Lady Windermere’s Fan is classified as a Comedy of Manners, and while there are certainly humorous elements present in the usual clever Wilde manner, I would contend that there is more of drama here than comedy. The story at the base of this play is quite serious. The subject of the ease with which a person (particularly a woman) could be ruined and expelled from society (something that Wilde, even as a man, knew something of) is a serious topic for Wilde. The instinctive love of a mother is a serious topic for me.
As is so often Wilde’s technique, there is much misunderstanding and confusion that leads characters to do foolish or socially dangerous things. Mrs. Erlynne might be a bad woman, but she does a very good thing; Lady Windermere prides herself on being a good woman, but she does a very bad thing. Perhaps the lines are not that clear or delineated. I particularly enjoy the progress that Lady Windermere makes in her thinking by the end of the play. I also enjoy the contrivance in which we, the audience, share in a secret that the Lady does not know.
Lady Windermere’s Fan is a short easy read, but indeed full of charm and wit! Set in 19th century London, the play displays the many travesties as well as quirks of the Society at the time. The complexities and intricacies of love, marriage and gender roles come together in the interactions of the characters. If you are looking for quotable quotes on love, men and women, this play is a land mine!
“Men become old, but they never become good.”
“Crying is the refuge of plain women, but the ruin of pretty ones.”
“Experience is the name every one gives to their mistakes.”
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
“There’s nothing in the world like the devotion of a married woman. It’s a thing no married man knows anything about.”
Funny and also thought-provoking, short lines like these make the reader laugh in agreement or in spite. Aside from that, there is also the twists in the plot that create suspense. I wanted to skip pages to the end, but the dialog was much too entertaining to leave out!