Essay on Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde
In Lady Windermere’s Fan, Oscar Wilde illustrates the superficial society that values reputation and proper, formal behavior. By emphasizing the unspoken judgment of the characters through detailed observations and witty comments, Wilde depicts the pretentious attitude of the characters in the play. The sarcasm in the character’s conversation reveals the judgmental nature of the society, which produces a facade of characters.
The passage follows a conversation between the Duchess of Berwick, Lord Darlington, and Lady Windermere, lightly discussing the events to follow that day, hinting at their personal values. The Duchess of Berwick displays her pride and entitlement as she conducts herself with proper etiquette, politely shaking the hands of her company and addressing them with formal diction. In an arrogant manner, the Duchess introduces her daughter, Agatha, to Lord Darlington and Lady Windermere, correcting the Lord’s self-description and protecting her daughter from believing his assertions.
Discussing the afternoon’s party, the Duchess sarcastically comments on Lady Windermere’s house, noting its small size, which restricts the party to be select. The criticism of the house’s appearance depicts the social value of wealth. The Duchess, also, gossips about her prior engagement, criticising the “bad tea,” which was “quite undrinkable.” However, the Duchess digresses from her passive judgments complimenting Lady Windermere on the house security, mocking her as she remarks that it is “one of the few houses in London where… [she feels] perfectly secure.” Her comments depict the conceited nature of the upper class towards of the common folk in Berwick. The Duchess describes them as the “most dreadful people” who “get quite furious” if they are uninvited to her parties. Her arrogant attitude depicts a prestigious upper class that frowns upon the lower class and any manner associated with them.
Lord Darlington’s witty remarks depict a perspective that opposes Duchess’s view. Instead of aggrandizing his life and deeds, he sarcastically degrades himself with names such as a “wicked man” and a “complete failure,” acknowledging the social disagreements among his company. He understands the Duchess’s disapproval of his character and remarks that he “should never be admitted” to the party, alluding to the idea that the Lord fails to meet the Duchess’s standards. The Duchess implies a deprecating attitude towards men as she remarks that “husbands would really forget [women’s] existence if [women] didn't nag” them constantly.
Acknowledging this societal perspective, Lord Darlington claims that marriage is “going out of fashion” as wives are holding “ all the honours” and are refusing to lose “the game of marriage.” Through his wit, Lord Darlington recognizes his status among his company and hints at the idea that his character is not as socially ignorant as the Duchess suggests. When questioned about his depraved and trivial comments, Lord Darlington admits to his sarcasm and confesses his belief that “life is far too important … to talk seriously about it.” Ironically, he is surrounded by two women who do not understand his humor and discuss light-hearted events in a serious manner. He recognizes that intelligence is under appreciated in comparison to materialism, so he submits to the role the women expect of him, shakes their hands, politely wishes them a farewell, and bows as he exits. His departure playfully mocks the manners that the women expect of the Lord. The irony of his actions depicts a society driven by the pursuit of prestige appearance and status.
Lady Windermere establishes her own opinion in regards to the gossips of her guests. Although the third character has the least amount of dialogue in the passage, she is addressed properly with an underlying tone of disrespect, depicting her societal reputation. Lady Windermere is among the wealthiest in society, as indicated by the dance “in honour of [her] birthday.” However, even Lady Windermere fails to escape the gossip of society as the Duchess critics her small establishment. Lady Windermere continues to display the quick tongue of her society as the remarks she chooses to make are to assure the Duchess that “no one in her house” will stir up a scandal or to condemn Lord Darlington for talking “so trivially about life.” Ironically, she mentions that no “foolish, insecure things” are to be said to others, yet she approves of her subtle contempt. Since status is associated with manners and wealth, the characters superficially cover their lives with proper diction and attitudes, while hiding their judgment through socially appropriate comments. The pretentious attitudes of the three characters reveal the impersonal tension formed by a materialistic, self-centered society.