Lady Windermere's Fan: A Play About a Good Woman is a four act comedy by Oscar Wilde, first produced 22 February 1892 at the St. James Theatre in London. The play was first published in 1893. Like many of Wilde's comedies, it is a biting satire on the morals of Victorian society, particularly marriage.
The story concerns Lady Windermere who discovers that her husband may be having an affair with another woman. She confronts her husband but he instead invites the other woman, Mrs. Erlynne, to her birthday ball. Angered by her husband's unfaithfulness, Lady Windermere leaves 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. She sacrifices herself and her reputation in order to save Lady Windermere's marriage.
Numerous characters in the play draw their names from places in the north of England: Lady Windermere from the lake Windermere, the Duchess of Berwick from Berwick-upon-Tweed, Lord Darlington from Darlington.
The play's Broadway premiere on February 5, 1893 at Palmer's Theatre was also the first Broadway performance for stage and screen actress Julia Arthur, who played the title role.
The play opens in the morning room of the home in London that Lady Windermere shares with her husband. It is tea time and the Lady Windermere, whose birthday is that day, has a visit from a friend, Lord Darlington. She explains to him that she is upset over the compliments he continues to pay to her, though she is obviously not aware that he is infatuated with her. The Duchess of Berwick and her daughter, Lady Agatha, pay a call and are introduced to Lord Darlington, who leaves shortly thereafter. After sending Lady Agatha from the room, the Duchess informs Lady Windermere that her husband may be betraying her marriage by making repeated visits to another woman, a Mrs. Erlynne. Not only has Lord Windermere been making visits, but possibly may be giving Mrs. Erlynne large sums of money. Rumours of all of this activity has been gossip among London society.
Following the departure of the Duchess and her daughter, Lady Windermere decides to check her husband's ledger book. She finds the ledger in a desk and consults it to find that nothing appears amiss, though when she returns it to its place she finds another ledger book there; one with a lock. After prying the lock open, she finds it records large sums of money being given to Mrs. Erlynne. Lord Windermere enters to discover his wife has been looking at this ledger book. She confronts him and he cannot deny that he has had dealings with this woman, though he states that he is not betraying her, only trying to protect her from something that would cause great shame to her. He then requests that she send Mrs. Erlynne an invitation to her birthday ball that evening. Lady Windermere refuses, but Lord Windermere insists and writes out an invitation himself. Lady Windermere states that she will make a scene if Mrs. Erlynne appears to which Lord Windermere responds that it would be in her best interest to not do so.
Act II opens in the Windermere drawing room later that evening during the birthday ball. Guests enter and are announced by Parker, the butler. Lord Windermere enters and asks Lady Windermere to speak with her, but she brushes him off. Lord Augustus Lorton (aka "Tuppy"), a friend of Lord Windermere's, enters and pulls him aside to inquire about Mrs. Erlynne, with whom he is friendly. Lord Windermere reveals that there is nothing untoward in his relationship with Mrs. Erlynne, though he has seen a great deal of her. Mrs. Erlynne arrives at the party and is greeted very coldly by Lady Windermere. A number of other guests are introduced to Mrs. Erlynne by Lord Windermere and his friends. Many of the women who meet her know of her reputation but are quite charmed by her.
Lady Windermere and Lord Darlington discuss the situation of Mrs. Erlynne's arrival and Lord Darlington, angered by the revelation that Lord Windermere invited her against Lady Windermere's wishes, professes his love to her. Lady Windermere is taken aback by the revelation and further saddened when he announces that he will be leaving the next day and will likely never see her again. He begs her to join him and then takes his leave. On the other side of the room Mrs. Erlynne is discussing matters with Lord Windermere and she states that she intends to marry Lord Augustus but would require some money from Lord Windermere.
Lady Windermere, elated by Lord Darlington's confession and angered by Mrs. Erlynne's presence, decides to leave the house at once leaving a note to Lord Windermere that she is leaving him. When Mrs. Erlynne asks Parker where Lady Windermere has gone, he replies that she has left the house and has written a note to Lord Windermere. Upset by this, Mrs. Erlynne opens the letter and in a brief monologue reveals that she is Lady Windermere's mother and she did a similar thing twenty years previous. She takes the letter and exits to find Lady Windermere to save her from the same mistake she made herself.
Lady Windermere is discovered alone in Lord Darlington's rooms attempting to justify her actions in leaving her husband. Mrs. Erlynne appears and attemps to persuade Lady Windermere to return home to her husband and her child. After initially resisting, Mrs. Erlynne's imploring to return to her child finally breaks Lady Windermere's resistance. As they begin to exit the rooms they hear the voices of Lord Darlington and his friends including Lord Windermere. The two women hide themselves.
While the men are talking, Cecil Graham takes notice of Lady Windermere's fan (one given to her by her husband as a birthday present) lying on a table. He presumes, as do the others, that Lord Darlington presently has a woman visiting. As Lord Windermere rises to leave, Graham points out the fan to him. He is astonished to see his wife's fan and demands to know if Lord Darlington has her hidden somewhere and he refuses to leave until a search has been conducted. Lord Darlington refuses to allow a search and just as Lord Windermere asks again, Mrs. Erlynne reveals herself, to the astonishment of those present but especially Lord Augustus, and replies that the fan was picked up by mistake.
The final act opens with Lady Windermere lying on the couch of the morning room trying to decide how exactly to inform her husband of the exact circumstances of the previous evening. Her husband enters and they discuss the possibility of leaving London and then the discussion turns to Mrs. Erlynne whom Lady Windermere has forgiven and wishes to receive and whom Lord Windermere presently despises. Parker enters bearing a tray with Lady Windermere's fan and a note from Mrs. Erlynne. Lady Windermere insists that she see her despite her husband's protestations. Mrs. Erlynne enters and states that she shall be going abroad but asks that Lady Windermere give her a photograph of herself and her son, Gerard.
Lady Windermere leaves the room to locate a photograph and Mrs. Erlynne and Lord Windermere discuss the previous evening's events. The whole story is thus revealed: Mrs. Erlynne left Lady Windermere's father for a lover shortly after her birth. Sometime later, the lover left Mrs. Erlynne and she lived in poverty and under an assumed name. When it was announced that her daughter was to marry a wealthy man, she decided to blackmail Lord Windermere in order to make a living and possibly regain a position in society. Mrs. Erlynne begs Lord Windermere not to reveal her true identity but asks that she be allowed to keep the fan. Lady Windermere returns with the photograph which she presents to Mrs. Erlynne.
While Lord Windermere checks for the return of Mrs. Erlynne's coach, she and Lady Windermere discuss the events as well and Mrs. Erlynne pleads for Lady Windermere to not reveal the truth of the evening's events. Lady Windermere promises to keep the secret. As she begins to depart, Lord Augustus is announced. After he enters, Mrs. Erlynne requests him to escort her to her carriage which he does. Lord Augustus returns with news that she has cleared up the events of the evening, has accepted his proposal of marriage and they will live outside of England. Both Lord and Lady Windermere keep their secrets.
Film and television adaptations
The play has been the subject of numerous film and television adaptations. The 1925 silent film stars Ronald Colman, May McAvoy, Bert Lytell, Irene Rich and Edward Martindel. It was adapted by Julien Josephson and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. The BBC also produced a version in the 1970s which is available on DVD as part of the The Oscar Wilde Collection: Stage Right series.
A new film adaptation, A Good Woman was released in May 2005. Taking its name from the play's subtitle, A Play About a Good Woman, which may refer to Lady Windermere or Mrs Erlynne depending on which critic you believe, it stars Scarlett Johansson as the former and Helen Hunt as the latter character, with Tom Wilkinson playing 'Tuppy', or Lord Augustus. The setting has been switched to Italy in the 1930s, on the Amalfi coast. The film's director is Mike Barker.
A musical theatre version of the play was created by Noel Coward, under the title After the Ball.
Lady Windermere Syndrome
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Lady Windermere's Fan
Wilde, Oscar. Lady Windermere's Fan. published in The Importance of Being Earnest and Other Plays. London: Penguin, 1940. ISBN 0140482091.