Oscar Wilde had a particular genius for perceiving truths about life and humanity, then portraying them with
deliciously clever humor. This piece is a gem, mocking the pretentiousness of Victorian Society with one witty quip after another.
The play takes place "beginning on a Tuesday afternoon at five o'clock and ending the next day at 1:30 P.M." It is Lady Windermere's 21st birthday, and she is arranging flowers in preparation for the celebration this evening. Her husband has bought her a beautiful fan, and she is happy. Lord Darlington pays her a visit, and begins to flirt with her, though she is probably not fully aware. She is prim and proper, calling herself a Puritan, and definitely naïve.
Her next visitor is the Duchess of Berwick and her daughter Lady Agatha Carlisle. The Duchess is a nosy, gossipy busybody, and her daughter, whom she refers to as "my little chatterbox" says nothing throughout the entire play but "Yes, Mamma." After sending Agatha out of hearing distance, The Duchess speaks to Lady Windermere about a delicate subject, (what everyone else already knows, of course), that her husband, Lord Windermere, has been spending a great deal of time with a certain woman or dubious repute, in addition to supplying her with large sums of money.
"My dear nieces—you know the Saville girls, don't you?—such nice domestic creatures—plain, dreadfully plain, but so good—well, they're always at the window doing fancy work, and making ugly things for the poor, which I think so useful of them in these dreadful socialistic days, and this terrible woman has taken a house in Curzon Street, right opposite them—such a respectable street, too. I don't know what we're coming to! And they tell me that Windermere goes there four and five times a week—they see him. They can''t help it—and although they never talk scandal, they—well, of course—they remark on it to every one."
Not believing a word of it, Lady Windermere goes through her husband's private bank book when her guests leave, only to find that, in fact, at least
the money part, is true. Her husband catches her in the act, and not only doesn't deny that he has given money to Mrs. Erlynne., but insists that she be
invited to the evening party. Lady Windermere is aghast, refusing, of course, even threatening to strike her with her fan. Lord Windermere takes it upon
himself to invite her.
After the party, in a fit of anger and hurt, Lady Windermere decides to cast away her morals and run off with Lord Darlington. But, of course, things are not as they appear, and at the last moment, Mrs. Erlynne prevents a catastrophic error from being committed! Though most of this play is very funny, there are moments of seriousness, and social issues to ponder.
Oscar Wilde was known for his witty dialogues and memorable quotes, of which this play is teeming. Here are a few to whet your appetite:
Lord Darlington to Lady Windermere:"I can resist everything except temptation."
Duchess of Berwick:
"Many a woman has a past, but I am told that she has at least a dozen, and that they all fit."
"Men become old, but they never become good."
"Do you know, Mr. Hopper, dear Agatha and I are so much interested in Australia. It must be so pretty with all the dear little kangaroos flying about. Agatha has found it on the map. What a curious shape it is! Just like a large packing-case."
"But my experience is that as soon as people are old enough to know better, they don't know anything at all.
But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality."
". . .whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong."
"It's most dangerous now-a-days for a husband to pay any attention to his wife in public. It always makes people think that he beats her when they're alone."
Lord Windermere and Cecil Graham:
"Well, that's no business of yours, is it, Cecil?"
"None. That's why it interests me. My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people's."
"In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."
This book is short and sweet, and can be read in a fleeting evening. Enjoy!
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