Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lady Windermere's Fan (1892)

Author: Oscar Wilde  |  Page Count: 152*

"In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

The events in Oscar's play about a 'Good Woman’ occur over a twenty-four hour period in Victorian London. It's a short work, divided into four Acts: the time spent by Lady Windermere and her husband before a coming of age birthday ball hosted by the couple; the party itself; the aftermath; and the resolutions of the following morning/afternoon. That's ample time for drama and scandal to erupt.

The ball is attended by a select gentry, but strip away the mannered social standings and tailored suits and it's like every party everywhere, filled with two-faced gossip, hypocrisy, nonchalance, indignation and unwarranted observations by caustic people who would chide a speaker for doing the same. The self-indulgent concerns of rich-folks could've been a real bore if not for Oscar's piercing wit to spice it up; he made the verbal meanderings of dull people seem exciting. Under attack are the conventions of marriage, among other things.

The juxtapositions and sarcasms that Wilde enjoys so much aren't just decorative flair, they serve a deeper function whereby reversals act as commentary on the characters from which they originate, and as a singularly reflective study of a particular stratum of society as a whole. It highlights that quite often judgements designed to protect us are secretly used to elevate us in status. Within that is also the notion that impressions can (and often do) be wrong.

His skill at both staging and critiquing his own content evolved in later works, but there's no denying that LWF is an excellent piece when viewed in isolation.

It's been said by some critics that in many of his works the 'voice' of the author overshadows all other concerns, and in LWF it's so obvious that you'll spot it without needing any help. Personally, I don't have a problem with it happening.

3½ late lessons out of 5

*Kindle ebook edition, but page count will vary greatly depending on the publisher.  I've seen editions for sale with as little as 52 pages.  As long as you have all four Acts of the play then you're golden.

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