Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde

Lady Windermere's FanLady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The preface to this book declares it the book that launched Oscar Wilde's career. It certainly sounds like an earlier play, without the polish of his later works. It's still an enjoyable story, though, full of witticisms and observations on the human condition.

Lady Windermere is looking forward to her birthday party that evening when news comes to her of her husband's spending a lot of time in the company of Mrs. Erlynne, a woman with a tarnished reputation. Margaret looks into his finances, and finds a lot of significant payments to Mrs. Erlynne. When Lord Windermere comes home, he asks his wife to invite Mrs. Erlynne to her party. When she refuses, he invites her, instead. Margaret says she'll hit her with her fan, if she sees her. Then at the party that night, her dear friend Lord Darlington declares his love for her, and she's tempted, thinking her husband doesn't love her anymore.

Some of Wilde's most iconic lines come from this play, often spoken by Lord Darlington. As a bachelor suffering from unrequited love, he has the most freedom, and the most reason to be introspective.

This play isn't as tightly plotted as others Wilde wrote. There are superfluous characters, and a plot line about an Australian betrothed that goes nowhere. Later, Wilde mastered the art of making a character more than just a sly dig at society. These characters and plots don't take up a lot of space in the narrative, but they do make it a little more difficult to tell all the characters apart.

The ending of the play is surprisingly touching and romantic, especially for a satire. There aren't a lot of romances that show a married couple falling deeper in love. It was a sweet story.

I listened to an audio performance of this play, put on by L.A. Theatre Works. They generally hire good performers, though this one didn't have any names I recognized. The drawback is that it often sounds like it's being performed on a stage, and some of the lines are quieter than others, presumably as actors turn to address one another. Mostly, though, the volume remains consistent.

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