"An Ideal Husband" is a novel by Oscar Wilde, an 1895 comedy play.
The play is set in London which revolves around blackmail and political corruption; it also touches on public and private honour; repentance and forgiveness. The time is the present, and takes place over the course of three days. Wilde notes that sooner or later, we shall have to pay for what we do. But adds that no one should be entirely judged by their past.
The play opens during a dinner party at the home of Sir Robert Chiltern in London's fashionable Grosvenor Square. Sir Robert, a prestigious member of the House of Commons, and his wife, Lady Chiltern, are hosting a gathering that includes his sister Mabel Chiltern, his friend Lord Goring, a dandified bachelor and close friend to the Chilterns, and other genteel guests. During the party, Mrs. Cheveley, an adversary of Lady Chiltern's from their school days, attempts to blackmail Sir Robert into supporting a fraudulent scheme to build a canal in Argentina. Apparently, Mrs. Cheveley's dead mentor and lover, Baron Arnheim, convinced the young Sir Robert many years ago to sell him a Cabinet secret, a secret that suggested he bought stocks in the Suez Canal three days before the British government announced its purchase. Sir Robert made his fortune with that illicit money. Unfortunately, the letter to prove the crime got into Mrs. Cheveley's hands. Fearing both the ruin of his career and marriage, Sir Robert submits to her demands.
When Mrs. Cheveley informs Lady Chiltern of Sir Robert's change of heart regarding the canal scheme, unaware of her husband's past and Mrs Cheveley's blackmail schemes, Lady Chiltern insists that Sir Robert renege on his promise. Lady Chiltern has absolutely no knowledge of Mrs. Cheveley's blackmail of Sir Robert and believes her husband as an "ideal husband", a model in both private and public life. Sir Robert complies with the lady's wishes and apparently seals his doom. Toward the end of Act I, Mabel and Lord Goring come upon a diamond brooch that Lord Goring gave someone many years ago.
The second act still takes place in Sir Robert's house. Lord Goring urges Sir Robert to fight Mrs. Cheveley and admit his guilt to his wife. He also reveals that he and Mrs. Cheveley were formerly engaged. Once Lord Goring leaves, Mrs. Cheveley unexpectedly appears. She's searching for a brooch she said she lost the previous evening. Furious at Sir Robert's reneging on his promise, she exposes Sir Robert's unfortunate "shady" dealings to his wife. Her "ideal husband" now revealed, Lady Chiltern denounces her husband and refuses to forgive him.
The third act is in Lord Goring's home. Goring receives a pink letter from Lady Chiltern asking for his help. Just as Goring receives it, his father, Lord Caversham, drops in and demands to know when his son will marry. Sir Robert visits Lord Goring to seek counsel. About this point, Mrs. Cheveley also arrives unexpectedly. To complicate matters, thinking that she's the woman that Lord Goring is waiting for, the butler ushers her in the drawing room. While she waits, she finds Lady Chiltern's letter. Sir Robert, discovering Mrs. Cheveley in the drawing room, thinks that the two former lovers are renewing their affairs. He angrily leaves Goring's house.
The final act finally resolves the many plot complications, with a decidedly happy ending. Lord Goring proposes to and is happily accepted by Mabel. Lord Caversham informs his son that Sir Robert has denounced the Argentine canal scheme before the House. Lady Chiltern eventually forgives Sir Robert, and the two reconcile. The ever-upright Lady Chiltern then attempts to drive Sir Robert to renounce his career in politics, but Lord Goring dissuades her from doing so. Sir Robert permits her sister, Mabel, to wed Lord Goring. Despite all the twists of blackmail and political corruption, the story has a happy ending.