Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde.
|Program for Lady Windermere's Fan.|
After a rather dense and difficult reading week last week Lady Windermere's Fan was like a breath of fresh air. It was first performed on 22nd February 1892 at the St James's Theatre (his first performance, I believe, to début in London) and published a year later in 1893.
The action of the play takes place in less than twenty-four hours, beginning with the preparations of Lady Windermere's birthday ball that evening celebrating her 21st birthday. A friend of Lord and Lady Windermere, Lord Darlington, visits Lady Windermere and she rebukes him for being too flattering. Nevertheless he keeps it up and explains himself somewhat cryptically:
Do you think then—of course I am only putting an imaginary instance—do you think that in the case of a young married couple, say about two years married, if the husband suddenly becomes the intimate friend of a woman of—well, more than doubtful character—is always calling upon her, lunching with her, and probably paying her bills—do you think that the wife should not console herself?
She soon learns from the Duchess of Berwick the meaning behind the words: there are rumours her husband is getting rather too close with a woman of dubious reputation, a Mrs Erlynne:
He goes to see her continually, and stops for hours at a time, and while he is there she is not at home to any one. Not that many ladies call on her, dear, but she has a great many disreputable men friends—my own brother particularly, as I told you—and that is what makes it so dreadful about Windermere. We looked upon him as being such a model husband, but I am afraid there is no doubt about it.
|Lily Hanbury (1890), who played Lady Windermere|
in the first performance in 1892.
She doesn't believe it, but when she later checks his bank account and she finds Lord Windermere has been making regular large payments to the woman. Furiously she confronts him and he denies any wrong-doing and demands that she invite Mrs. Erlynne to her ball. She refuses so Lord Windermere invites her himself and she threatens to hit Mrs. Erlynne with the new fan her husband has bought her, but still he persists. She storms out of the room and Lord Windermere is left:
[Calling after her.] Margaret! Margaret! [A pause.] My God! What shall I do? I dare not tell her who this woman really is. The shame would kill her. [Sinks down into a chair and buries his face in his hands.]
So who is the woman? I won't spoil the end, save to say much of the action at least features or is centred around Lady Windermere's fan.
The play was conceived during Wilde's visit to the Lake District (Cumbria) and many of the names of the character are based on place names of Northern England: Windermere refers to Lake Windermere in the Lake District, Darlington in Teeside, Berwick in Northumberland, and Jedburgh, which is in the Scottish Borders. It is a perfect Wilde play: a high society comedy of manners, light, fresh, and with sparkling dialogue throughout the serious events of the drama. One of the great comic characters amongst these witty exchanges I think has to be Lady Agatha Carlisle, whose only words throughout the entire play are "Yes, mamma", but there are a great more famous quotes, most of which are from the great Lord Darlington:
... we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
I can resist everything except temptation.
It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
... life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it.
[In response to the question "What is a cynic?"] A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
And this from another character, Cecil Graham -
History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.
A great play, in short! I do love reading Oscar Wilde.
And that was my nineteenth title for the Deal Me In challenge. Next week: Chamber Music by James Joyce