What we can do for another is the test of powers, what we can suffer for another is the test of love."
This I believe is the underlying theme, the thesis, if you will, that lingers in the mind long after reading Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband and Robert Lewis Stevenson's The Beach of Falesa. They are literary masterpieces that play on human emotions, that build on human relationships, that pull at the heartstrings of the reader, urging him to believe that in this day and age of greed, immorality and social hypocrisy, unselfish love and true devotion can still reign supreme negating the ill effects of evil.
Wilde's ideal husband, Lord Chiltren has been fashioned by a woman's love- Lady Chiltren's faith, trust and devotion for her husband, Lord Chiltren. He was her creation, from their first meeting, and throughout the early years of their marriage when he was still building a career and up to the later stages of his profession when he had already carved a career for himself. It was her love which built an image of an ideal man in her husband. For her, he was a man who could do no wrong. He was a man to be adored, to be loved. When she found out about his indiscretion committed in the early years of his career, she was devastated and she had to run for help to their dear friend, Lord Goring.
The supreme test of her love was when the crisis had been passed, when Lord Goring had destroyed the evidence that would damn Lord Chiltren and when the invitation came for him to be a member of the Cabinet, she tore to pieces Lord Chiltren's letter declining the invitation to fill the position that was being offered to him. She proved how she loved him by giving him the opportunity to advance in politics even though she would prefer a quiet life with him away from the public eye.
At this point we focus on another character, Lord Goring who is the instrument used to defeat Mrs. Cheveley, the villainess in the play. What Lord Goring did for Lord Children is the test of his powers. He did what he had to do, demand from Mrs. Cheveley the letter of Lord Chiltren and burn it to save his friend from political destruction. This is proof of his great friendship for Lord Chiltren. Lord Goring passes the test of the powers he possessed by saving his friend. In so doing, he also proved that he would sacrifice much to show his love for a friend.
At best Lord Goring is an intriguing personality. To his father he was a wastrel. He managed to hide his true good self behind the facade of a ne'er-do-well. And yet he was the person entirely lovable to Mabel Chiltren. He was a man whose friendship was priceless to Lord and Lady Chiltren. He hid his true personality under a veneer of uncaring coldness and indifference.
Lady Chiltren and Lord Goring are the perfect foil or the antithesis to Mrs. Cheveley, who is the personification of the antagonist, the villainess, the evil in the play.
Lord Chiltren is another character who in his own quiet way, was willing to sacrifice everything for the love of his wife. He had built for himself a career in public life - he had carved out a name for himself in politics. He was on his way to greater heights in the political arena but for love of his wife he was willing to turn his back to fame, fortune and success because he wanted to please his wife whom he loved above all else. Wasn't this sacrifice a test of true love?
Still when the damning evidence against him was destroyed, he asked his wife:
suppose I should retire from public life?" When his wife says yes, he should retire. He says, "It is too much to surrender. He walks up and down the room with a troubled expression. 'And your ambition for me? You used to be ambitious for me." (Wilde, Oscar. An Ideal Husband, Act II. Nov. 28, 2002. http:/www.classicreader.com/booktoc.php/sid7/bookid.97).The reader realizes that deep within Lord Chiltren, he still wanted to continue his public life and achieve his ambition in life.
In the early years of his career he had succumbed to temptation and sold for money, a confidential government secret. What would prevent him from succumbing again to temptation in the future? In the end, there is a lingering doubt in the mind of the reader. Would Lord Chiltren manage to remain true to his principles, to his ideals, to the real values of transparency, of decency and a true sense of commitment to what is good for the country and its people?
Lord Chiltren's personality is met as strong as that of his wife nor even that of Lord Goring. He is the character who will easily fall into to temptation. Of the three, Lady Chiltren is the strongest - she was strong in her love. When she tore the letter written by Lord Chiltren refusing the position in the cabinet, she rose highest in the esteem of the readers. This is the supreme test of sacrifice - of love for her husband. She is the heroine of the play. Yet while she was sacrificing so much, did she feel completely happy in her providing her husband, Lord Chiltren the opportunity to move on in his political career? Would she have torn to pieces Lord Chiltren's letter refusing to accept the new promotion being offered him if Lord Goring had not spoken and advised her?
Lord Goring - take my advice Lady Chiltren, and do not accept a sacrifice so great. If you do, you will repent it bitterly. We men and women are not made to accept such sacrifice from each other. We are not worthy of them..." (Wilde, An Ideal Husband, Act IV. Nov. 28, 2002. http:/www.classicreader.com/booktoc.php/sid7/bookid.97).
The influence of Lord Goring apparently is very strong on both Lord and Lady Chiltren. It is to Lord Goring's credit that he is honest in his desire to help Lord and Lady Chiltren. Lord Goring in spite of the false front he presents to his father is even stronger than Lord Chiltren. He had long realized what a cheap woman, entirely without principles was Mrs. Cheveley whom he once loved. He was a very perceptive man and he realized that it is only Mabel Chiltren whom he could truly love. Mrs. Chevely was a woman whom he could only despise and he made her do the right thing by giving up the letter damning Lord Chiltren. It was an admirable act and Lord Goring was a true friend. He used his power to save Lord Chiltren.
Mr. Wiltshire of Robert Lewis Stevenson's The Beach of Falesa was a true hero. If one wants proof of what a person can do for love, Mr. Wiltshire is an answer. He exudes an aura of strength of character, it is impossible not to admire him. Mr. Wiltshire is the male counterpart of Lady Chiltren. He fell in love with the native, the ignorant Uma and was willing to sacrifice for her as long as she consented to be his wife and companion in that god-forsaken place in the Pacific. He stood by Uma, defended and protected her against Mr. Case. That scene when Mr. Case almost killed both Mr. Wiltshire and Uma is beautifully, graphically described: blood flowing from wounds inflicted on him and his wife but he managed to dress her wounds and hold on until the natives and help could come.
Mr. Wiltshire had completely immersed himself in his wife's primitive, underdeveloped and uncivilized hole in an unexplored jungle, trying to eke out an existence for himself and his wife. He is to be admired. He killed Mr. Case who was suspected of having poisoned and killed men in various ways and who had caused trouble to a lot of people. This is one form of vindication for the poor ignorant natives who couldn't help themselves.
In the process of killing Mr. Case, Mr. Wiltshire almost got himself and his wife killed. How does Lord Chiltren compare with Mr. Wiltshire? There is no point of comparison. Lord Chiltren was weak where Mr. Wiltshire was strong.
How does Mr. Wiltshire compare with Mr. Goring? They do compare favorably. Both are strong characters. They changed for good the characters who came within their sphere of influence: Lord and Lady Chiltren, Mabel in a way. Lord Wiltshire influenced Uma in a way that she almost seemed civilized in her behavior towards her husband and towards her fellow natives. According to Mr. Wiltshire, she was extra generous in helping her fellow Kanakas. Lord Wiltshire was able to befriend the natives and win their confidence.
In the end Mr. Wiltshire, after spending so many years on Falesa beach and its environs came to feel that it was a place where…