Describe how the topic of marriage is treated 'Lady Windermere's Fan'.

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the play Lady Windermere's Fan, by Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere is a young, aristocratic, and devout wife who is married to a very well-respected man. Her marriage has been successful and she has a young child. All seems perfectly well until she receives two big news on the day of her birthday:  First, her friend (the Duchess) tells her that Lord Windermere-the lady's husband-has been cheating on her by giving money to a strange woman.

Secondly, Lady Windermere finds that Lord Darlington is in love with her. This is significant because she seems to enjoy the attentions of a man even though she is "happily" married.

When Lady Windermere decides to confront her husband and declare war on the "other woman" (not knowing that the woman is her real mother and that her husband was paying her money to keep the secret from Lady Windermere), she is told by her husband basically not to meddle in his business, and to act like a woman is supposed to. This is a clear indication that marriage was a situation in which women had no control of anything, especially of their husbands.

Additionally, the Duchess of Berwick, who is the friend that discloses the information about Lord Windermere and the other woman, tells Lady Windermere that cheating is an expected thing- that her own husband waited as much as three years before he began looking at other women, and that the best thing she could do with Lord Windermere is take him away to distract his attention. Quite an interesting game of double standards!

Moreover, if we compare Lady Windermere's Fan to a play such as A Doll's House, we will see that the character of Lady Windermere and the character of Nora are both treated as their husband's respective playthings.  Lady Windermere is always treated nicely and properly until she attempts to stand up for herself when she sees something wrong.

In A Doll's House, Nora is also treated almost like a child, pampered, and spoiled until the moment when she decides to defend her actions and stand up to her husband. However, Nora doesend up leaving a relationship that was obviously a farce. Lady Windermere, contrastingly, returns to it.

Therefore, marriage is treated in these two works as a reductionist of women. A status in which women are seen, but not heard. They must attend to the needs of others but disregard their own. In the end, all happens for the sake of keeping a fake appearance of a well-to-do relationship.