MRS ALLONBY: Well, I will tell you, if you solemnly promise to tell
LADY STUTFIELD: Thank you, thank you. I will make a point of
MRS ALLONBY: When Ernest and I were engaged, he swore to me
positively on his knees that he had never loved anyone before in the whole
course of his life. I was very young at the time, so I didn’t believe him, I
needn’t tell you. Unfortunately, however, I made no inquiries of any kind
till after I had been actually married four or five months. I found out then
that what he had told me was perfectly true. And that sort of thing makes a
man so absolutely uninteresting.
LADY HUNSTANTON: My dear!
MRS ALLONBY: Men always want to be a woman’s first love. That is
their clumsy vanity. We women have a more subtle instinct about things.
What we like is to be a man’s last romance.
LADY STUTFIELD: I see what you mean. It’s very, very beautiful.
LADY HUNSTANTON: My dear child, you don’t mean to tell me that you
won’t forgive your husband because he never loved anyone else? Did you
ever hear such a thing, Caroline? I am quite surprised.
LADY CAROLINE: Oh, women have become so highly educated, Jane,
that nothing should surprise us nowadays, except happy marriages. They
apparently are getting remarkably rare.
MRS ALLONBY: Oh, they’re quite out of date.
LADY STUTFIELD: Except amongst the middle classes, I have been told.
MRS ALLONBY: How like the middle classes!
LADY STUTFIELD: Yes – is it not? – very, very like them.
LADY CAROLINE: If what you tell us about the middle classes is true,
Lady Stutfield, it redounds greatly to their credit. It is much to be regretted
that in our rank of life the wife should be so persistently frivolous, under
the impression apparently that it is the proper thing to be. It is to that I
attribute the unhappiness of so many marriages we all know of in society.
MRS ALLONBY: Do you know, Lady Caroline, I don’t think the frivolity
of the wife has ever anything to do with it. More marriages are ruined
nowadays by the common sense of the husband than by anything else.
How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on
treating her as if she were a perfectly rational being?
LADY HUNSTANTON: My dear!
MRS ALLONBY: Man, poor, awkward, reliable, necessary man belongs to
a sex that has been rational for million and millions of years. He can’t help
himself. It is in his race. The History of Woman is very different. We
have always been picturesque protests against the mere existence of
common sense. We saw its dangers from the first.
LADY STUTFIELD: Yes, the common sense of husbands is certainly
most, most trying. Do tell me your conception of the Ideal Husband. I
think it would be so very, very helpful.
MRS ALLONBY: The Ideal Husband? There couldn’t be such a thing.
The institution is wrong.
LADY STUTFIELD: The Ideal Man, then, in his relation to
LADY CAROLINE: He would probably be extremely realistic.
MRS ALLONBY: The Ideal Man! Oh, the Ideal Man should talk to us as
if we were goddesses, and treat us as if we were children. He should refuse
all our serious requests, and gratify every one of our whims. He should
encourage us to have caprices, and forbid us to have missions. He should
always say much more than he means, and always mean much more than
LADY HUNSTANTON: But how could he do both, dear?
MRS ALLONBY: He should never run down other pretty women. That
would show he had no taste, or make one suspect that he had too much.
No; he should be nice about them all, but say that somehow they don’t
LADY STUTFIELD: Yes, that is always very, very pleasant to hear about
MRS ALLONBY: If we ask him a question about anything, he should give
us an answer all about ourselves. He should invariably praise us for
whatever qualities he knows we haven’t got. But he should be pitiless,
quite pitiless, in reproaching us for the virtues that we have never dreamed
of possessing. He should never believe that we know the use of useful
things. That would be unforgivable. But he should shower on us
everything we don’t want.
LADY CAROLINE: As far as I can see, he is to do nothing but pay bills
MRS ALLONBY: He should persistently compromise us in public, and
treat us with absolute respect when we are alone. And yet he should be
always ready to have a perfectly terrible scene, whenever we want one, and
to become miserable, absolutely miserable, at a moment’s notice, and to
overwhelm us with just reproaches in less than twenty minutes, and to be
positively violent at the end of half an hour, and to leave us for ever at a
quarter to eight, when we have to go and dress for dinner. And when, after
that, one has seen him for really the last time, and he has refused to take
back the little things he has given one, and promised never to communicate
with one again, or to write one any foolish letters, he should be perfectly
broken-hearted, and telegraph to one all day long, and send one little notes
every half-hour by private hansom, and dine quite alone at the club, so that
every one should know how unhappy he was. And after a whole dreadful
week, during which one has gone about everywhere with one’s husband,
just to show how absolutely lonely one was, he may be given a third last
parting, in the evening, and then, if his conduct has been quite
irreproachable, and one has behaved really badly to him, he should be
allowed to admit that he has been entirely in the wrong, and when he has
admitted that, it becomes a woman’s duty to forgive, and one can do it all
over again from the beginning, with variations.
LADY HUNSTANTON: How clever you are, my dear! You never mean a
single word you say.
LADY STUTFIELD: Thank you, thank you. It has been quite, quite
entrancing. I must try and remember it all. There are such a number of
details that are so very, very important.
LADY CAROLINE: But you have not told us yet what the reward of the
Ideal Man is to be.
MRS ALLONBY: His reward? Oh, infinite expectation. That is quite
enough for him.
LADY STUTFIELD: But men are so terribly, terribly, exacting, are they
MRS ALLONBY: That makes no matter. One should never surrender.
LADY STUTFIELD: Not even to the Ideal Man?
MRS ALLONBY: Certainly not to him. Unless, of course, one wants to
grow tired of him.
LADY STUTFIELD: Oh! . . . yes. I see that. It is very, very helpful. Do
you think, Mrs Allonby, I shall ever meet the Ideal Man? Or are there
more than one?
MRS ALLONBY: There are just four in London, Lady Stutfield.
LADY HUNSTANTON: Oh, my dear!
MRS ALLONBY [going over to her]: What has happened? Do tell me.
LADY HUNSTANTON [in a low voice]: I had completely forgotten that
the American young lady has been in the room all the time. I am afraid
some of this clever talk may have shocked her a little.
MRS ALLONBY: Ah, that will do her so much good!
LADY HUNSTANTON: Let us hope she didn’t understand much. I think I
had better go over and talk to her. [Rises and goes across to Hester
Worsley] Well, dear Miss Worsley. [Sitting down beside her] How quiet
you have been in your nice little corner all this time! I suppose you have
been reading a book? There are so many books here in the library.
HESTER: No, I have been listening to the conversation.
LADY HUNSTANTON: You mustn’t believe everything that was said,
you know, dear.
HESTER: I didn’t believe any of it.
LADY HUNSTANTON: That is quite right, dear.
HESTER [continuing]: I couldn’t believe that any women could really hold
such views of life as I have heard tonight from some of your guests.
[An awkward pause]
LADY HUNSTANTON: I hear you have such pleasant society in America.
Quite like our own in places, my son wrote to me.
HESTER: There are cliques in America as elsewhere, Lady Hunstanton.
But true American society consists simply of all the good women and good
men we have in our country.
LADY HUNSTANTON: What a sensible system, and I dare say quite
pleasant too. I am afraid in England we have too many artificial social
barriers. We don’t see as much as we should of the middle and lower