Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde

Part 1 out of 2

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde
Scanned and proofed by David Price
ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

A Woman of No Importance

THE PERSONS OF THE PLAY

Lord Illingworth
Sir John Pontefract
Lord Alfred Rufford
Mr. Kelvil, M.P.
The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny, D.D.
Gerald Arbuthnot
Farquhar, Butler
Francis, Footman
Lady Hunstanton
Lady Caroline Pontefract
Lady Stutfield
Mrs. Allonby
Miss Hester Worsley
Alice, Maid
Mrs. Arbuthnot

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

FIRST ACT

SCENE

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
suitable person.

HESTER. I dislike Mrs. Allonby. I dislike her more than I can
say.

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
thing.

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
cushion.]

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.
[Writes letter.]

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
Worsley.

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
now.

HESTER. Nothing should be out of the reach of hope. Life is a
hope.

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
wife.

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.

[Exit Footman.]

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
of that.

[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
more sheltered.

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,
Mr. Kelvil?

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
ethical standard.

LADY STUTFIELD. How quite, quite nice of them.

LADY CAROLINE. Are you in favour of women taking part in politics,
Mr. Kettle?

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
that.

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
he should.

[Enter LORD ILLINGWORTH.]

LADY STUTFIELD. The world says that Lord Illingworth is very, very
wicked.

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
Illingworth?

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
something.

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,
Mr. Kelvil.

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
at all.

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
uneatable.

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
drum.

LADY HUNSTANTON. What are you saying, Lord Illingworth, about the
drum?

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
newspapers?

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
sometimes.

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
STUTFIELD.]

LADY CAROLINE. You believe good of every one, Jane. It is a great
fault.

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
life.

LADY CAROLINE. Lord Illingworth remarked to me last night at
dinner that the basis of every scandal is an absolutely immoral
certainty.

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.]

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?

KELVIL. Yes.

LADY CAROLINE. How many?

KELVIL. Eight.

[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
Caroline.

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
debt.

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?

[Enter Footman.]

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
to tea?

LADY STUTFIELD. With pleasure, Lady Hunstanton. [They rise and
proceed to go off. SIR JOHN offers to carry LADY STUTFIELD'S
cloak.]

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-
party?

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
anything.

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
I try?

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
of triumph.

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
qualities.

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
life's tragedy.

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.

[Enter Footman.]

FRANCIS. Tea is served in the Yellow Drawing-room, my lord.

LORD ILLINGWORTH. Tell her ladyship we are coming in.

FRANCIS. Yes, my lord.

[Exit.]

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
your foil.

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
ago.

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.]

ACT DROP.

SECOND ACT

SCENE

Drawing-room at Hunstanton, after dinner, lamps lit. Door L.C.
Door R.C.

[Ladies seated on sofas.]

MRS. ALLONBY. What a comfort it is to have got rid of the men for
a little!

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
all.

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
daughters

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
repeating it.

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
absolutely uninteresting.

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
told.

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
rational being?

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
first.

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
variations.

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
they not?

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
me.

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
know, dear.

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
no curiosities.

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.

[Enter Footman.]

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
own relations.

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
fault.

MRS. ALLONBY. What a bore it is the men staying so long after
dinner! I expect they are saying the most dreadful things about
us.

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
the terrace?

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
succeeded?

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
newspapers.

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
title.

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?

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.
Arbuthnot.

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.
ARBUTHNOT.]

[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
left.

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
about?

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
tragedy.

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
towards GERALD.]

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.

GERALD. Mother!

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.
ARBUTHNOT.]

MRS. ALLONBY. I thought you were never going to leave the lady in
black velvet.

LORD ILLINGWORTH. She is excessively handsome. [Looks at MRS.
ARBUTHNOT.]

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
music-room.]

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
Arbuthnot, Rachel?

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
father's garden.

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
him up.

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
himself.

[Enter GERALD.]

GERALD. Well, dear mother, I hope you have settled it all with
Lord Illingworth?

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
secretary.

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.

GERALD. Mother?

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
to hear.

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.]

ACT DROP

THIRD ACT

SCENE

The Picture Gallery at Hunstanton. Door at back leading on to
terrace.

[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
clothes.

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
social tact.

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

Book of the day: