Lord Illingworth....

A Woman of No Importance

Act 3


Show Type
  • : 0
  • : 2
Age Ranges
  • Adult
  • Young Adult
England, 1890s
Act 3

Scene Context

Gerald has just accepted a post to work with Lord Illingworth, but he is unaware that Lord

Scene Text

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 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 have?

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 there?

Lord Illingworth. Only two kinds in society: the plain and the coloured.

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!