Show Type
  • : 1
  • : 1
Age Ranges
  • Adult
England, 1890s
Act 2

Scene Context

Lord Illingworth and Mrs. Arbuthnot have not seen each other for many years. He has just find out

Scene Text

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.