Analysis of how Lady Windermere fails to meet her own moral standards- or does she?

Pre-University Paper, 2006

18 Pages

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I Introduction

The purpose of this course work was to deal independently with a topic by gathering information about it from various sources and exposing them in a formal essay. It aimes to give a comprehensive analytical editing of the topic and to present its contents in detail.

My topic is Oscar Wilde´s play “Lady Windermere´s Fan”. The initial question of this work is whether Lady Windermere, the main and name-giving character of the play, fails to meet her own moral standards on account of her actions throughtout the play.

First of all it was important to me to gain a profound knowledge of the play´s background. What was Wilde´s intention in writing the play? Who was the audience it was written for?

I intended to get a clear picture of the moral and value system of the Victorian era to be able to give a useful evaluation of Lady Windermere´s moral standards. This was necessary before I was able to get started on writing process. Therefore I realized an extended research of secundary literature about Oscar Wilde, his work in general, the Victorian era and finally the play itself. I read various books, drew information from the internet and watched three adapted screen plays of the play to develope a better understanding of its structure and different interpretations on the subject matter.

The final assignment deals with the process of Lady Windermere´s change of moral consciousness. At the beginning a concise compendium on the Victiorian society in which Wilde lived is given. I thought this necessary to enable the reader to get a conception of the setting in which the play takes place. This is followed by some information about the play. The main part of this work concentrates on Lady Windermere herself. The criteria for my evaluation of her is based on her relationships to the other main characters in the play. I intended to find out how her behaviour in the play complies with her moral standards and in how far she succeeds in her role as a “good” wife, mother and moralist.

I ask the reader to regard that this assignment deals exclusively with Lady Windermere´s behaviour judged from her point of view and judged from the point of view of Victorian society. It is not occupied with the modern view on a woman´s role in society or the question of goodness nowadays.

II. Wilde - “a cynic of deeper significance”

2.1 Life in Victorian society

Oscar Wilde was born in 1854. It was 1 right in the time when Queen Victoria (1837-1900) reigned in Great Britain. Today this time is known as the Victorian era. Nowadays historians describe the Victorian era “as a time of many contradictions”. It was a society that preached high moral values and at the same time neglected them under the surface.

“ The apparent contradiction between the widespread cultivation of an outward appearence of dignity and restraint and the prevalence of social phenomena that included prostitution, child labour and an imperialist colonising economy were two sides of the same coin.” ( vom 9.2.2006)

Especially for a neoteric artist like Wilde it was very difficult to live in such a restraining age. He always struggled with the contemporary value system - the superficiality and hypocrisy of which he clearly understood and criticized and still could not turn his back to. All his life he tried to adapt himself to society and wanted to become an accepted part of it. Yet he never succeeded in doing so. More than his inconvenient artistic and ethical persuasions it was his scandalous sexual behaviour that worked against him. In fact he had to spend two years in prison for homosexuality which was a serious crime at that time. So all his life his attempts to fit into society were mostly answered with exclusion[1].

With this background knowledge it can be easily understood why Wilde´s attitude towards society became bitingly cynical over time. His work reflects his own disappointment and frustration about society. “Wilde thought of himself as a voice of the age to be, rather than of the one that was fading.”2

2.2 Victorian women

Wilde´s opinion on women is clearly reflected in his work. The women in his plays are mostly plain indifferent stereotyped creatures living ordinary lives.

“Ordinary women never appeal to one´s imagination. They are limited to their century. No glamour ever transfigures them. One knows their minds as easily as one knows their bonnets. One can always find them. There is no mystery in any of them. They have their stereotyped smile, and their fashionable manner. But an actress! How different an actress is!”[2]

In the Victorian era a woman´s life was strictly defined by her responsibilities as a wife and mother. At the ends of the 19th century, adultery was one of the worst crimes a woman could commit. Women had to be held accountable, while the men could not really be blamed for it. Once led astray, she was the fallen woman, and nothing could reconcile that till she died. As the “weaker” sex most women lived a life of restraint and oppression in the shade of men.

2.3 Wilde´s social comedies

Wilde wrote his social comedies mainly for commercial reasons. Consequentially they were of relatively slight significance to him. He did not hesitate to borrow and transform material from other plays for his work and to him as a master of language the plot of a play was far less important than its language. The plays can be understood as satires on the morals of Victorian society in which he lived. They were modern value critique on a society that was highly self-rightous and hypocritical. His intention was to indulge his audience and to mock it at the same time. Therefore he mercilessly exposed his audience´s superficiality and lack of moral substance while he presented to them such flattering images of themselves that they had to feel offended and pacified all at once. The plays were written to entertain and amuse an audience consisting of London´s upper class-people who were influential, educated and wealthy. This was the only part of society in which he was interested as an audience. He had to mind carefully how to addressed this audience when he wanted to meet their taste with his plays. They met the conventions of the time and due to that draw lively portraits of the British society in which Wilde lived.

Wilde was not a moralist, but an artist. He himself negated to have any interest in moralizing through his works. As a forefighter of aestheticism he created art for art´s sake. Ethical attitudes and “aethetic”ones do not go together. That is why he never tried to reform the moral standards of his time, but merely attempted to play with them in his art. Clement Scott describes him as “a cynic of deeper significance”. All in all it looks as if Wilde was born in the wrong age - born before his time. Society simply was not ready for his talent and art yet.[3]

III. Lady Windermere´s fan

Oscar Wilde’s play “Lady Windermere´s Fan “, first produced 22 February 1892, was his first public success as a playwright. Various others –such as “A Woman of no Importance” or “An Ideal Husband” - followed it in an equally successful manner.

He placed this four-act play into a setting which must have made his audience feel quite at home: London´s upper class.

Lady Windermere´s Fan” tells the story of Lady Windermere, a good Victorian woman whose secure little world becomes threatened by an unexpected crisis in her life just on the day of her twenty-first birthday.

On that day her mother, Mrs Erlynne, a fallen woman who was commonly believed to be dead reappears in her life after twenty years of separation. Out of a misunderstanding Lady Windermere, who does not know Mrs Erlynne´s true identity, suspects her husband to have an affair with her and nearly abandons her home and child. But Mrs Erlynne can convince her daughter to return back home and the play ends in supposedly harmony: The Windermeres decide to forget about the troubles of the last twenty-four hours and go on with their perfect married-life as before. Lady Windermere will never get to know the truth about her mother and her mother succeeds in her plan to reenter society.

The plot is rather simple and caused a lot of critizism for its constructed simplicity and the lack of authentism in it: In fact the entire play gives the impression to be a very unrealistic imitation on life. It appears to be artificially cramped together to match Wilde´s idea of the story he initially intended to write. A. B. Walkley wrote in a critic about the play: “It is by no means a good play: its plot is always thin, often stale; indeed it is full of faults (...) Yet it is a good play for it carries you along from start to finish without boring you for a single moment.”[4] Wilde himself admitted that he could not “get a grip of the play” while he was still in the progress of writing it. He also said “ I can´t get my people real.”[5] This did not slighten the play´s success though and “Lady Windermer´s Fan” ranks among Wilde´s most successful and well-known plays.

The main topics of the play are the maternal duty of a mother towards her child and adultery.

IV. Lady Windermere - the good woman

4.1 Who is Lady Windermere?

Right at the beginning of the play the audience is confronted with Lady Windermere and everything one gets to know about her is highly positve: The way she talks, the way she acts , the way she looks. She shares Puritan values and is a young, beautiful lady who lives her life as a strict upholder of moral standards. Furthermore she is married and has a two year old child. In her conversation with Lord Darlington in Act One she presents herself as a faithful wife who for example does not even want her admirer to pay her compliments. She says about herself: “I have something of the Puritan in me. I was brought up like that. I am glade of it.“[6] She asserts that living would be much easier if it was settled by “hard and fast rules”[7] and therefore her concept of good and bad is very simple. The ideal Victorian woman! Everything she says sounds exceedingly virtueous and conventional. And it is not alone what she says, but also what the other characters say about her that helps her to win the audience´s sympathy. No character in the play questions her goodness. She is praised for her morality and poses a role model for everybody around her. It is obvious to everybody that she is what the world calls a “good woman”.

Already in the first act the audience gets a clear picture of what Lady Windermere is like and how she thinks about life. But then in the progression of the play she is being tested on her goodness. In how far does she meet her own moral standards when she decides to leave her husband? Are her justifications anything but excuses for her own weakness? Can she be an exception of her own rules without breaking them?

In the centre of the play stands the question of what is good and what is bad. Lady Windermere followes decorous the conventions of her time. What society accepts as good is good, and what society takes for bad must be bad. Her concept of good and bad is neatly set out and requires no further definition. Virtue is virtue, vice is vice. Therefore she always acts in the conviction to be right. This self-righteousness lets her become judgemental and intolerant towards other people who do not apply the same rules to their lifes as she does. As a designating Purtian she believes in Christian values such as marriage and family coherence. Puritans believed in self-determination, that each has the ability to do good. That is what she expects everybody including herself to act on. She looks on life through the eyes of her stern sister who brought her up and who “allowed of no compromise”. “I allow of none”, she proudly tells her admirer Lord Darlington. To his question whether she really thinks “ that women who have committed what the world calls a fault should never be forgiven?” her response is “ I think they should never be forgiven”.[8] This lack of empathy is surprising since she as a “good Puritan” woman should be merciful, kind and forgiving. But these virtues seem to be unknown to her. She is rather a cold and unforgiving moralist.[9]

Within twenty-four hours Lady Windermere´s naive view on the world is challenged by a strange quirk of fate which nearly ruins her and her family. Lady Windermere has lived an extremely sheltered life until Mrs Erlynne appeared in it. She has never been in a need to question any of her beliefs because she has never been in a situation that required it. She might have hard-and-fast rules for her life but most of the things she says sound immature sophomoric and ill-conceived. These stiff doctrines which help her to understand life have never been testing for her before her twenty-first birthday. Before that Lady Windermere lived in a protecting shell which did not let anything bad come near her.

On the one hand she is being introduced as a character that at first glance seems to be very serious and stands up for her own beliefs -like when she rebukes Lord Darlington in Act One about his vicious lifestyle. She has a talent for grandiose remarks that seem eminently weighty such as her criticism on society that “Nowadays people seem to look on life as a speculation. It is not a speculation. It is a sacrament. Its ideal is Love. Its purification is sacrifice.”[10] But on the other hand her behaviour throughtout the play is immature and unsteady. Indeed she terms herself a “pale coward“ right at the beginning when she fails to redeem her forewarning to strike Mrs Erlynne across the face with her birthday-fan if she was to appear at the party. Another example of her weakness is given when she admits to Lord Darlington in Act Two “I am afraid of being myself.”[11] Her self-confident appearance seems to be a deceiving fassade.

The whole situation on her birthday is overcharging for her. So the rush decision of leaving her husband is nothing but a panicky reaction to something that she has never expected to happen in her own life. All her life she has been spoon-fed - first by her sister and later by her husband. She has never been encouraged to have a mind of her own and to be a strong, independent individual. Nevertheless Lady Windermere is an intelligent, young woman. In her conversations with Lord Darlington she displays more sense for reality than one would trust her to have and she proves to the audience that she is not as ignorant as her husband assumes her to be. Still she is unable to relativise her own moral standards. Her unworldly innocence makes her think that she lives a blameless life. She does not realize that nobody is ever blameless and that true goodness only reveals itself when it is being tested. Lady Windermere thinks herself save in the role of a righeous wife, but in the progression of the play her education in moral feeling begins and she has to learn that life is not as easy as she always thought is to be. She gets her eyes opened to a side of life that she did not know of before. “How securely one thinks one lives- out of reach of temptation, sin, folly. And then suddenly- Oh! Life is terrible. It rules us, we do not rule it.”[12]

4.2 A good wife?

In the play Lord and Lady Windermere are the only two characters who are seriously concerned about morals and virtues. They stand in contrast to a selection of cynics and pragmatics.[13] Nobody but them tries to uphold the idealism of a harmonical marriage life built upon love and respect. All the other characters have lost this romantic view on marriage. Duchess of Berwick even advises Lady Windermere to accept her husband´s infidelity as an inevitable part of marriage. This clearly describes the Victorian role of a female in society: suffer and be still. Lady Windermere as a young idealistic bride though believes in an equal law of fidelity for both husband and wife. She has perfect confidence in her husband but when that confidence is betrayed she acts on the principle “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”[14] and wild with jealousy leaves her husband in the heat of the moment. This reaction is not compatible at all with her own statement about a wife´s duty towards her husband even if he commited adultery in the conversation with Lord Darlington in Act One just before she gets to know about her own husband´s fault. Afterwards she experiences that there is a significant difference between philosophizing about morals and actually applying them in a testing situation on one´s own action. So when she leaves her husband, all she said at the beginning about her moral standards suddenly appears to be just as hypocritical as the rest of society is. At that moment she denies herself and fails to fulfill these standards. She, who “allows of no compromise” suddenly begins to understand that life is far too complex to be lived without compromises.

Lord Windermere tries to protect his wife from every evil. He tries to perserve her innocence and purity which he loves so much about her by hook or by crook. That is why he lets himself be blackmailed by Mrs Erlynne, that is why he lies to her about her mother. He wants to save his wife from the truth about her parentage because it would devestate her in his opinion. And indeed in Act Four she says to Mrs Erlynne “ We all have ideals in life. At least we all should have. Mine is my mother.(...) If I lost my ideals, I should lose everything.”[15] So Lord Windermere pays the price of making himself look guilty to protect his wife from reality. He treats his wife like a child and shows in his behaviour a perfectly fine example of a Victorian husband. He does not see an equated partner in her but an inferior child that needs his protection and guidance. This -of course- does not preclude that he loves her but it certainly underemines the set gender roles of the time and excuses Lady Windermere in a sense for her naivty and lack of tolerance towards people of different moral understanding from her own.

Lord Windermere clearly believes that he is fulfilling the role of the protective male and all-knowing guardian to his wife and in this presumption ironically emphasizes his own lack of understanding in the end of the play when he requires the protection of the two women to keep the stainless picture of his wife. His evaluation of his wife is very narrowed. He fancies her incapable of any wrong and it seems as if he needs this picture to love her. The truth about the doubtful night would have a disenchanting effect on him. So Mrs Erlynne beseeches Lady Windermere never to tell her husband the truth with the explanation that “Love is easily killed.”[16]. Lord Windermere would not be able to fully forgive his wife. So he needs to be protected from the full knowledge of the facts by his wife´s pretended ignorance about her own trespass, while she achieves a much better understanding of the situation. Throughout the play one gets the impression that Lord Windermere regresses in his moral understanding while his wife further developes hers:

“Lord Windermere: Child, you and she belong to different worlds. Into your world evil has never entered.

Lady Windermere: Don´t say that, Arthur. There is the same world for all of us, and good and evil, sin and innocence, go through it hand in hand. To shut one´s eyes to half of life that one might live securely is as though one blinded oneself that one might walk with more safety in a land of pity and precipice”.[17]

In the end he adapts her hard-and-fast rules and she dissociates from them. Lord Windermere who at the beginning tries to convince his wife of Mrs Erlynne´s noble character, suddenly sees in her a purely evil woman who cannot be trusted. “But I tell you that the only bitter words that ever came from those sweet lips of hers were on your account, and I hate to see you next her. You sully the innocence that is in her.”[18] In contrast to that, after being saved by her, Lady Windermere thinks that she totally misjudged Mrs Erlynne and now opines her to be a truely good person. “She is better than I am.”[19] So in the end of the play Lord Windermere and his wife have ironically swoped their opinions on Mrs Erlynne. First he implores his wife to “save” Mrs Erlynne and later it turns out that it was Mrs Erlynne who has “saved” his wife´s honour.

4.3 A good mother?

In the entire play Lady Windermere never talks about her child spontaneously. Only once when Mrs Erlynne tries to convince her of her maternal duty this subject is touched. Mrs Erlynne´s failure as a mother is one of the main topics of the play so it is quite astonishing that Lady Windermere´s mother role remains nearly untreated. Ironically in Act Four Lord Windermere reproaches Mrs Erlynne for her mistake of leaving her child behind when she left her husband unknowing that his own wife would have done just the same only a few hours earlier. In fact only thanks to Mrs Erlynne Lady Windermere´s fault is not even detected. But of course this does not discharge her of the guilt. When she sits in Lord Darlington´s rooms right after she left home she does not think of anything but her own wellbeing. In this scene it becomes most evident how selfish and self-righteous Lady Windermere really is. She does not spent a single thought on her child. As a mother she fails just as her own mother failed. If she did not return to her husband, her child would have had the same destiny as she had it: A motherless upbringing and uncertainty about her parentage. Is this what a good woman would do to her child?

4.4 Lord Darlington- the compromise

Lord Darlington stands in the play for the “immoral counterpart to Lord Windermere”[20]. He is the embodiment of a Dandy: “ I can resist everything except temptation.”[21]

Lady Windermere fascinates him with her stern nature of an uncompromising moralist. He is the exact opposite of her. For him nothing is sacred. Marriage is nothing but a game. He is a cynic through and through. When Lady Windermere resists his request to leave her husband she does exactly what he unknowingly expects her to do. He claims to love her but in fact the only thing he loves about her is that he cannot have her. That she is unaccessible to him is what constitues his attraction to her. When he says in Act Three that “She is the only good woman I have ever met in my life”[22] the condition for this conviction is her rejection towards him.

When Lady Windermere after all decides to leave her husband she does not do it because she feels attracted to Lord Darlington but merely out of revenge for her husband´s supposedly infidelity. So her reaction is highly opportunistic and imprudently. Lord Darlington who offers her his friendship is simply used as the only way out she sees at that moment. She does not consider the consequences of her action. Her decision to go to him is nothing but a compromise and this again is a massive violation of her own principles.

4.5 Better than the mother?

Lady Windermere makes a bogeyman out of Mrs Erlynne from the first time on she hears something about her. She judges on what she is told about this doubtful “woman with a past“ by Duchess of Berwick. She has never seen her before but does not even consider this first judgement to be wrong. To her Mrs Erlynne is the enemy and only when Mrs Erlynne saves her from disgrace she is ready to change this opinion.

Ironically Lady Windermere does not realize that Mrs Erlynne did nothing else but what she herself was about to commit by leaving her husband. Strictly spoken they are both adulteresses. So right at the beginning she speaks out an accusation which could be her own only a few scenes later. By condemning her mother she condemns herself in advance and gambles away the chance to moderate her own fault. She breaks her own “hard-and-fast rules“ and does not pay the price she demands of an adultereous woman to pay. Therefore when she says “If a woman really repents, she never wishes to return to the society that has made or seen her ruin”[23] she contradicts in her own action by pleaing Mrs Erlynne in Act Three to bring her back home. The difference between the two women is that Mrs Erlynne is ready to take the consequences for her actions while Lady Windermere is unable to do so. Mrs Erlynne also emphazises her daughter´s weak nature in the Third Act when she says “You haven´t got the kind of brains that enables a woman to get back. You have neither the wit nor the courage. You couldn´t stand dishonour.”[24] So Lady Windermer is fortunate enough to be prevented from the whole implementation while her mother paid the total price for her misdoing. As eager as she was to judge Mrs Erlynne at the beginning of the play for her dubious past, she justifys her own adultery when she sits in Lord Darlington´s rooms in Act Three: “Which is the worst, I wonder, to be at the mercy of a man who loves one, or the wife of a man who in one´s own house dishonours one?”[25] She who stands on her morals more than on anything else suddenly begins to dissociate from the charge of her own misdoing.

Now the question raises whether Lady Windermere is still any better than her mother. Shall she get credit for her return back home? Does her youth and lack of experience excuse her for her violation of Victorian morality? Is her reaction not understandable with regard to her situation? Would a woman nowadays not act likewise when she was to suspect her husband of infidelity? The play does not give much information about the further particulars of Mrs Erlynne´s motivations to leave her husband, but we know that she had a lover who abandoned her after she had abondoned her family.[26] Lady Windermere though does not decide to leave her husband for another man but simply out of contrariness. No other reason can be imputed to her. She was never seriously interested in Lord Darlington and before Mrs Erlynne tries to convince her to go back home she has already made this decision for herself. She never intended to leave her husband and is totally satisfied with her life until she finds out the rumors about her husband´s affair. This is an important difference between the two woman. Lady Windermere might have a very simple concept of good and bad. She surely is very judgemental and self-righteous but she also has a true desire to live a moral life. Mrs Erlynne on the contrary is not interested in morals. She is a realist and does not regret her bad actions because of a guilty conscience but the as disadvantages and trials she had to go through afterwards. In Act Four she says “What consoles one nowadays is not repentance, but pleasure. Repentance is quite out of date.”[27]

Lady Windermere has a very different way to deal with her fault. She feels guilty and deeply regrets her action. For her it is as if Mrs Erlynne evolves from a devil to an rescuing angle at the moment she helps her to escape from Lord Darlington´s appartment. She feels how much she is in her debt. It seems to be the first time in her life that she really feels guilty about something and realizes that she herself has commited a sin. This experience humbles her and gives her an important lesson on her own “goodness”.

The relationship of the two women is very peculiar. Lady Windermere does not find out Mrs Erlynne´s true identity at all, still she helps her unknowingly to succeed in reentering society while Mrs Erlynne helps her daughter to save her marriage and remain in her social state. Only because of the appearance of Mrs Erlynne it becomes necessary for her to question her own moral standards and only because of her she sees herself confronted with a situation that probably would never have occured otherwise in her life.

V Conclusion

Lady Windermere´s moral standards do not change in the play but she becomes more open and developes a new understanding, a new tolerance towards things. She learns to question her judgement. Within twenty-four hours she begins to see that life is far more complex and difficult to be tamed by her hard-and-fast rules. Lady Windermere undergoes a remarkable change of attitude in the progression of the play. Unconsciously she begins to free herself from the nonage that determines her life up to the point when Mrs Erlynne enters it. At the beginning she is a stiff, narrow-minded Puritan who can tell exactly what is right and what is wrong. She tolerates no compromise between good and evil and does not know how to qualify a statement. She estimates everything by her own moral standards without accepting deviations. Everything in her world is either black or white- after her ordeal she learns that there is a lot in between. She is not as confident about herself as before and now see the necessity of compromises in life. With this new awareness of her own fallibility[28] she is brought to look more kindly on the sins of others.[29] APPENDIX: Story line “Lady Windermere´s Fan”

Act One: Lady Windermere gets confronted with rumours about her husband and a Mrs Erlynne, an ominous “woman with a past” who he apparently has an affair with. She becomes wild with jealousy and confronts him with the accusation of him being unfaithful to her. But instead of defending himself he begins to defend the woman and she only receives threadbare explanations as an answer for it.. “Mrs Erlynne was once honoured, loved, respected. She was well born she had position –she lost everthing- threw it away if you like. She has been a wife for even less time than you. She wants to get back into society, and she wants you to help her.” (p.24)

When her husband asks her to invite the doubtful woman to her birthday party which is planned for the night she once again feels affirmed about his guilt.

To the audience it seems obvious: Lord Winderemere is cheating on his wife. She self-evidently refuses to invite the woman and impends to “strike her across the face” with her husband´s birthday present- the fan which is already mentioned in the title- if she was to appear at the party. Thereupon Lord Winderemere invites Mrs Erlynne himself.

In Act Two she really turns up at the party. What a scandal! The husband invites his mistress to his wife´s birthday party. Lady Windermere feels deeply humiliated and hurt but does not have the courage to insult Mrs Erlynne in front of everybody as she announced to do before. Instead she acts like a “pale coward” and puts up a brave front. Wilde did not abstain from spreading redherrings to convince the audience of Lord Winderemere´s guilt but in the progression of Act Two it becomes clearer and clearer that the appereance of Mrs Erlynne and Lord Winderemere´s relationship might actually be deceptive after all. In the meantime Mrs Erlynne´s plan to reenter society seems to work out. Duchess of Berwick speaks out what everybody else seems to think also: “She must be alright if you invite her, Lady Winderemere!” The fast change of mood about Mrs Erlynne displays the superficiality on which society is built upon. “I see that there are just as many fools as there used to be. So pleased to find nothing has altered!” Mrs Erlynne scoffs. Lord Darlington, a Dandy and admirer of Lady Winderemere, asks her to leave her husband and marry him instead. She refuses because she doesn´t love Darlington but right afterwards changes her mind and decides out of a mood to leave her husband. So she writes a letter about her decision and leaves the house to go to Lord Darlington´s rooms. Accidently Mrs Erlynne finds the letter and has a hunch about ist content which hustle her to open it. Now Wilde reveals Mrs Erlynne´s true identity: She is Lady Winderemere´s mother who abandoned her child when she left her husband and ran away with a lover. Suddenly and for the very first time in her life she has motherly feelings and is determined to save her child from making the same mistake she made twenty years ago. She rushes off to follow her daughter.

Act Three takes place in Lord darlington´s apartment where Lady Windermere sits with self-doubts and a heavy heart. Even though she is still resentful of her husband´s infidelity, she concludes to return to him. Soon after that Mrs Erlynne arrives and trys to convince her daughter of what she has already decided for herself. But because Lady Winderemere distrusts Mrs Erlynne in her noble intentions she changes her mind again and stubbornly refuses to return. Only after a long impassioned speech Mrs Erlynne finally succeeds and Lady Winderemere consents to go back to her husband and child. Just then Lord Darlington reverts with a group of friends, including Lord Winderemere and Lord August,who proposed to Mrs Erlynne on the same night. The two women are trapped. There is no way out for them without being seen by the men. But for a woman to be seen at night at a bachelor´s appartment would be absolutely disgraceful. Immediately Mrs Erlynne decides to save her daughter ignoring the fact that this means for her to throw away her new gained chance of returning into society. To give her an opportunity to escape she knowingly commits her own character assassination by stepping out from behind the curtain where she and Lady Winderemere hided. In Act Four, on the next morning Mrs Erlynne comes to the Winderemere´s house to say goodbye to her daughter. She decided to leave the country after the events of the last night. Lord Winderemere who was present at the scene in Lord Darlington´s appartment does not want her to talk to his wife. But Lady Winderemere depends on seeing her to thank her for the great service of saving her honour by paying the price of losing her own once again. The play ends in supposedly harmony. The Winderemeres decide to forget about the troubles of the last twenty-four hours and to go on with their perfect little married-life as before. Lord August does not let himself be scared of and still wants to marry Mrs Erlynne. So Mrs Erlynne managed it yet another time to regain her place in society. Lady Winderemere will never get to know the truth about her mother.

Hiermit erkläre ich, dass ich diese Arbeit selbstständig angefertigt und keine anderen als die von mir angegebenen Quellen und Hilfsmittel verwendet habe. Die den benutzten Werken wörtlich oder inhaltlich entnommenen Stellen sind als solche gekennzeichnet.

(Ort, Datum)

Sarah Caroline Jakobsohn


Hiermit erkläre ich, dass ich damit einverstanden bin, wenn die von mir verfasste Facharbeit der schulinternen Öffentlichkeit zugänglich gemacht wird.

(Ort, Datum)

Sarah Caroline Jakobsohn



1 cf Peter Raby, The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde, p. 144.

2 Raby (ed.), The Cambridge Comapanion to Oscar Wilde, p 184.

3 cf. Peter Raby, The Cambridge Companion to Oscar Wilde , p. 144.

4 Beckson, Karl (ed), The Critical HeritageOscar Wilde, p. 119.

5 Bloom, Harold (ed.) , Oscar Wilde , p 51.

6 Oscar Wilde, Lady Winderemere´s Fan, (Philip Reclam jun. Stuttgart, 1985), I. p.9 -Cited below as LWF. References are to act and page number-.

7 LWF I, p.11.

8 LWF I, p.11.

9 cf. König, Christina , Hausarbeit “Social Criticism in Oscar Wilde´s Lady Windermere´s Fan”, Universität Tübigen

10 LWF, I, p.9.

11 LWS, II, p.43.

12 LWS, IV, p.74.

13 Eltis, Sos, revising Wilde-Society and Subversion in the plays of Oscar Wilde , p. 56.

14 Cf. Beckson (ed..), Critical Heritage, p. 119.

15 LWF IV, p. 87.

16 LWF IV, p. 88.

17 LWF IV, p. 91.

18 LWF IV, p. 81.

19 LWF IV, p. 91.

20 Cf. Eltis, Sos, Revising Wilde- Society and Subversion in the plays of Oscar Wilde, p. 90.

21 LWF I, p.12.

22 LWF III, p.68.

23 LWF I, p.25.

24 LWF III, p.61.

25 LWF III, p.55.

26 cf. LWF IV, p.82.

27 LWF IV, p.85.

28 Eltis, Sos, Revising Wilde- society and Subversion in the play of Oscar Wilde p. 56.

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Analysis of how Lady Windermere fails to meet her own moral standards- or does she?
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sarah jakobsohn (Author), 2006, Analysis of how Lady Windermere fails to meet her own moral standards- or does she?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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