What is the nature of love in the novel Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde?
In Lady Windermere's Fan, love is self-sacrificing above all. Mrs. Erlynne is the most loving character in the play, giving up the chance to be in her daughter's life by keeping their true relationship a secret. When Lady Windermere almost runs away with Lord Darlington in order to spite her husband, who she mistakenly believes is having an affair with Mrs. Erlynne, Mrs. Erlynne gets her daughter to reconsider. And then, when Lord Windermere sees Lady Windermere's misplaced fan in Darlington's parlor, Mrs. Erlynne pretends she herself had left it there. In doing this, she essentially destroys her own fragile reputation to save her child's.
The ironic part about Mrs. Erlynne being the most loving character is that by the standards of Victorian society, she would be considered deplorable due to her past as an adulteress who left her husband and child behind. Even by modern standards, she can come off as amoral in some of her behavior, such as her blackmailing Lord Windermere to receive money from him. The audience might not expect such a person capable of self-sacrifice or love, but during the climax, Mrs. Erlynne rises to the occasion with grace and redeems herself—not in the eyes of society, as one might expect in a traditional melodrama in which "love conquers all," but in private, where only Lady Windermere will ever be able to appreciate what she has done.
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