Lady Windermere’s Fan


Oscar Wilde

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Lady Windermere’s Fan Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere’s Fan. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin in 1854 to parents who were both writers: his mother was a poet, and his father was a scholar as well as a prominent surgeon. As a young adult, Wilde attended a series of elite British educational institutions, where he excelled as a poet and scholar. By the early 1880s, Wilde was well known in London’s literary and artistic circles as a clever, flamboyant individual with a passion for aesthetics and art. He was also a prolific journalist during this period. In 1884, he married Constance Lloyd, with whom he had two children. Wilde wrote and published most of his most prominent work in the last ten years of his life, including the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and the play The Importance of Being Earnest. In the early 1890s, Wilde was charged with sodomy due to rumors of his relationship with the young nobleman Lord Alfred Douglas and was ultimately sentenced to two years of hard labor. The only work Wilde completed after his imprisonment was a treatise on inhumane jail conditions, and he died suddenly in 1900 of meningitis.
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Historical Context of Lady Windermere’s Fan

Like Wilde’s other comedic plays, Lady Windermere’s Fan is deeply rooted in the upper-class English society of the late Victorian era. The play satirizes the hypocrisy of this society by revealing how shallow its outwardly strict moral rules really are. In particular, Wilde’s work interrogates and exposes the real-life gender expectations and imbalances of the world in which he lived. This aspect of the work may have been informed by his own homosexuality, which was considered scandalous at time and even led to Wilde’s imprisonment. Additionally, this work is related to Wilde’s passionate commitment to the Aesthetic movement of the late Victorian era. Following the core tenet of “art for art’s sake,” participants in this movement believed that art could and should exist on its own aesthetic merit, rather than needing to fulfill a social or political purpose. While Lady Windermere’s Fan is certainly grounded in social issues, its exuberant wit and carefully honed dialogue also suggest Wilde’s commitment to the pure aesthetic joy of his craft.

Other Books Related to Lady Windermere’s Fan

Although Wilde wrote three previous plays, Lady Windermere’s Fan was his first play to see commercial and critical success. As such, it laid the groundwork for his other successful comedic plays to come, most notably An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. Both of those later works satirize upper-class English society and its morality in much the same way that Lady Windermere’s Fan does. This play is also related to other stage dramas of the same era. In particular, it echoes the themes of Norwegian writer Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House, in which a woman in a rigid society leaves her husband to pursue independence. Notably, however, Ibsen’s play is dark and dramatic, where Wilde treats similar themes as light and comedic. Wilde’s work is also connected to that of his contemporaries and mentors in the Aesthetic movement. In particular, he cited the writing of Walter Pater as crucial in his understanding of art and its aesthetic value.
Key Facts about Lady Windermere’s Fan
  • Full Title: Lady Windermere’s Fan
  • When Written: 1891
  • Where Written: The Lake District of northern England
  • When Published: 1893 (first performed 1892)
  • Literary Period: Late Victorian period
  • Genre: Comedic drama; melodrama
  • Setting: London, England, circa 1892
  • Climax: Mrs. Erlynne reveals that she has been hiding in Lord Darlington’s apartment.
  • Antagonist: Mrs. Erlynne; oppressive societal rules
  • Point of View: Third-person

Extra Credit for Lady Windermere’s Fan

What’s in a Name? Wilde borrowed several names in the play from the Lake District where he wrote it. For example, Windermere is a nearby lake.

Sexism in Science. A form of bacterial lung infection was nicknamed “Lady Windermere Syndrome” when the scientists who first documented it hypothesized that a fastidious Victorian woman like Lady Windermere might have been prone to developing it. The reasoning behind this claim was that voluntarily suppressing coughing might cause the infection, and a woman like Lady Windermere would have avoided coughing in order to seem perfectly ladylike. Many scholars have since criticized this nickname as inaccurate and sexist.