. I wish Lord Illingworth would ask me to be his
secretary. But he says I am not serious enough.
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear, you really mustn't talk like that in
this house. Mrs. Arbuthnot doesn't know anything about the wicked
society in which we all live. She won't go into it. She is far
too good. I consider it was a great honour her coming to me last
night. It gave quite an atmosphere of respectability to the party.
MRS. ALLONBY. Ah, that must have been what you thought was thunder
in the air.
LADY HUNSTANTON. My dear, how can you say that? There is no
resemblance between the two things at all. But really, Gerald,
what do you mean by not being suitable?
GERALD. Lord Illingworth's views of life and mine are too
LADY HUNSTANTON. But, my dear Gerald, at your age you shouldn't
have any views of life. They are quite out of place. You must be
guided by others in this matter. Lord Illingworth has made you the
most flattering offer, and travelling with him you would see the
world - as much of it, at least, as one should look at - under the
best auspices possible, and stay with all the right people, which
is so important at this solemn moment in your career.
GERALD. I don't want to see the world: I've seen enough of it.
MRS. ALLONBY. I hope you don't think you have exhausted life, Mr.
Arbuthnot. When a man says that, one knows that life has exhausted
GERALD. I don't wish to leave my mother.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Now, Gerald, that is pure laziness on your part.
Not leave your mother! If I were your mother I would insist on
[Enter ALICE L.C.]
ALICE. Mrs. Arbuthnot's compliments, my lady, but she has a bad
headache, and cannot see any one this morning. [Exit R.C.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. [Rising.] A bad headache! I am so sorry!
Perhaps you'll bring her up to Hunstanton this afternoon, if she is
GERALD. I am afraid not this afternoon, Lady Hunstanton.
LADY HUNSTANTON. Well, to-morrow, then. Ah, if you had a father,
Gerald, he wouldn't let you waste your life here. He would send
you off with Lord Illingworth at once. But mothers are so weak.
They give up to their sons in everything. We are all heart, all
heart. Come, dear, I must call at the rectory and inquire for Mrs.
Daubeny, who, I am afraid, is far from well. It is wonderful how
the Archdeacon bears up, quite wonderful. He is the most
sympathetic of husbands. Quite a model. Good-bye, Gerald, give my
fondest love to your mother.
MRS. ALLONBY. Good-bye, Mr. Arbuthnot.
[Exit LADY HUNSTANTON and MRS. ALLONBY. GERALD sits down and reads
over his letter.]
GERALD. What name can I sign? I, who have no right to any name.
[Signs name, puts letter into envelope, addresses it, and is about
to seal it, when door L.C. opens and MRS. ARBUTHNOT enters. GERALD
lays down sealing-wax. Mother and son look at each other.]
LADY HUNSTANTON. [Through French window at the back.] Good-bye
again, Gerald. We are taking the short cut across your pretty
garden. Now, remember my advice to you - start at once with Lord
MRS. ALLONBY. AU REVOIR, Mr. Arbuthnot. Mind you bring me back
something nice from your travels - not an Indian shawl - on no
account an Indian shawl.
GERALD. Mother, I have just written to him.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. To whom?
GERALD. To my father. I have written to tell him to come here at
four o'clock this afternoon.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He shall not come here. He shall not cross the
threshold of my house.
GERALD. He must come.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Gerald, if you are going away with Lord
Illingworth, go at once. Go before it kills me: but don't ask me
to meet him.
GERALD. Mother, you don't understand. Nothing in the world would
induce me to go away with Lord Illingworth, or to leave you.
Surely you know me well enough for that. No: I have written to him
to say -
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. What can you have to say to him?
GERALD. Can't you guess, mother, what I have written in this
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. No.
GERALD. Mother, surely you can. Think, think what must be done,
now, at once, within the next few days.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. There is nothing to be done.
GERALD. I have written to Lord Illingworth to tell him that he
must marry you.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Marry me?
GERALD. Mother, I will force him to do it. The wrong that has
been done you must be repaired. Atonement must be made. Justice
may be slow, mother, but it comes in the end. In a few days you
shall be Lord Illingworth's lawful wife.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. But, Gerald -
GERALD. I will insist upon his doing it. I will make him do it:
he will not dare to refuse.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. But, Gerald, it is I who refuse. I will not marry
GERALD. Not marry him? Mother!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I will not marry him.
GERALD. But you don't understand: it is for your sake I am
talking, not for mine. This marriage, this necessary marriage,
this marriage which for obvious reasons must inevitably take place,
will not help me, will not give me a name that will be really,
rightly mine to bear. But surely it will be something for you,
that you, my mother, should, however late, become the wife of the
man who is my father. Will not that be something?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I will not marry him.
GERALD. Mother, you must.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I will not. You talk of atonement for a wrong
done. What atonement can be made to me? There is no atonement
possible. I am disgraced: he is not. That is all. It is the
usual history of a man and a woman as it usually happens, as it
always happens. And the ending is the ordinary ending. The woman
suffers. The man goes free.
GERALD. I don't know if that is the ordinary ending, mother: I
hope it is not. But your life, at any rate, shall not end like
that. The man shall make whatever reparation is possible. It is
not enough. It does not wipe out the past, I know that. But at
least it makes the future better, better for you, mother.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I refuse to marry Lord Illingworth.
GERALD. If he came to you himself and asked you to be his wife you
would give him a different answer. Remember, he is my father.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. If he came himself, which he will not do, my
answer would be the same. Remember I am your mother.
GERALD. Mother, you make it terribly difficult for me by talking
like that; and I can't understand why you won't look at this matter
from the right, from the only proper standpoint. It is to take
away the bitterness out of your life, to take away the shadow that
lies on your name, that this marriage must take place. There is no
alternative: and after the marriage you and I can go away together.
But the marriage must take place first. It is a duty that you owe,
not merely to yourself, but to all other women - yes: to all the
other women in the world, lest he betray more.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I owe nothing to other women. There is not one of
them to help me. There is not one woman in the world to whom I
could go for pity, if I would take it, or for sympathy, if I could
win it. Women are hard on each other. That girl, last night, good
though she is, fled from the room as though I were a tainted thing.
She was right. I am a tainted thing. But my wrongs are my own,
and I will bear them alone. I must bear them alone. What have
women who have not sinned to do with me, or I with them? We do not
understand each other.
[Enter HESTER behind.]
GERALD. I implore you to do what I ask you.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. What son has ever asked of his mother to make so
hideous a sacrifice? None.
GERALD. What mother has ever refused to marry the father of her
own child? None.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Let me be the first, then. I will not do it.
GERALD. Mother, you believe in religion, and you brought me up to
believe in it also. Well, surely your religion, the religion that
you taught me when I was a boy, mother, must tell you that I am
right. You know it, you feel it.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I do not know it. I do not feel it, nor will I
ever stand before God's altar and ask God's blessing on so hideous
a mockery as a marriage between me and George Harford. I will not
say the words the Church bids us to say. I will not say them. I
dare not. How could I swear to love the man I loathe, to honour
him who wrought you dishonour, to obey him who, in his mastery,
made me to sin? No: marriage is a sacrament for those who love
each other. It is not for such as him, or such as me. Gerald, to
save you from the world's sneers and taunts I have lied to the
world. For twenty years I have lied to the world. I could not
tell the world the truth. Who can, ever? But not for my own sake
will I lie to God, and in God's presence. No, Gerald, no ceremony,
Church-hallowed or State-made, shall ever bind me to George
Harford. It may be that I am too bound to him already, who,
robbing me, yet left me richer, so that in the mire of my life I
found the pearl of price, or what I thought would be so.
GERALD. I don't understand you now.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Men don't understand what mothers are. I am no
different from other women except in the wrong done me and the
wrong I did, and my very heavy punishments and great disgrace. And
yet, to bear you I had to look on death. To nurture you I had to
wrestle with it. Death fought with me for you. All women have to
fight with death to keep their children. Death, being childless,
wants our children from us. Gerald, when you were naked I clothed
you, when you were hungry I gave you food. Night and day all that
long winter I tended you. No office is too mean, no care too lowly
for the thing we women love - and oh! how I loved YOU. Not Hannah,
Samuel more. And you needed love, for you were weakly, and only
love could have kept you alive. Only love can keep any one alive.
And boys are careless often and without thinking give pain, and we
always fancy that when they come to man's estate and know us better
they will repay us. But it is not so. The world draws them from
our side, and they make friends with whom they are happier than
they are with us, and have amusements from which we are barred, and
interests that are not ours: and they are unjust to us often, for
when they find life bitter they blame us for it, and when they find
it sweet we do not taste its sweetness with them . . . You made
many friends and went into their houses and were glad with them,
and I, knowing my secret, did not dare to follow, but stayed at
home and closed the door, shut out the sun and sat in darkness.
What should I have done in honest households? My past was ever
with me. . . . And you thought I didn't care for the pleasant
things of life. I tell you I longed for them, but did not dare to
touch them, feeling I had no right. You thought I was happier
working amongst the poor. That was my mission, you imagined. It
was not, but where else was I to go? The sick do not ask if the
hand that smooths their pillow is pure, nor the dying care if the
lips that touch their brow have known the kiss of sin. It was you
I thought of all the time; I gave to them the love you did not
need: lavished on them a love that was not theirs . . . And you
thought I spent too much of my time in going to Church, and in
Church duties. But where else could I turn? God's house is the
only house where sinners are made welcome, and you were always in
my heart, Gerald, too much in my heart. For, though day after day,
at morn or evensong, I have knelt in God's house, I have never
repented of my sin. How could I repent of my sin when you, my
love, were its fruit! Even now that you are bitter to me I cannot
repent. I do not. You are more to me than innocence. I would
rather be your mother - oh! much rather! - than have been always
pure . . . Oh, don't you see? don't you understand? It is my
dishonour that has made you so dear to me. It is my disgrace that
has bound you so closely to me. It is the price I paid for you -
the price of soul and body - that makes me love you as I do. Oh,
don't ask me to do this horrible thing. Child of my shame, be
still the child of my shame!
GERALD. Mother, I didn't know you loved me so much as that. And I
will be a better son to you than I have been. And you and I must
never leave each other . . . but, mother . . . I can't help it . .
. you must become my father's wife. You must marry him. It is
HESTER. [Running forwards and embracing MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] No, no;
you shall not. That would be real dishonour, the first you have
ever known. That would be real disgrace: the first to touch you.
Leave him and come with me. There are other countries than England
. . . Oh! other countries over sea, better, wiser, and less unjust
lands. The world is very wide and very big.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. No, not for me. For me the world is shrivelled to
a palm's breadth, and where I walk there are thorns.
HESTER. It shall not be so. We shall somewhere find green valleys
and fresh waters, and if we weep, well, we shall weep together.
Have we not both loved him?
HESTER. [Waving him back.] Don't, don't! You cannot love me at
all, unless you love her also. You cannot honour me, unless she's
holier to you. In her all womanhood is martyred. Not she alone,
but all of us are stricken in her house.
GERALD. Hester, Hester, what shall I do?
HESTER. Do you respect the man who is your father?
GERALD. Respect him? I despise him! He is infamous.
HESTER. I thank you for saving me from him last night.
GERALD. Ah, that is nothing. I would die to save you. But you
don't tell me what to do now!
HESTER. Have I not thanked you for saving ME?
GERALD. But what should I do?
HESTER. Ask your own heart, not mine. I never had a mother to
save, or shame.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He is hard - he is hard. Let me go away.
GERALD. [Rushes over and kneels down bedside his mother.] Mother,
forgive me: I have been to blame.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Don't kiss my hands: they are cold. My heart is
cold: something has broken it.
HESTER, Ah, don't say that. Hearts live by being wounded.
Pleasure may turn a heart to stone, riches may make it callous, but
sorrow - oh, sorrow cannot break it. Besides, what sorrows have
you now? Why, at this moment you are more dear to him than ever,
DEAR though you have BEEN, and oh! how dear you HAVE been always.
Ah! be kind to him.
GERALD. You are my mother and my father all in one. I need no
second parent. It was for you I spoke, for you alone. Oh, say
something, mother. Have I but found one love to lose another?
Don't tell me that. O mother, you are cruel. [Gets up and flings
himself sobbing on a sofa.]
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [To HESTER.] But has he found indeed another
HESTER. You know I have loved him always.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. But we are very poor.
HESTER. Who, being loved, is poor? Oh, no one. I hate my riches.
They are a burden. Let him share it with me.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. But we are disgraced. We rank among the outcasts
Gerald is nameless. The sins of the parents should be visited on
the children. It is God's law.
HESTER. I was wrong. God's law is only Love.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [Rises, and taking HESTER by the hand, goes slowly
over to where GERALD is lying on the sofa with his head buried in
his hands. She touches him and he looks up.] Gerald, I cannot
give you a father, but I have brought you a wife.
GERALD. Mother, I am not worthy either of her or you.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. So she comes first, you are worthy. And when you
are away, Gerald . . . with . . . her - oh, think of me sometimes.
Don't forget me. And when you pray, pray for me. We should pray
when we are happiest, and you will be happy, Gerald.
HESTER. Oh, you don't think of leaving us?
GERALD. Mother, you won't leave us?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I might bring shame upon you!
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. For a little then: and if you let me, near you
HESTER. [To MRS. ARBUTHNOT.] Come out with us to the garden.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Later on, later on. [Exeunt HESTER and GERALD.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT goes towards door L.C. Stops at looking-glass over
mantelpiece and looks into it. Enter ALICE R.C.]
ALICE. A gentleman to see you, ma'am.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Say I am not at home. Show me the card. [Takes
card from salver and looks at it.] Say I will not see him.
[LORD ILLINGWORTH enters. MRS. ARBUTHNOT sees him in the glass and
starts, but does not turn round. Exit ALICE.] What can you have
to say to me to-day, George Harford? You can have nothing to say
to me. You must leave this house.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Rachel, Gerald knows everything about you and me
now, so some arrangement must be come to that will suit us all
three. I assure you, he will find in me the most charming and
generous of fathers.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. My son may come in at any moment. I saved you
last night. I may not be able to save you again. My son feels my
dishonour strongly, terribly strongly. I beg you to go.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. [Sitting down.] Last night was excessively
unfortunate. That silly Puritan girl making a scene merely because
I wanted to kiss her. What harm is there in a kiss?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [Turning round.] A kiss may ruin a human life,
George Harford. I know that. I know that too well.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. We won't discuss that at present. What is of
importance to-day, as yesterday, is still our son. I am extremely
fond of him, as you know, and odd though it may seem to you, I
admired his conduct last night immensely. He took up the cudgels
for that pretty prude with wonderful promptitude. He is just what
I should have liked a son of mine to be. Except that no son of
mine should ever take the side of the Puritans: that is always an
error. Now, what I propose is this.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Lord Illingworth, no proposition of yours
LORD ILLINGWORTH. According to our ridiculous English laws, I
can't legitimise Gerald. But I can leave him my property.
Illingworth is entailed, of course, but it is a tedious barrack of
a place. He can have Ashby, which is much prettier, Harborough,
which has the best shooting in the north of England, and the house
in St. James Square. What more can a gentleman require in this
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Nothing more, I am quite sure.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. As for a title, a title is really rather a
nuisance in these democratic days. As George Harford I had
everything I wanted. Now I have merely everything that other
people want, which isn't nearly so pleasant. Well, my proposal is
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I told you I was not interested, and I beg you to
LORD ILLINGWORTH. The boy is to be with you for six months in the
year, and with me for the other six. That is perfectly fair, is it
not? You can have whatever allowance you like, and live where you
choose. As for your past, no one knows anything about it except
myself and Gerald. There is the Puritan, of course, the Puritan in
white muslin, but she doesn't count. She couldn't tell the story
without explaining that she objected to being kissed, could she?
And all the women would think her a fool and the men think her a
bore. And you need not be afraid that Gerald won't be my heir. I
needn't tell you I have not the slightest intention of marrying.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. You come too late. My son has no need of you.
You are not necessary.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. What do you mean, Rachel?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. That you are not necessary to Gerald's career. He
does not require you.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I do not understand you.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Look into the garden. [LORD ILLINGWORTH rises and
goes towards window.] You had better not let them see you: you
bring unpleasant memories. [LORD ILLINGWORTH looks out and
starts.] She loves him. They love each other. We are safe from
you, and we are going away.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Where?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. We will not tell you, and if you find us we will
not know you. You seem surprised. What welcome would you get from
the girl whose lips you tried to soil, from the boy whose life you
have shamed, from the mother whose dishonour comes from you?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. You have grown hard, Rachel.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I was too weak once. It is well for me that I
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I was very young at the time. We men know life
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. And we women know life too late. That is the
difference between men and women. [A pause.]
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Rachel, I want my son. My money may be of no
use to him now. I may be of no use to him, but I want my son.
Bring us together, Rachel. You can do it if you choose. [Sees
letter on table.]
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. There is no room in my boy's life for you. He is
not interested in YOU.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Then why does he write to me?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. What do you mean?
LORD ILLINGWORTH. What letter is this? [Takes up letter.]
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. That - is nothing. Give it to me.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is addressed to ME.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. You are not to open it. I forbid you to open it.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. And in Gerald's handwriting.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It was not to have been sent. It is a letter he
wrote to you this morning, before he saw me. But he is sorry now
he wrote it, very sorry. You are not to open it. Give it to me.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It belongs to me. [Opens it, sits down and
reads it slowly. MRS. ARBUTHNOT watches him all the time.] You
have read this letter, I suppose, Rachel?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. No.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. You know what is in it?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Yes!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I don't admit for a moment that the boy is right
in what he says. I don't admit that it is any duty of mine to
marry you. I deny it entirely. But to get my son back I am ready
- yes, I am ready to marry you, Rachel - and to treat you always
with the deference and respect due to my wife. I will marry you as
soon as you choose. I give you my word of honour.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. You made that promise to me once before and broke
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I will keep it now. And that will show you that
I love my son, at least as much as you love him. For when I marry
you, Rachel, there are some ambitions I shall have to surrender.
High ambitions, too, if any ambition is high.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I decline to marry you, Lord Illingworth.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Are you serious?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Yes.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Do tell me your reasons. They would interest me
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. I have already explained them to my son.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I suppose they were intensely sentimental,
weren't they? You women live by your emotions and for them. You
have no philosophy of life.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. You are right. We women live by our emotions and
for them. By our passions, and for them, if you will. I have two
passions, Lord Illingworth: my love of him, my hate of you. You
cannot kill those. They feed each other.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. What sort of love is that which needs to have
hate as its brother?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It is the sort of love I have for Gerald. Do you
think that terrible? Well it is terrible. All love is terrible.
All love is a tragedy. I loved you once, Lord Illingworth. Oh,
what a tragedy for a woman to have loved you!
LORD ILLINGWORTH. So you really refuse to marry me?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Yes.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. Because you hate me?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Yes.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. And does my son hate me as you do?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. No.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. I am glad of that, Rachel.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. He merely despises you.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. What a pity! What a pity for him, I mean.
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Don't be deceived, George. Children begin by
loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely if
ever do they forgive them.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. [Reads letter over again, very slowly.] May I
ask by what arguments you made the boy who wrote this letter, this
beautiful, passionate letter, believe that you should not marry his
father, the father of your own child?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. It was not I who made him see it. It was another.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. What FIN-DE-SIECLE person?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. The Puritan, Lord Illingworth. [A pause.]
LORD ILLINGWORTH. [Winces, then rises slowly and goes over to
table where his hat and gloves are. MRS. ARBUTHNOT is standing
close to the table. He picks up one of the gloves, and begins
pulling it on.] There is not much then for me to do here, Rachel?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. Nothing.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. It is good-bye, is it?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. For ever, I hope, this time, Lord Illingworth.
LORD ILLINGWORTH. How curious! At this moment you look exactly as
you looked the night you left me twenty years ago. You have just
the same expression in your mouth. Upon my word, Rachel, no woman
ever loved me as you did. Why, you gave yourself to me like a
flower, to do anything I liked with. You were the prettiest of
playthings, the most fascinating of small romances . . . [Pulls out
watch.] Quarter to two! Must be strolling back to Hunstanton.
Don't suppose I shall see you there again. I'm sorry, I am,
really. It's been an amusing experience to have met amongst people
of one's own rank, and treated quite seriously too, one's mistress,
and one's -
[MRS. ARBUTHNOT snatches up glove and strikes LORD ILLINGWORTH
across the face with it. LORD ILLINGWORTH starts. He is dazed by
the insult of his punishment. Then he controls himself, and goes
to window and looks out at his son. Sighs and leaves the room.]
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [Falls sobbing on the sofa.] He would have said
it. He would have said it.
[Enter GERALD and HESTER from the garden.]
GERALD. Well, dear mother. You never came out after all. So we
have come in to fetch you. Mother, you have not been crying?
[Kneels down beside her.]
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. My boy! My boy! My boy! [Running her fingers
through his hair.]
HESTER. [Coming over.] But you have two children now. You'll let
me be your daughter?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [Looking up.] Would you choose me for a mother?
HESTER. You of all women I have ever known.
[They move towards the door leading into garden with their arms
round each other's waists. GERALD goes to table L.C. for his hat.
On turning round he sees LORD ILLINGWORTH'S glove lying on the
floor, and picks it up.]
GERALD. Hallo, mother, whose glove is this? You have had a
visitor. Who was it?
MRS. ARBUTHNOT. [Turning round.] Oh! no one. No one in
particular. A man of no importance.