Oh, men don't matter. With women it is different.
The above dialogue by the Duchess of Berwick goes lengths to tell us about the discrimination in treatment of mena nd women in the Victorian era. 'Lady Winderemere's Fan' by Oscar Wilde provides a great insight into the upper class society. Wilde makes clever use of wit and satire to highlight the discrepancies of the society, particularly in its treatment of men and women. The play starts on the birthday of Lady Windermere who has been happily married for an year to Lord Windermere. They both love each other and have no secrets. Until a well-wisher informs Lady Windermere about her husband's supposed affair with a notorious 'woman with a past' Mrs. Erlynne. Lady Windermere, a Puritan is shocked and shattered by this disclosure about her hitherto faithful husband. The play focuses on how the society around them views this affair. For most people it is a common event, one which they have taken for granted. Lady Plymdale says:
I assure you, women of that kind are most useful. They form the basis of other people's marriages.
Thus, in her experience all marriages have a third party attached to the couple. The man has a wife, who stays at home and produces legitimate heirs and also has a lady friend. The Duchess of Berwick advices Lady Windermer:
Yes, dear, these wicked women get our husbands away from us, but they always come back, slightly damaged of course. And don't make scenes, men hate them!
We can see here that Duchess of Berwick has a good knowledge on the character of men. She knows her husband strays: before the year was out, he was running after all kinds of petticoats, every colour, every shape, every material. She feels this to be a normal course of events. Men have affairs, but they always come back to their wives and the women are supposed to forgive them and take them back. However, the rules for women are quite the oppostie. The readers are introduced to Mrs. Erlynne, a woman with a past. In an era, where most women are supposed to be meek and submissive, the weaker vessel, while men gallant and chivalrous are bound to be their protectors and look after their weak wife, Mrs. Erlynne is woman with a rebellous streak in her. She is a practical lady and knows that she does not need her husband to take care of her. She finds herself confined within the walls of her house, and in her desperation opts for the same course a man would take if he found himself like her in a confininf marriage that offers no happiness - she has an affair. The only difference being she is a woman, and is thus ostrasized from the society and becomes an outcast. She is forced to leave her husband and infant daughter, in punishment of a crime which is considered normal for men but not for women. Oscar Wilde cleverly potrays this distinction, and the readers can't help but feel sorry for Mrs. Erlynne. In the last act Lady Windermere acting as Wilde's mouthpiece says:
There is a bitter irony in things, a bitter irony in the way we talk of good and bad women.