I read this wonderful play when I was going through a very difficult break up and at the time it was easy for me to take a cynical approach to it, see all the quotes that were typical of relationship breakdown or stereotyped men (and women). But I’m glad I took some time before writing the review so I can convey a more accurate account of the play and its nuances. As I’ve grown and reflected, so too has the meaning in the text changed, one of the great qualities I love about the literary arts.
Lady Windermere’s Fan is a classic Oscar Wilde play, with very much the same ambience of the Importance of Being Earnest. The subject matter is more serious and the issues of fidelity, strength in relationships, loyalty, sacrifice and what it means to be a parent are deeper and at times darker than that of Ernest. But never fear, in quintessential Wilde style, there are plenty of quippy one liners and quaint jokes to keep the storyline light.
There is something about plays that reads very appealingly. Given it is almost all dialogue, the story moves at a fast pace and without a narrator, as such, the reader is left to piece together the puzzle, which is all part of the joy of any good creative piece.
Wilde’s humour always reminds me of that of a great stand up comedian, whose jokes though seemingly superficial and trivial actually decry much deeper, philosophical notions and societal conceptions. As I think Wil Anderson once said (though don’t quote me on this Wil and PS I love you) back in the day, only the court jester was allowed to make fun of the King and it was tolerated and a very important role in society as it was really the only legal outlet for political criticism.
The play leans heavily on what it means to act properly in society, and propriety is often held above doing what is right personally and emotionally. But sometimes in life as Lord Darlington says, it is better to go against what society demands of you and choose happiness and life. I think that’s a good lesson for us all to learn. But it’s hard and it is hard for Lady Windermere, as it is for all of us, to go against the tide and not care what other people think. It does make me wonder though what kind of world we would live in if we all did the things we really wanted to do and act how we truly felt without fear of retaliation from “Society”. I suspect, a world full of happier people. No doubt there are some that already live by their own rules but I hazard a guess that for the majority of us, conformity is the norm. Its very description demands it, rules for the masses, by the masses.
Some of the concepts portrayed in the play are quite modern. Lady Windermere is modern woman, married for love and reacts to infidelity in same way as any modern married woman would. Her primary concern is not about the scandal of the affair or loss of the family’s reputation but loss of the love of her husband.
So, for me, the play symbolised love, relationships and all the triumphs and perils that come with it. Having been through my fair share of both, I could sympathise greatly with a lot of the discussions between the characters and dissection of the roles men and women play in society and in relationships.
I see there has not been any good adaptation of this in recent times. I would love to see a BBC mini-series or perhaps cinematic interpretation of this classic play.
I encourage you all, especially those of you who enjoyed Ernest, to read this play. It’s thought-provoking stuff. Below I’ve extracted some of my favourite quotes from Lady Windermere’s Fan. Hope you guys enjoy and as always, live long and love reading!
Lord Darlington: “If I know you at all, I know that you can’t live with a man who treats you like this! What sort of life would you have with him? You would feel that he was lying to you every moment of the day. You would feel that the look in his eyes was false, his voice false, his ttouch false. He would come to you when he was weary of others you would have to comfort him. He would come to you when he was devoted to others; you would have to charm him. You would have to be to him the mask of his real life, the cloak to hide his secret.”
“….But there are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely- or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands. You have that moment now. Choose!…”
Lord Darlington: “And you would take him back! You are not what I thought you were. You are just the same as every other woman. You would stand anything rather than face the censure of a world, whose praise you would despise…You would ensdure anything rather than break with one blow this monstrous tie. You are right. You have no courage, none!”
Lady Windermere: “…We make gods of men and they leave us. Others make brutes of them and they fawn and are faithful…”
Cecil Graham “ …That is the worst of women. They always want one to be good. And if we are good, when they meet us, they don’t love us at all. They like to find us quite irretrievably bad, and to leave us quite unattractively good.”
Lady W: Are all men bad?
Duchess of Berwick: Oh , all of them, my dear, all of them, without any exception. And they never grow any better. Men become old, but they never become good.
DB: …And mind you don’t take this little aberration of Windermere’s too much to heart. Just take him abroad, and he’ll come back to you all right.
LW: Come back to me?
DB: Yes, dear, these wicked women get our husbands away from us but they always come back, slightly damaged of course. And don’t make scenes, men hate them!
DB: My dear Margaret, you are not going to cry?
LW: You needn’t be afraid Duchess I never cry
DB That’s quite right, dear. Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones.
LW: …Oh, don’t imagine I mind about the money. As far as I am concerned, you may squander everything we have. But what I do mind is that you who have loved me, you who have taught me to love you, should pass from the love that is given to the love that is bought…And it is I who feel degraded! You don’t feel anything. I feel stained, utterly stained. You can’t realise how hideous the last six months seems to me now- every kiss you have given me is tainted in my memory.