Constructive Writing: Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde

‘Yes, I’m of age to-day. Quite an important day in my life, isn’t it? That is why I am giving this party to-night. Do sit down.’

This early line in the play might not be funny, but it outlines something the audience needs to know; when the events are taking place and that they will be swift.

Time pressure is something that condenses characters actions and decisions. It does away with lead-ins and gets the audience right to the good bits. Notice that in Romeo & Juliet events are ‘…now  the two hours’ traffic of our stage…’, and the play’s meeting, marriage, duels and deaths occur within a week’s time period.

Time pressure makes for heightened tension and drama in the piece. Character make sudden decisions, take risks, reveal their true nature, and feel emotions at their rawest point. In Lady Windermere’s Fan, Oscar Wilde uses time to show drastic events in his characters lives and how they immediately respond to them.

The other conventions used:

Changing Status: ‘Do you think she will ever get into this demmed thing called Society?’ A character, Mrs. Erlynne, tries to return to London Society.

The Worst Can Happen: ‘Yes, you gave me this fan to-day… If that woman crosses my threshold, I shall strike her across the face with it.’ Lady Windermere is convinced she must act against Mrs. Erlynne.

Believable Characters: ‘No – what consoles one nowadays is not repentance, but pleasure. Repentance is quite out of date. And besides, if a woman really repents, she has to go to a bad dressmaker, otherwise no one believes in her.’ Wilde is best known for comments on social character, though he also builds and bends the play’s characters. Audience’s appreciated his honesty and insight into their social veneer, despite how vulgar it seemed to make them appear.

This play was written towards the end of Wilde’s playwriting career. Where Shakespeare eventually “grew out” (as some say) of his word play practices, it can be seen that Wilde continued to use humorous pros, albeit in decreasing amounts.

This is a sign of a golden rule in writing: one must remember to write for your audience or financier, as they pay the bills.

This leads to an important economic point: risk is something everyone – almost everyone – wants to avoid. People will most likely invest, whether in financing or purchasing, the safer the option (either to gain revenue or enjoyment).

Customers want trust and security before they part with their money, therefore proving you have an ability to do X, to success and to sufficient financial return, allows you to do X again. It might not be as creative, or challenging, as changing to suddenly do Y, but it is a livelihood and writers need to make money. How else do you pay for vodka?


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