Lady Windermere’s Fan

by

Oscar Wilde

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Lady Windermere Character Analysis

Lady Windermere is the play’s protagonist. She is 21 years old and has been married for two years to Lord Windermere, with whom she has a six-month-old son. Lady Windermere adores her husband and reveres the memory of her mother, whom she believes died when Lady Windermere was a baby. She is unaware that Mrs. Erlynne is actually her mother, though Lord Windermere does know. Lady Windermere is well-respected in London society and has a reputation for only associating with respectable people, though it seems that she has few—if any—genuine friends. Over the course of the play, she comes to believe that her husband is cheating on her with Mrs. Erlynne and almost runs away with Lord Darlington, only to be saved by Mrs. Erlynne just before making this potentially disastrous decision. At the start of the play, she has very rigid views on morality and believes that all people are either good or bad, but as the play unfolds, she grows more and more uncertain of how good and evil play out in the real world. In particular, her experiences with Mrs. Erlynne show her that the same person can be both wicked and good. Lady Windermere’s confusion and dawning understanding of morality’s ambiguity serves as the primary illustration of one of the story’s key themes. Additionally, her beautiful fan and the different ways it is used throughout the text provide a symbolic lens through which to view the play’s themes of femininity and performed gender.

Lady Windermere Quotes in Lady Windermere’s Fan

The Lady Windermere’s Fan quotes below are all either spoken by Lady Windermere or refer to Lady Windermere. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Morality and Ambiguity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of Lady Windermere’s Fan published in 2008.
Act I Quotes

LORD DARLINGTON: Oh, nowadays so many conceited people go about Society pretending to be good, that I think it shows rather a sweet and modest disposition to pretend to be bad. Besides, there is this to be said. If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn’t. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.

Related Characters: Lord Darlington (speaker), Lady Windermere
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

LORD DARLINGTON: Well then, setting mercenary people aside, who, of course, are dreadful, do you think seriously that women who have committed what the world calls a fault should never be forgiven?

LADY WINDERMERE: (standing at table) I think they should never be forgiven.

LORD DARLINGTON: And men? Do you think that there should be the same laws for men as there are for women?

LADY WINDERMERE: Certainly!

LORD DARLINGTON: I think life too complex a thing to be settled by these hard and fast rules.

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Darlington (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

LADY WINDERMERE: It is very kind of you, Duchess, to come and tell me all this. But I can’t believe that my husband is untrue to me.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK: Pretty child! I was like that once. Now I know that all men are monsters. (Lady Windermere rings bell) The only thing to do is feed the wretches well. A good cook does wonders, and that I know you have. My dear Margaret, you are not going to cry?

LADY WINDERMERE: You needn’t be afraid, Duchess, I never cry.

DUCHESS OF BERWICK: That’s quite right, dear. Crying is the refuge of plain women but the ruin of pretty ones.

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), The Duchess of Berwick (speaker), Lord Windermere, Mrs. Erlynne
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

LADY WINDERMERE: I did not spy on you. I never knew of this woman’s existence till half an hour ago. Someone who pitied me was kind enough to tell me what everyone in London knows already—your daily visits to Curzon Street, your mad infatuation, the monstrous sums of money you squander on this infamous woman! (Crossing L.)

LORD WINDERMERE: Margaret! don’t talk like that of Mrs. Erlynne, you don’t know how unjust it is!

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Windermere (speaker), Mrs. Erlynne
Page Number: 16-17
Explanation and Analysis:

LORD WINDERMERE: Ah, Margaret, do this for my sake; it is her last chance.

LADY WINDERMERE: What has that to do with me?

LORD WINDERMERE: How hard good women are!

LADY WINDERMERE: How weak bad men are!

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Windermere (speaker), Mrs. Erlynne
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

LADY WINDERMERE: There is not a good woman in London who would not applaud me. We have been too lax. We must make an example, I propose to begin tonight. (Picking up fan) Yes, you gave me this fan today; it was your birthday present. If that woman crosses my threshold, I shall strike her across the face with it. (Rings bell)

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Windermere, Mrs. Erlynne
Related Symbols: Lady Windermere’s Fan
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
Act II Quotes

LORD WINDERMERE: I am afraid—if you will excuse me—I must join my wife.

LADY PLYMDALE: Oh, you mustn’t dream of such a thing. It’s most dangerous nowadays 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. The world has grown so suspicious of anything that looks like a happy married life.

Related Characters: Lord Windermere (speaker), Lady Plymdale (speaker), Lady Windermere
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

LADY WINDERMERE: (C.) London is full of women who trust their husbands. One can always recognize them. They look so thoroughly unhappy. I am not going to be one of them. (Moves up) Lord Darlington, will you give me back my fan, please? Thanks…A useful thing a fan, isn’t it?…I want a friend tonight, Lord Darlington: I didn’t know I would want one so soon.

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Windermere, Lord Darlington
Related Symbols: Lady Windermere’s Fan
Page Number: 24-25
Explanation and Analysis:

LORD DARLINGTON: Wrong? What is wrong? It’s wrong for a man to abandon his wife for a shameless woman. It is wrong for a wife to remain with a man who so dishonours her. You said once you would make no compromise with things. Make none now. Be brave! Be yourself!

LADY WINDERMERE: I am afraid of being myself. Let me think. Let me wait! My husband may return to me. (Sits down on sofa)

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Darlington (speaker), Lord Windermere, Mrs. Erlynne
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:
Act III Quotes

LADY WINDERMERE: I must go back—no; I can’t go back, my letter has put me in their power—Arthur would not take me back! That fatal letter! No! Lord Darlington leaves England tomorrow. I will go with him—I have no choice.

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Windermere, Lord Darlington
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

LADY WINDERMERE: Go back to my husband, Mrs. Erlynne. He belongs to you and not to me. I suppose he is afraid of a scandal. Men are such cowards. They outrage every law of the world, and are afraid of the world’s tongue. But he had better prepare himself. He shall have a scandal. He shall have the worst scandal there has been in London for years. He shall see his name in every vile paper, mine on every hideous placard.

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Windermere, Mrs. Erlynne
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

MRS. ERLYNNE: […] Back to your house, Lady Windermere—your husband loves you! He has never swerved for a moment from the love he bears you. But even if he had a thousand loves, you must stay with your child. If he was harsh to you, you must stay with your child. If he ill-treated you, you must stay with your child. If he abandoned you, your place is with your child.

Related Characters: Mrs. Erlynne (speaker), Lady Windermere, Lord Windermere
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Act IV Quotes

LADY WINDERMERE: […] Perhaps she told them the true reason of her being there, and the real meaning of that—fatal fan of mine. Oh, if he knows—how can I look him in the face again? He would never forgive me. (Touches bell) How securely one thinks one lives—out of reach of temptation, sin, folly. And then suddenly—Oh! Life is terrible. It rules us, we do not rule it.

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Windermere, Mrs. Erlynne
Related Symbols: Lady Windermere’s Fan
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

LORD WINDERMERE: […] Oh, the shame of it, the shame of it. To tell it is to live through it all again. Actions are the first tragedy in life, words are the second. Words are the worst. Words are merciless…

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker)
Page Number: 48-49
Explanation and Analysis:

LORD WINDERMERE: I wish that at the same time she would give you a miniature she kisses every night before she prays—It’s the miniature of a young innocent-looking girl with beautiful dark hair.

MRS. ERLYNNE: Ah yes, I remember. How long ago that seems. (Goes to a sofa and sits down) It was done before I was married. Dark hair and an innocent expression were the fashion then, Windermere!

Related Characters: Lord Windermere (speaker), Mrs. Erlynne (speaker), Lady Windermere
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

MRS. ERLYNNE: Yes. (Pause) You are devoted to your mother’s memory, Lady Windermere, your husband tells me.

LADY WINDERMERE: We all have ideals in life. At least we all should. Mine is my mother.

MRS. ERLYNNE: Ideals are dangerous things. Realities are better. They wound, but they’re better.

LADY WINDERMERE: (shaking her head) If I lost my ideals, I should lose everything.

MRS. ERLYNNE: Everything?

LADY WINDERMERE: Yes.

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Mrs. Erlynne (speaker), Lord Windermere
Related Symbols: The Miniature
Page Number: 55-56
Explanation and Analysis:

LORD WINDERMERE: (gravely) She is better than one thought her.

LADY WINDERMERE: She is better than I am.

LORD WINDERMERE: (smiling as he strokes her hair) Child, you and she belong to different worlds. Into your world evil has never entered.

LADY WINDERMERE: Don’t say that, Arthur. There is the same world for all of us, and good and evil, sin and innocence, go through it hand in hand. To shut one’s eyes to half of life that one may live securely is as though one blinded oneself that one might walk with more safety in a land of pit and precipice.

Related Characters: Lady Windermere (speaker), Lord Windermere (speaker), Mrs. Erlynne
Related Symbols: Roses
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Lady Windermere’s Fan LitChart as a printable PDF.
Lady Windermere’s Fan PDF

Lady Windermere Character Timeline in Lady Windermere’s Fan

The timeline below shows where the character Lady Windermere appears in Lady Windermere’s Fan. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act I
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A young woman named Lady Windermere is in the morning room of her home in London, arranging roses and preparing for... (full context)
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Lord Darlington enters and tells Lady Windermere how beautiful her fan is. She thanks him and says that it was a birthday... (full context)
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Lady Windermere scolds Lord Darlington for having praised her too much at a gathering the night before.... (full context)
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Lord Darlington goes on to ask Lady Windermere to be “great friends” with him. She agrees that they can be friends, but only... (full context)
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Lord Darlington considers Lady Windermere ’s words and asks if, hypothetically, it would be wrong for a woman whose husband... (full context)
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...him that he is “far too wicked” to talk to Agatha. The Duchess also tells Lady Windermere how much she’s looking forward to the party that night, especially because she knows that... (full context)
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...remarks that she both likes him and feels glad that he’s gone. Then, she tells Lady Windermere that she feels sorry for her because of the horrid Mrs. Erlynne. When Lady Windermere... (full context)
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The Duchess of Berwick informs Lady Windermere that her husband, Lord Windermere, has been seen spending lots of time at the home... (full context)
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Lady Windermere says again that it’s impossible: she and Lord Windermere love each other, have only been... (full context)
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Alone, Lady Windermere reflects that now she understands what Lord Darlington’s hypothetical situation was really about. She says... (full context)
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Lord Windermere is shocked that Lady Windermere has spied on him, but Lady Windermere immediately confronts him about the rumors of Mrs.... (full context)
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Lady Windermere is appalled, but Lord Windermere goes on to say that she can be the one... (full context)
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Lord Windermere again says that Lady Windermere doesn’t know the whole situation and begs her to invite Mrs. Erlynne to the party.... (full context)
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Lady Windermere tells Lord Windermere that if Mrs. Erlynne comes to the party, she will insult her... (full context)
Act II
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The second act opens on Lady Windermere ’s party in full swing. The ballroom is beautifully decorated, and Parker announces the guests... (full context)
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...arrives and the Duchess of Berwick quickly arranges his dances with Agatha. Lord Windermere asks Lady Windermere to speak with him, but she brushes him off. (full context)
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...Mrs. Erlynne will be attending the party. Augustus is relieved, hoping that an association with Lady Windermere will help Mrs. Erlynne “get into this demmed thing called Society.” (full context)
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At last, Lord Windermere gets Lady Windermere ’s attention, but he is dismayed when she refuses to reconsider her intention to humiliate... (full context)
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Just then, Mrs. Erlynne enters, looking beautiful and dignified. Lady Windermere drops her fan in shock, then bows to Mrs. Erlynne. Mrs. Erlynne returns the gesture... (full context)
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Lord Darlington tells Lady Windermere that she looks pale, to which she replies: “Cowards are always pale!” The two go... (full context)
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...being annoyingly attentive. Now that she knows who Mrs. Erlynne is, Plymdale also remarks of Lady Windermere : “It takes a thoroughly good woman to do a thoroughly stupid thing.” (full context)
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Lady Windermere and Lord Darlington return from the terrace. Lady Windermere bemoans her humiliation over Mrs. Erlynne,... (full context)
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Lady Windermere recoils and tells Lord Darlington that she does not have the courage to run away... (full context)
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The Duchess of Berwick enters along with several other guests. She announces to Lady Windermere that she and her nieces were completely wrong about Mrs. Erlynne; she’s actually a lovely... (full context)
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...the guests exit one by one, many remarking that Mrs. Erlynne is wonderful and commending Lady Windermere for having invited her. As Lady Windermere watches unnoticed, Lord Windermere and Mrs. Erlynne talk... (full context)
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Watching them go, Lady Windermere decides that she was foolish to turn Lord Darlington down and resolves to leave Lord... (full context)
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...reads the letter and then crumples it as Lord Windermere enters. She tells him that Lady Windermere has gone to bed and asks him to call her carriage. After he leaves, she... (full context)
Act III
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Alone in Lord Darlington’s rooms, Lady Windermere wonders when he will arrive and laments her situation. She worries that she feels “cold... (full context)
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To Lady Windermere ’s surprise, Mrs. Erlynne enters and tells her that she must go home immediately because... (full context)
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Panicked, Mrs. Erlynne attempts to correct Lady Windermere . She says that Lord Windermere never read the letter and shows the crumpled letter... (full context)
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Mrs. Erlynne continues to insist that Lord Windermere loves Lady Windermere and hasn’t wronged her in any way. Lady Windermere repeats that Mrs. Erlynne is heartless... (full context)
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Lady Windermere bursts into tears and, child-like, asks Mrs. Erlynne to take her home. They’re preparing to... (full context)
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Cecil catches sight of Lady Windermere ’s fan lying on the sofa and slyly asks Lord Darlington if he is faithful... (full context)
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Lord Windermere recognizes the fan as Lady Windermere ’s right away. Furious, he demands an explanation from Lord Darlington, who denies knowing anything... (full context)
Act IV
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Lady Windermere is alone in her morning room the next day. She debates miserably whether to tell... (full context)
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Lord Windermere enters and tenderly notes that Lady Windermere seems unwell. Lady Windermere says that she has something to tell him, but he cuts... (full context)
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Lord Windermere is relieved, but he nonetheless says that Lady Windermere must never see Mrs. Erlynne again. He explains that she really is bad after all,... (full context)
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Just as Lady Windermere is about to make her confession, Parker enters and informs them that Mrs. Erlynne has... (full context)
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...town. She announces that she’s going to live abroad and is not likely to see Lady Windermere again. She asks for a photograph of Lady Windermere, which Lady Windermere happily agrees to... (full context)
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Lady Windermere goes upstairs to get another photograph. Distraught, Lord Windermere tells Mrs. Erlynne that he can’t... (full context)
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...fan again after the events in Lord Darlington’s rooms, and Mrs. Erlynne says she’ll ask Lady Windermere to give her the fan. He suggests that she also take the miniature of a... (full context)
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Mrs. Erlynne tells Lord Windermere that she has come to say goodbye to her daughter, Lady Windermere , but that she is not interested in playing “the part of a mother.” She... (full context)
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...she says that if he does, she will make herself such a bad reputation that Lady Windermere will be miserable for the rest of her life. She claims that she does love... (full context)
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Lady Windermere reenters and gives Mrs. Erlynne a photograph of herself and her baby. She says that... (full context)
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With Lord Windermere gone, Lady Windermere effusively thanks Mrs. Erlynne for her sacrifice the night before. Mrs. Erlynne tells her not... (full context)
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...asks him to see her out and carry her new fan. She bids Lord and Lady Windermere farewell and exits with Augustus. Alone, Lord and Lady Windermere reflect that Mrs. Erlynne is... (full context)
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Augustus reenters and says that Mrs. Erlynne explained everything, which startles both Lord Windermere and Lady Windermere . He explains that Mrs. Erlynne was actually looking for him when she went to... (full context)