Wilde’s audacious drama of social scandal centres around the revelation of Mrs Arbuthnot’s long-concealed secret. A house party is in full swing at Lady Hunstanton’s country home, when it is announced that Gerald Arbuthnot has been appointed secretary to the sophisticated, witty Lord Illingworth. Gerald’s mother stands in the way of his appointment, but fears to tell him why, for who will believe Lord Illingworth to be a man of no importance?
89 pages, with a reading time of ~2.75 hours (22,331 words), and first published in 1893. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2019.
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[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?