The miniature is a small figurine of her mother that Lady Windermere treasures and kisses when she says her prayers each night. Though Lady Windermere believes that her mother is dead, the audience knows that Mrs. Erlynne is actually her mother. The miniature symbolizes the way that Lady Windermere idealizes her mother, and the way that the real Mrs. Erlynne would never be able to live up to that perfect, false version of herself. Lady Windermere’s continued love of the figurine—and of her ideals—shows again that she’s still tempted by unambiguous morality, even though she knows by the end of the play that morality is not black-and-white but exists in shades of gray.
Additionally, the miniature (along with the photograph of Lady Windermere that Mrs. Erlynne keeps) highlights how wordless connections with other individuals are sometimes more powerful than anything language can create. In the end, Mrs. Erlynne and Lady Windermere both choose silence over language: Mrs. Erlynne doesn’t tell Lady Windermere her true identity, and Lady Windermere doesn’t tell Lord Windermere about almost leaving him. Instead, the two women opt for simple, visual representations of the truth that they can happily treasure and enjoy, without confronting the unnecessary complications that speaking up would cause. This ending suggests that in some cases, literal truth as depicted by language is less valuable than consciously deciding to view reality in a positive way.
The Miniature Quotes in Lady Windermere’s Fan
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!
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.