An Ideal Husband: Character Profiles
Baron Arnheim is the man who seduced the young Robert Chiltern to sell a Cabinet secret for money so he could buy up shares in the Suez Canal before it was announced. Baron Arnheim then told Mrs. Cheveley about the scandal, ennabling her to blackmail Sir Robert nineteen years later.
Countess of Basildon
Lady Basildon is a pretty society woman and friend of the Chilterns who is at their dinner party in the beginning of the play. She gossips with Mrs. Marchmont about London society.
The Earl of Caversham
The Earl of Caversham is Lord Goring’s seventy-year-old father, always scolding his son for being a young and irresponsible society dandy. He wants Arthur to marry and settle down and is delighted when he chooses Mabel Chiltern.
Mrs. Cheveley is the main antagonist of the play, the former school friend of Lady Chiltern, who arrives from Vienna to blackmail Sir Robert Chiltern. She knows the secret of how he made his money when young by selling a state secret to Baron Arnheim. Baron Arnheim left his money and this secret to his lover, Mrs. Cheveley. She is a beautiful but ruthless and cynical woman, who thinks nothing of ruining other lives. She is stopped by Lord Goring who discovers that she stole a jewel and blamed it on a maid. Mrs. Cheveley is compared to a snake or a witch with her red hair and gaudy clothes.
Lady Gertrude Chiltern
Lady Gertrude Chiltern is the young and beautiful wife of Sir Robert Chiltern. She is half his age but severe in her idealism and moral judgment. She puts her husband on a pedestal and wants to worship him. She threatens to lose her love for him if she finds out he has made mistakes in the past. She drives her husband into a corner when Mrs. Cheveley threatens to reveal his secret, and she will not let him compromise to make a deal with her. Eventually, she has to learn to forgive and be reasonable to save her marriage.
Mabel Chiltern is the young and pretty sister of Sir Robert Chiltern. She is in love with Lord Goring and flirts with him until he proposes to her. She is witty and modern and a perfect partner for him, since they are both rebellious towards social expectations. Tommy Trafford, her brother’s secretary, regularly proposes to her, but she holds out for Lord Goring.
Sir Robert Chiltern, Baronet, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs
Sir Robert Chiltern is the protagonist of the play, a forty-year-old politician in the House of Commons, caught in a blackmail plot to ruin him. As a young man he was secretary to Lord Radley and sold information to Baron Arnheim allowing him to make a fortune on the Suez Canal. The Baron tempted him with a philosophy of power, and Sir Robert could not get into politics without money, so he took a bribe and got rich. Now he is quite famous and respectable, and when Mrs. Cheveley wants him to support the Argentine Canal scheme he is about to give in to her demand until his wife forces him to refuse her. He denounces the scheme thinking he will be exposed as a fraud, but he is saved by his friend, Lord Goring. Sir Robert is nervous and tense. He takes his career seriously as a liberal politician bent on reform. He is practical, however, and believes there is nothing morally wrong with making deals to get power. He is in love with his wife and afraid of losing her love and regard over his secret past.
Lord Goring, Sir Robert’s friend Arthur, is a thirty-four-year-old society bachelor who is idle and enjoys his full-time social life. He was once engaged to Mrs. Cheveley and though she tries to blackmail him into marrying her to save Sir Robert, he counter blackmails her by threatening to have her arrested for the theft of the diamond brooch she wears. Arthur is a good friend of the Chilterns and gives wise advice to them in their crisis. Though he seems an idle fool, he is balanced and practical, knowing how to negotiate with the world on its own terms. He proposes to Mabel Chiltern because they are alike in their iconoclastic views and sense of humor. They do not take life too seriously, yet he is the one who preaches love, forgiveness, and tolerance.
Harold is a footman for Lord Goring.
James is a footman for the Chilterns.
Mrs. Marchmont is a pretty society guest of the Chilterns who has an affected manner, gossiping and acting bored.
Lady Markby is the comic relief, saying trivial platitudes about society and about her husband’s career in the House of Commons. She betrays her ignorance and class prejudice every time she opens her mouth.
Mason is the butler for the Chilterns, who announces the guests at the dinner party.
Vicomte de Nanjac, AttachÈ to the French Embassy in London
The Vicomte de Nanjac is a young attachÈ known for his neckties and Anglomania. He flirts with all the women, including Mrs. Cheveley, at the Chiltern dinner party.
Mr. Montford is a guest at the Chiltern dinner, who takes Mrs. Marchmont in to dinner. She complains he only speaks of his wife.