Let's read the theatre・The exclusion of truth (part 2): Lady Windermere's Fan Passa ai contenuti principali

Let's read the theatre・The exclusion of truth (part 2): Lady Windermere's Fan

The exclusion of truth: The coffeeshop and Lady Windermere's Fan

Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)

In the first part of the article I have commented Goldoni's La bottega del caffè (The coffeehouse). More than a century later, in 1892, it was played Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan.

The play takes place "within twenty-four hours", as Wilde himself says in the note at the first act's beginning. It's Lady  Margaret Windermere's birthday. As a gift from her husband, Lord Arthur Windermere, she has received a nice fan, but she doesn't matter about it. While Lady Windermere is arranging the evening party, Lord Darlington tells her his opinions about marriage: in particular, he says that it is right for betrayed women to love another man. Lady Windermere can't accept that.

Soon, she finds out to be herself a betrayed wife. In fact, the Duchess of Berwick tells her that Lord Windermere is having an affair with a rake woman, Mrs. Erlynne. At first Lady Windermere can't trust it, but a note of her husband is an overwhelming evidence.

Lord Windermere tries to show her that she is wrong, and finally invites Mrs. Erlynne at the party, during which she looks beautiful and agreeable for everyone. Meanwhile, Lord Darlington reveals his love to Lady Windermere, who doesn't know what to do.

Finally, she choices to accept to leave with Lord Darlington and writes a note to her husband. But Lord Darlington hasn't come back yet, and Lady Windermere is reached by Mrs. Erlynne who tries, with very passionate words, to bring the young woman to her family again. When they are going to come out from Lord Darlington's house, he comes back with some friends: one of them is Lord Windermere, and the two women hide themselves.

But Lord Windermere sees his wife's fan and starts to suspect a love affair between her and Lord Darlington. So, Mrs. Erlynn reveals herself and says that she has brought the fan after catching it accidentally.

The next morning, Lady Windermere feels really grateful to Mrs. Erlynne and wants to call upon her, but Lord Windermere doesn't agree after the last night events.

However, Mrs. Erlynne herself comes to the Windermere returning the fan. Lady Margaret is very happy to see her. She goes to take photo some of her in another room, and by the words said between Lord Windermere and Mrs. Erlynne it is revealed that she is the dead-believed mother of Lady Windermere. But she doesn't seem to want to say her daughter the truth.

At the end, she goes away only with a picture of Lady Margaret and her son, without revealing anything to the young woman.

In this play the truth is a secret known only by two characters (Lord Windermere and Mrs. Erlynne). Mrs. Erlynne doesn't want to reveal her real identity not only because of her sense of maternity, but even for more interesting reasons, as she says:

  MRS. ERLYNNE: I have no ambition to play the part of a mother. Only once in my life have I known a mother's feelings. That was last night (la notte della festa e degli eventi a casa di Lord Darlington). They were terrible - they made me suffer - they made me suffer too much. [...] Besides, my dear Windermere, how on earth could I pose as a mother with a grown-up daughter? Margaret is twenty-one, and I have never admitted that I am more than twenty-nine, or thirty at most.
Act IV

We don't know how much irony there's in her words. But few sentences after we can see the whole problem that the revealed truth could cause into Mrs. Erlynne life:

  MRS. ERLYNNE: I lost one illusion last night. I thought I had no heart. I find I have, and a heart doesn't suit me, Windermere. Somehow it doesn't go with modern dress. It makes one look old.
Act IV

The weakness of the victorian society stays for Wilde in the emotions fear. They are the most mysterious part in human beings, but the reality that we see in this play seems quite to avoid them. Mrs. Erlynn can't enjoy her mothership because she is afraid of being her own emotions' victim; on the other hand, a young woman can't get aware of her real story, she doesn't have even the chance to forgive her mother.

The Man of the late 19th century doesn't care about "good name" anymore: it has become an ornament of no importance. He's going to sink in a floral world of illusions. So, Art Nouveau isn't only a movement born from the desire of a pure nature. It reflects only enjoyable emotions and an ideal beauty. 

The real nature becomes something that overwhelms human beings, something full of shadows even if we have surrounded our lives with light. It is something rude, like little later The Kiss of Gustav Klimt.

Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (1907 - 1908)

Oscar Wilde, The plays of Oscar Wilde, Collins Classics - Harper Press, London


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The coffee house and Lady Windermere's Fan: the exclusion of truth

Two comedies far from each other for space and time: La bottega del caffè (The coffeeshop) by Carlo Goldoni (1750) and Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde (1892). A common point between them: the exclusion of truth.
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