Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde
Download Lady Windermere’s Fan ebook. Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Play About a Good Woman is a four-act comedy by Oscar Wilde, first produced on Saturday, 20 February 1892, at the St James’s Theatre in London.
The story concerns Lady Windermere, who suspects that her husband is having an affair with another woman. She confronts him with it but although he denies it, he invites the other woman, Mrs Erlynne, to his wife’s birthday ball. Angered by her husband’s supposed unfaithfulness, Lady Windermere decides to leave her husband for another lover. After discovering what has transpired, Mrs Erlynne follows Lady Windermere and attempts to persuade her to return to her husband and in the course of this, Mrs Erlynne is discovered in a compromising position. It is then revealed Mrs Erlynne is Lady Windermere’s mother, who abandoned her family twenty years before the time the play is set. Mrs Erlynne sacrifices herself and her reputation to save her daughter’s marriage. The best-known line of the play sums up the central theme:
By the summer of 1891 Wilde had already written three plays: Vera; or, The Nihilists and The Duchess of Padua had found little success, and Salome had been censored. Unperturbed, he decided to write another play but turned from tragedy to comedy. He went to the Lake District in the north of England, where he stayed with a friend and later met Robert Ross. Numerous characters in the play appear to draw their names from the north of England: Lady Windermere from the lake and nearby town Windermere (though Wilde had used “Windermere” earlier in Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime), the Duchess of Berwick from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Lord Darlington from Darlington. Wilde began writing the play at the prodding of Sir George Alexander, the actor manager of St James’s Theatre. The play was finished by October. Alexander liked the play, and offered him an advance of £1,000 for it. Wilde, impressed by his confidence, opted to take a percentage instead, from which he would earn £7,000 in the first year alone (worth £698,600 today).
Alexander was a meticulous manager and he and Wilde began exhaustive revisions and rehearsals of the play. Both were talented artists with strong ideas about their art. Wilde, for instance, emphasised attention to aesthetic minutiae rather than realism; he resisted Alexander’s suggested broad stage movements, quipping that “Details are of no importance in life, but in art details are vital”. These continued after the opening night, when at the suggestion of both friends and Alexander, Wilde made changes to reveal Mrs Erylnne’s relationship with Lady Windermere gradually throughout the play, rather than reserving the secret for the final act. Despite these artistic differences, both were professional and their collaboration was a fruitful one.
There is an extant manuscript of the play held in the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library at the University of California in Los Angeles.
I recommend reading this book before watching the PBS Masterpiece Theater series “Lillie”. That series is about Lily Langtry, a friend of Oscar Wilde’s. This play represents a betrayal of their friendship, as the characters Mrs. Erlynne & Lady Windermere reference Ms. Langtry and her secret daughter. Langtry was angry, rejected Wilde as a friend, he fell out of favor in English society, and was soon after prosecuted for homosexuality. Langtry’s good fortune faded too, though less quickly. They did ultimately reconcile, but damaged each other’s reputations and quality of life in the process. An interesting story and the play itself is filled with classic Wilde quotes.
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Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (16 October 1854 – 30 November 1900) was an Irish poet and playwright. After writing in different forms throughout the 1880s, he became one of London’s most popular playwrights in the early 1890s. He is best remembered for his epigrams and plays, his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, as well as the circumstances of his imprisonment and early death.
Wilde’s parents were successful Anglo-Irish intellectuals in Dublin. Their son became fluent in French and German early in life. At university, Wilde read Greats; he proved himself to be an outstanding classicist, first at Dublin, then at Oxford. He became known for his involvement in the rising philosophy of aestheticism, led by two of his tutors, Walter Pater and John Ruskin. After university, Wilde moved to London into fashionable cultural and social circles.
As a spokesman for aestheticism, he tried his hand at various literary activities: he published a book of poems, lectured in the United States and Canada on the new “English Renaissance in Art”, and then returned to London where he worked prolifically as a journalist. Known for his biting wit, flamboyant dress and glittering conversational skill, Wilde became one of the best-known personalities of his day. At the turn of the 1890s, he refined his ideas about the supremacy of art in a series of dialogues and essays, and incorporated themes of decadence, duplicity, and beauty into what would be his only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). The opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, and combine them with larger social themes, drew Wilde to write drama. He wrote Salome (1891) in French while in Paris but it was refused a licence for England due to an absolute prohibition on the portrayal of Biblical subjects on the English stage. Unperturbed, Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late-Victorian London.
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