Windermere house. Home of Lord and Lady Windermere in the real and fashionable Carlton House Terrace adjacent to St. James’s Park in central London that serves as the setting for three of the play’s four acts. The play opens and closes in the morning room, one of the grand rooms used for entertaining by the Windermeres, who are important members of British society. As with all the aristocracy of the time, they have servants; only one butler, one maid, and a nonspeaking footman appear in the play, but at least another six or eight servants might be expected. The morning room should be large and immaculately decorated, containing more furniture than the few items specified for plot purposes. Among the pieces of furniture specified in the play’s stage directions are a bureau, in which Lady Windermere finds a bank book of her husband’s that contains apparently incriminating evidence; a table used by Lady Windermere to arrange flowers; a sofa used for seating; and a small table on which tea is served. French windows open onto a terrace, to which an impressionable daughter is sent to view the sunset so that she will not hear gossip about Mrs. Erlynne.
The house’s drawing room is equally grand, adjacent to the ballroom, where during the play’s second act a ball is held and a band is playing. A door leads onto the terrace. Because of crowds of guests, no furniture is specified, though some chairs and sofas around the walls might be expected. Wilde mentions only flowers and potted palms, which are typical of late Victorian era decor.
Lord Darlington’s rooms
Lord Darlington’s rooms. Home of the bachelor Lord Darlington, who has long loved Lady Windermere and tried to persuade her to leave her husband. In keeping with his station, Darlington’s apartment should be a suite of rooms forming all or part of a floor of a large terraced house. Act 3 of the play is set in his sitting and entertaining room. Wilde’s stage directions mention a sofa—where the fan of the title is accidently left—and three tables set with writing materials, alcohol, and cigars—all items typical for a man of his status.
The late nineteenth century ‘‘art-for-art’s-sake’’ movement was promulgated by Walter Pater (1839– 1894), an Oxford don who tutored Oscar Wilde. Wilde became a living example of his teacher’s theory, which placed style and beauty above moral and social responsibility. Wilde’s adherence to this theory earned him the name ‘‘The Great Aesthete.’’
According to Pater, the aesthete appreciated beautiful things and beautiful literature. Interest in art was facilitated by the rise in leisure time for the upper and middle class. The middle class adopted the values of the upper class and viewed the appreciation of art as part of their social training.
The aestheticism and Pre-Raphaelite movements opposed the Victorian obsession with industry, engineering, and efficiency. When Oscar Wilde declared to customs officials in America that ‘‘I have nothing to declare but my genius,’’ he alluded to the refinement of character that he nurtured for its own sake.
Wilde surrounded himself with art and sought to exemplify Walter Pater’s concept of the true critic, one with ‘‘a certain kind of temperament, the power of being deeply moved by the presence of beautiful objects.’’ Pater looked to the Renaissance era for a model of obsession with style.
Aesthetics valued the completely innocent person, such as the character Dorian Gray in Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). Gray was both pure and physically beautiful until corrupted by an older man.
Lady Windermere is another beautiful and simple character with a natural ability to appreciate art and true sentiment.
Three years before Oscar Wilde’s birth, England celebrated the triumphs of industry in The Great Exhibition of 1851, which was housed in the magnificent Crystal Palace. Inside, observers viewed...
(The entire section is 1,776 words.)