A Woman of No Importance
Part 2 out of 2
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.
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