An Ideal Husband

Oscar Wilde

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

LORD GORING: You see, Phipps, fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear.

PHIPPS: Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING: Just as vulgarity is simply the conduct of other people.

PHIPPS: Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING: And falsehoods the truths of other people.

PHIPPS: Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING: Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself.

PHIPPS: Yes, my lord.

LORD GORING: To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance, Phipps.

One should pause on this apparently frivolous comic interlude at the beginning of Act III as it provides a short manifesto for the dandy-philosopher (even as on principle a dandy never makes his ideas manifest). More precisely, this scene brilliantly dramatizes the dandy's narcissism. It is structured as an exchange between Goring and his butler, in which the former delivers a series of scandalous epigrams while the latter concurs impassively. Spoken by a man in the throes of a lifelong romance with himself, Goring's epigrams convey his egocentrism, reducing the oppositions at hand (fashionable/unfashionable, refined/vulgar, true/false) to one between "other people" and "oneself." Thus the vulgar what others do, the unfashionable what others wear, and the false what others hold true. This exchange artfully reinforces Goring's narcissism with an interlocutor who indifferently responds in the affirmative. Thus the butler serves as a sort of mirror to Goring's Narcissus; as it is certain that his interlocutor will agree with him, Goring is even more "talking to himself" than if in soliloquy.

Goring's narcissism is significant in terms of the mores of his age. As discussed in the Context, the dandy stood in rebellion to the values of the Victorian era, an era defined by a devotion to family life, public and private responsibility, and obedience to law. Dandyism dispensed with these somber duties in the name of individual freedom and a self-centered concern with the frivolous (fashion, style, and so on).