Discuss the character of Lady Wishfort in The Way of the World.

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lady Wishfort is one of my very favorite characters in The Way of the World by William Congreve! She is elderly and she wants a husband almost as much as she wants sexual relationship.  The irony is, it is a true game to pursue her sexually. 

Heir to a small fortune, she is ready to give her "virtue" to anyone willing to please her.  GOT to love her interjections throughout the play as well as her ability to apply the makeup as thick as "paint" to cover her vastly increasing wrinkles.  This is while everyone is able to pull the wool over her eyes as to what is truly happening:  men trying to win her fortune and not truly win "her."  Incredibly worried that her reputation will be ruined, she is less worried that her money will be stolen!  In my opinion, there is a wonderful quotation from the play that proves her character:

But say what you will, 'tis better to be left than never to have been loved. To pass our youth in dull indifference, to refuse the sweets of life because they once must leave us, is as preposterous as to wish to have been born old, because we one day must be old.

Her quest of prowess for both Mirabell and Sir Rowland shows that, despite her age, Lady Wishfort still thinks herself attractive.  This, of course, is from someone who raises her own daughter to dislike men!  Eventually, Lady Wishfort realizes she can't live without them (men) herself, therefore she must forgive and forget.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In William Congreve's play, The Way of the World, Lady Wishfort's character is given away in her name: She wishes and wishes. The suffix -fort is from the Late Latin suffix -fortāre, which is derived from the Latin word fortis meaning strong. Does the association of strong with Lady Wishfort indicate the magnitude of her wishes, the strength of her character when her wishes fail to come true or, like cheese, the unpleasant aroma of her wishes? In the end of the farcical satire, Lady Wishfort sets her wishes aside to preserve the reputation of her daughter, Mrs. Fainall; sets aside her jealous protestations preventing Mrs. Mirabella's, her niece's, happiness; and forgives all evil schemes perpetrated against her. This seems to speak to at least two of the possibilities for the -fort suffix. I suppose Congreve trusts us to decide how odoriferous Lady Wishfort's wishes really are.

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The Way of the World

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