Lady Windermere’s Fan is an intelligent drama that bites hard in its commentary. In many ways, the themes of hypocrisy, scandal and gossip are still relevant today depending on one’s social circle.
Oscar Wilde was a writer in Victorian Era England who was as well-known as a personality as he was as a playwright. He was known for his scathing wit and flamboyant mannerisms and appears to have been some sort of precursor to the modern celebrity. Later in his career he was publicly disgraced when his brashness got him into an ugly court case with the Marquess of Queensberry and his double life as a homosexual was revealed. With homosexuality being illegal at the time, Wilde was sent to prison where his health deteriorated and he died shortly after his release, ending his writing career prematurely. Nevertheless, his plays and novel remain popular to this day and he’s considered to be among the greatest writers of his era. Lady Windermere’s Fan is one of his earlier plays and is one of the four that appears in the Collins Classic collection.
Lady Windermere’s Fan explores many of the themes that Wilde has since became famous for. On the afternoon before Lady Margaret Windermere’s birthday party, she’s told some gossip by a friend that leads her to believe that her husband may be cheating on her with a Mrs Erlynne, a woman trying to get back into society’s good graces. When her husband later insists that she invite Mrs Erlynne to her party this appears to confirm Margaret’s suspicions. She becomes conflicted, torn between not wanting to believe that her husband would be unfaithful and having to confront a woman who her husband may be cheating on her with.
As you might imagine, Lady Windermere’s Fan isn’t as funny as some of Wilde’s other works. Instead it’s a story of personal drama that hits hard and direct at the hypocrisies of Victorian society. Lady Windermere herself is good-natured and innocent but the men and women that surround her are vain and dislikeable. They slander Mrs Erlynne behind her back despite knowing so little about her but then ooze flattery when they meet her face to face. There’s also much reflection on Victorian marriages and how it was almost considered acceptable for husbands to be unfaithful to their wives as long as they kept it from becoming a public scandal. In Oscar Wilde’s view: gossip and backbiting were the primary entertainments of these people and his play is not above criticizing and mocking these people in severe fashion.
Thankfully the play is not all doom and gloom. It’s got plenty of Wilde’s famous charm and Act Three in particular contains many of Wilde’s most well-known quotes. It also becomes quite emotional near the end as it wraps up the story and it manages to finish with an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Lady Windermere herself also serves as a likeable foil to the sleazeballs that surround her.
To conclude, Lady Windermere’s Fan is an intelligent drama that bites hard in its commentary. In many ways, the themes of hypocrisy, scandal and gossip are still relevant today depending on one’s social circle.
See you next week.