In Oscar Wilde’s play An Ideal Husband, the witty and ruthless Mrs Cheveley blackmails Sir Robert Chiltern, a promising politician with a secret that could ruin his career and his marriage. In the summer of 1893, Wilde rented a house with his lover Lord Alfred Douglas at Goring-on-Thames. Wilde named the character of Lord Goring after Goring-on-Thames, where he began writing An Ideal Husband. He finished writing the four-act play at St James’ Place in London. A note in Wilde’s own hand at the beginning of this manuscript states: ‘copy to be sent to 10. St James’ Place by Saturday’, showing that this version was probably sent to the typist before it was returned to his home address with the typescript copy. Wilde developed his characters and perfected the plot and dialogue over several drafts. An earlier draft is held at UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library.

What are the differences between this draft and the finished play?

This manuscript draft differs from the play that was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre in London on 3 January 1895 and from the version published in 1899. We can see that Wilde composed the dialogue first because there are very few stage directions in this draft. The plot and all of the main characters are in place, but Miss Mabel Chiltern, Sir Robert Chiltern’s sister, is called Violet Chiltern in this version. Wilde edited his own handwritten draft in pencil and he used the left-hand pages of the notebook to write lengthier additions and revisions.